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Foreign exchange student threatened with expulsion for reporting can finish semester

November 14, 2012

NEW YORK — After facing threats of eviction and suspension over an interview for his journalism class, an Australian foreign exchange graduate student will get to finish out his semester at the State University of New York at Oswego.

Alex Myers has been taking journalism classes at SUNY Oswego since August and was an intern with the Office of Public Affairs at SUNY Oswego. Last month, Myers was assigned an article for class on a public figure and chose SUNY Oswego’s mens hockey coach Ed Gosek.

On Oct. 17, Myers decided to contact coaches from Cornell University, Canisius College and SUNY Cortland for their input on Gosek. In his email to the coaches, Myers identified himself as an employee for the Office of Public Affairs before asking a few simple questions. Myers ended the email telling the coaches they did not have to keep their opinions positive.

Myers received an email back from one coach who said he was offended about Myers’ comment saying the feedback did not have to be positive. Myers replied clarifying that the article was not a “puff piece.”

The next day, Myers was reprimanded from the Office of Public Affairs for the emails and apologized, he said. He was summoned to his residence hall where his resident director handed him a letter that said Myers was on interim suspension, banned from campus and was to pack up and move out of his residence hall by 6 p.m. the following day, a Friday.

The letter said Myers had “allegedly violated” two student codes of conduct which encompassed dishonesty and disruptive behavior, according to the letter. “Specifically: Campus network resources may not be used to defame, harass, intimidate, or threaten another individual or group,” the letter said.

A spokeswoman for the college said they could not comment on Myers’ case, citing FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Myers said he was surprised by the letter, and thought the reprimand from his supervisor would be the only punishment for his mistake.

“I was pretty shocked when I received the suspension letter saying I was basically getting evicted,” Myers said. “It was very tough on my mind, it’s been very stressful, and I’ve lost a lot of sleep and had trouble eating.”

Over the next two weeks Myers sought extensions to the eviction with the dean of students and was eventually allowed to attend classes over one of those weeks. He still was restricted from visiting most places on campus.

Myers contacted his adviser as well as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for help. FIRE sent a letter to SUNY Oswego’s president in defense of Myers and helped Myers develop a defense for his disciplinary hearing.

During the hearing, the disruptive behavior charge was dropped. Myers was issued a warning and required to apologize to Gosek, the other three coaches and the Office of Public Affairs. In addition, he must either write a column for the student newspaper, The Oswegonian, or complete an assignment for his journalism professor discussing his experience.

His internship for the Office of Public Affairs was revoked because he “hurt their reputation,” Myers said.

Myers credits FIRE with helping him avoid further sanctions. He said he has decided to not appeal the ruling and has already written the apology letters, he said. As for the educational component, his journalism class plans to have a discussion about the event.

Myers encourages students that face similar situations to get as much support as possible.

“Get support from everyone you can,” Myers said. "It’s a tough time, and you need all the support.”

By Bailey McGowan, SPLC staff writer. Contact McGowan by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.

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© 2012 Student Press Law Center

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