The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is in my opinion one of the most admirable organizations involved with higher education today. FIRE is dedicated to preserving freedom of thought and expression in colleges and universities. These institutions should require no such effort, but unfortunately many of them have dedicated themselves to policing the thinking of their students and faculty, instead of promoting the free and open exchange of ideas.
FIRE has now managed to help a student whose rights have been violated by Syracuse University's School of Education in one of the most outrageous attacks on liberty perpetrated by any academic administration. Matthew Werenczak, a white graduate student in the school, was engaged in his student teaching at a local middle school. A local community leader complained in front of Werenczak and another white student teacher that city schools should hire more teachers from historically black colleges, rather than from Syracuse. Werenczak understandably took this as a racially prejudiced remark and he described the complaint as "racist" on his Facebook page. In response to this posting, the administration of the School of Education called him to a meeting and required him to seek counseling for "anger management," attend a course on "cultural diversity," write a reflective paper showing that he had seen the error of his ways, and then have the School of Education review his paper to decide whether he could continue in the graduate program. He completed the steps required, but Syracuse effectively expelled him anyway.
This case should make any reasonable person's jaw drop in astonishment. Werenczak's "wrong-doing" was objecting to a racially offensive comment, not making one. Syracuse apparently believes that its students not only do not enjoy freedom of thought or speech in its classrooms, but that they cannot even exercise these freedoms in non-university media, giving the institution the power to police the minds and voices of students everywhere and at all times. If any student at any time expresses views inconsistent with officially mandated doctrine, the university can mandate re-education to enforce orthodoxy. Even then, Syracuse maintains no due process, so that a student can be arbitrarily expelled.
The good news is that Werenczak was readmitted to the School of Education at Syracuse within hours after FIRE took up his case. This makes me thankful that FIRE exists. But the very fact that the organization would need to defend a student against such appalling behavior by the regime at Syracuse to me indicates that there are serious problems with its commitment to the type of liberty essential to higher education. That the events at Syracuse only offer an extreme example of pressures for intellectual conformity at institutions across the nation may be an indictment of academia in the United States today.