N.Y. Court Backs College in Expulsion

Judge gives Le Moyne broad latitude in challenge by dismissed graduate student who endorsed corporal punishment.
October 4, 2005

A New York judge has declined to second guess Le Moyne College's decision to overturn a student's provisional admission to its graduate education program -- a decision the student attributed to a controversial article he had written on the use of corporal punishment in the classroom.

Scott McConnell was provisionally admitted to the master's education program at Le Moyne, a Roman Catholic institution in Syracuse, N.Y., in the fall of 2004, but two days before the start of last spring's term, he received a letter saying the college had “grave concerns” that his “personal beliefs” would conflict with its philosophy. Although the letter didn't state it, McConnell was confident that the decision was related to a paper he had written for a course during the fall in which he expressed his support for corporal punishment in schools, as well as his skepticism of multicultural education.

McConnell sued the college in state court, arguing that it had failed to follow its own rules and seeking his reinstatement to the graduate program. 

But last month, a judge in state Supreme Court (which despite its lofty name, is actually the lower trial court in New York State) ruled that New York law gives colleges and universities broad latitude to make internal decisions without review by the courts. "The academic and adminstrative decisions of educational institutions involve the exercise fo subjective professional judgment," Justice Edward D. Carni wrote. "These institutions are peculiarly capable of making the decisions which are appropriate and necessary to their continued existence."

The decision at issue in this case, Carni wrote, is "an admissions determination uniquely within the professional judgment of those involved in the day-to-day implementation of the educational policies and academic oversight of this educational institution." McConnell, the judge said, has "provided the court with no legal authority that a college admissions decision may properly become the subject of judicial review under these circumstances."

Terence J. Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, the nonprofit law group
that represents McConnell, said the student would appeal the decision in state court. "We think the judge is just plain mistaken," Pell said. "What judges have to defer to is the educational judgment of institutions, but the standard here is only that the school follow its own procedures. It is perfectly appropriate for a judge to assess whether the school followed its own procedures, and there is almost no argument in this case that the school ignored almost every aspect of its own procedures."

Le Moyne issued a statement saying its officials were pleased by the judge's ruling. "As we have all along, we stand by our decision not to admit this individual as a fully matriculated student.... We hope this decision will bring the matter to a close."


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