SUNY Oswego Journalism Student Threatened with Suspension Over Email to Hockey Coaches

Officials at SUNY Oswego recently threatened an international journalism student with suspension and campus banishment over emails he sent to hockey coaches while working on a class assignment.

The 30-second gist, according to Gawker and FIRE: Australian native Alex Myers currently studies journalism and works in the Office of Public Affairs at SUNY Oswego.  For a class assignment requiring “a feature on a public figure,” he selected the school’s hockey coach Ed Gosek.  As part of his info gathering legwork, he emailed the hockey coaches at Cornell University, Canisius College, and SUNY Cortland requesting their feedback on Gosek.

The email contained two faux pas– one major and factual and the other more minor and stylistic.  First, Myers identified himself as a SUNY Oswego public affairs staffer, not a student.  Second, he urged the coaches, “Be as forthcoming as you like, what you say about Mr Gosek does not have to be positive.”

The latter statement struck at least the Cornell coach as over the line.  As he wrote Myers, “My interactions with ed gosek have all been off ice as we are div 1.  He is one of the best guys in college hockey.  Your last line of saying your comments don’t need to be positive is offensive.”  Myers quickly apologized, claiming he simply wanted to be clear he was not out to pen a “puff piece.”

As FIRE reported, “The next evening, Myers received a hand-delivered letter from SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley, informing him that he was being placed on interim suspension, effective [the next night], and that he would have to vacate his dorm room by that time. The letter also banned him from all campus facilities and informed him that he may be subject to arrest if he came on campus.”

The charges: 1) Dishonesty re: ID’ing himself as a school employee, not a student.  As Gawker confirmed, “No question, he f*cked up there.”  2) Disruptive behavior.  FIRE: “Among the behaviors that merit this charge are ‘harassment,’ ‘intimidation,’ ‘threats,’ ‘conduct which inhibits the peace or safety of members of the college community,’ and ‘retaliation, harassment or coercion.'”

My Take: First charge, check.  Second charge, huh?  Sending an email to some coaches asking for the goods– good and bad– on a peer is harassing, threatening, coercive or inhibiting others’ peace and safety?  As FIRE contends, “Alleging that Myers’ emails could possibly have constituted any of these not only violates the First Amendment, it sends a deeply chilling message to students. How safe can student speech at SUNY Oswego possibly be if any criticisms of faculty, staff, or fellow students find their way to the wrong administrator?”

Fortunately, FIRE intervened, pointing out the egregiousness of the second charge and the overwrought suspension posturing.  The school lessened its final punishment, but is requiring Myers to write a piece “to share with other students in journalism classes . . . what you have learned from your experience.”

The essay I would write, in 25 words: Be honest with all potential sources.  Watch how you word things.  And if school officials ever come after you at least somewhat unfairly, fight back.

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