A New York appeals court on Wednesday ordered Le Moyne College to reinstate Scott McConnell as a master's degree student in education. The court found that the Syracuse college violated McConnell's rights and the institution's own policies when it kicked him out of the program a year ago.
McConnell was prevented from enrolling in the spring 2005 semester after Le Moyne officials became aware that he had written a class paper endorsing the use of corporal punishment in the classroom. The letter dismissing him from the program expressed "grave concerns regarding the mismatch between [McConnell's] personal beliefs regarding teaching and learning" and the college's philosophy.
While McConnell never retreated from his endorsement of corporal punishment -- in certain instances -- in the classroom, he also said that he would abide by the rules of any school in which he worked. He sued the college, charging that his rights had been violated because he was expelled without receiving the standard due process Le Moyne promises to its students.
Le Moyne argued that McConnell was never actually a student because he had been provisionally admitted to the program, contingent on his performance in the fall 2004 semester. The college said that McConnell was never formally switched from being a provisional to permanent student, so he was not entitled to the due process rights the college promises students.
While a lower court declined to get involved in the case, the appeals court on Wednesday rejected Le Moyne's argument. The court found that McConnell met all of the goals and that the letter offering him provisional admission made no mention of the need for his "personal goals" to match those of the program. As a result, the court ruled that McConnell was in fact a student and entitled to the rights the college gives to students.
Quoting other New York State judicial rulings, the court said: "When a university has adopted a rule or guideline establishing the procedure to be followed in relation to suspension or expulsion, that procedure must be substantially observed."
The appeals court decision did not comment on the controversy over McConnell's views on spanking.
Terence J. Pell, president of the Center for Individual Rights, which represented McConnell, called Wednesday's ruling "tremendous," adding, "this school has procedures for expelling students, so if it wants to expel someone, it has to follow them."
Pell called the argument that McConnell wasn't fully a student "fraudulent" and said that he was pleased that the appeals court "saw right through it."
McConnell plans to show up at LeMoyne today to try to enroll, Pell said.
A spokesman for the college said Wednesday night that "given the fact that we just received word on this decision, it would be premature to provide comment on it until we have thoroughly reviewed it."