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Social Work Graduate Student at SUNY-Binghamton Facing Punishment for Criticizing Department and Its Relationship with City Housing Authority:

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education so reports:

Binghamton University's Department of Social Work ordered the suspension of a master's student for one year with no guarantee of return, required him to apologize, and demanded that he publicly disavow his own views after he put up posters challenging the department for having hired the executive director of the Binghamton Housing Authority (BHA)—an agency the student thought was responsible for social injustice. Student Andre Massena, who remains in school pending an appeal, has turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help....

On August 25, 2008, Massena put up posters on campus claiming that a woman and her children had been unjustly evicted from their home by the BHA. Under the pseudonym "JUSTICESPEAKS," the poster called the BHA "inhumane" and noted that its executive director, David K. Tanenhaus, is an adjunct professor at the school's Department of Social Work. The poster encouraged readers to call the department "to let them know what you think."

Massena chose anonymity after hearing stories from other students in the department about students being unjustly "advanced" (expelled) from the program. When interrogated about the posters, Massena exercised his right to anonymous speech by declining to acknowledge authorship -- a decision ultimately cited as the official reason for Massena's punishment.

One week later, Massena received a "Written Plan" from his department. It failed to specify any alleged violations, but nevertheless assigned him shockingly onerous and unconstitutional requirements to complete in order to continue his master's program....

And a SUNY document posted by FIRE strongly supports the view that the student is being retaliated against for his speech:

This written plan was created in the spirit of a strengths-based commitment to Mr. Massena's professional and personal growth, with the hope of all parties moving forward in a positive manner.

Specific actions to be undertaken by Mr. Massena and the dates by which these actions must be completed follow:

1. Mr. Massena will withdraw from all MSW courses for which he is enrolled for the fall term of 2008. He will take a two-semester leave of absence (Fall 2008 and Spring 2009) from the MSW program, in order to reflect upon his readiness to enter the field of social work as a professional practitioner, given his actions during late August, 2008, and the likely as well as possible consequences (both immediate and long-term) of his actions to various individuals, the Dept. of Social Work, Binghamton University, the Greater Binghamton community, and his own professional development....

5. By September 30, 2008, a formal statement of retraction will be written by Mr. Massena, to be signed and dated by him, and forwarded to the President of Binghamton University, the Binghamton University Dept. of Social Work, and the Binghamton Housing Authority, indicating that he does not agree with, and regrets the sentiments expressed in the following statement, which he promoted, initially, by distributing posters/leaflets at the University Downtown Center that said: "We will in no way, shape, or form apologize for any harm or inconvenience this poster may cause Binghamton Housing Authority or Binghamton University and their affiliates."

6. Mr. Massena will make every effort possible and will inform Profs. Bronstein and Wiener of his efforts to end the process whereby students, service providers and community members approach the Dept. of Social Work in an effort to alleviate "wrong" they may see as occurring at the Binghamton Housing Authority....

7. By September 30, 2008, Mr. Massena will acknowledge verbally to Dr. Bronstein and Dr. Wiener that he understands that he is entitled to his opinions, and that taking responsibility for the harm that his actions have and may have caused is not the same as having these opinions.

8. By May 8, 2009, Mr. Massena will have completed an APA-formatted, 10-12 page critical reflection paper .... The subject of this paper will be: "effective professional strategies in the ethical practice of 'macro' social work in the early 21st century." Mr. Massena will be provided with an initial reference for this paper (a scholarly essay by Olson) by Dr. Wiener, and the essay by Olson will be the foundational premise from which Mr. Massena's essay begins. Mr. Massena will be responsible for finding four additional "outside sources" to support his self-reflections; the development of his "professional use of self" will be evident in the paper, and the "outside" references are not meant to "trump" his own "voice." In contrast, his "voice" should have primacy....

Perhaps there are more facts that suggest that Mr. Massena misbehaved in ways other than just criticizing the city and linking the department to the city's actions (on the grounds that "Binghamton Housing's Director holds a [master's] degree in social work and is currenly teaching social work at [SUNY-Binghamton]"); but neither FIRE nor the report points to them, and I have found FIRE to be highly credible and thorough in its accounts in the past. And beyond that, the report's orders to Massena suggest that SUNY was indeed complaining about the content of the criticism ("Mr. Massena will make every effort possible and will inform Profs. Bronstein and Wiener of his efforts to end the process whereby students, service providers and community members approach the Dept. of Social Work in an effort to alleviate "wrong" they may see as occurring at the Binghamton Housing Authority") and the effects of that content, rather than some unspecified other misbehavior. Seems to me like a clear violation of the First Amendment and of student academic freedom principles.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. SUNY-Binghamton "Abandons Attempt to Suspend or Expel" Student Critic:
  2. Social Work Graduate Student at SUNY-Binghamton Facing Punishment for Criticizing Department and Its Relationship with City Housing Authority:
Richard Aubrey (mail):
last graf;
approaching Dept of SW about BHA wrongs. WTF? If BHA is doing wrong, others may not speak of it to Dept of SW? Or they may, but Massena has to be trying to prevent it?
Is there a reasonable explanation that does not involve Massena schmoozing the folks who see wrong at the BHA and trying to keep them from approaching the Dpt of SW?
11.13.2008 1:29pm
Constantin:
This is sick.
11.13.2008 1:39pm
ginsocal (mail):
The evidence that the ubiquitous schools of social work have become nothing more than re-education camps for the callow youths who unfortunately enter them, is legion. Virtually all have some version of a standard set of "requirements," that force a liberal/progressive mind-set on the student. Variance from this requirement is not permitted, with expulsion being instantly dropped on miscreants.

I can see no reason to allow any of the schools of social work to continue to exist.
11.13.2008 1:40pm
David Warner:
ginsocial,

"I can see no reason to allow any of the schools of social work to continue to exist."

Look harder.

"Massena chose anonymity after hearing stories from other students in the department about students being unjustly "advanced" (expelled) from the program."

Paging Blair, Eric Blair, please report to SUNY-Binghamton.
11.13.2008 1:52pm
PatHMV (mail) (www):
Notice the bit in the SUNY document that this is being done to further the student's "personal growth." What business is his "personal growth" of the school's, anyway?

"personal growth" = "reeducation"
"advanced" = "expelled"

Paging George Orwell.
11.13.2008 1:55pm
PersonFromPorlock:
My guess is that FIRE, as usual, will win their point and the school's administrators, as usual, won't even lose their serve. FIRE plays too nice; they need to put a dean in jail (for conspiracy to deny rights under color of law) to have any enduring effect on the problem.
11.13.2008 1:55pm
Matthew K:
This student was attacking BHA from the left, making it a poor example for ginsocal's argument. Still, with the same caveat as EV (that the facts are as described and nothing is missing from the story), I'd have to say this is a pretty disgusting case. It sounds like Binghamton higher-ups are just now getting involved, so maybe sanity will soon return.
11.13.2008 1:58pm
Brian Mac:
ginsocal:

I don't see how they're trying to force a liberal or progressive mindset on the guy. He was speaking out against "social injustice" after all, which isn't exactly anathema to the left.
11.13.2008 2:00pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
About the only thing I can see here that might approach sensical is the school trying to keep the department free of complaints that should honestly be directed towards BHA. But even that is stretching rationality pretty thin.
11.13.2008 2:01pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

spirit of a strengths-based commitment to Mr. Massena’s professional and personal growth, with the hope of all parties moving forward in a positive manner


Vomit inducing language.

Lefty social worker wannabe punished by lefty department of social work for seeking "social justice". Ha ha


I support the facist lefties v. the lefty lefty. Let Mr. Massena start his McDonald's career now.
11.13.2008 2:11pm
R Nebblesworth:
At least they are being honest when they call expulsion "advancement".
11.13.2008 2:12pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Soronel.
That would fly better absent a connection between the two.
Also, SW people need to know how to spot injustice--however they define it--and how to address it, with real-world examples.
I presume they can talk about injustice from other entities?
What a mess.
11.13.2008 2:13pm
Dan Weber (www):
Why in the world would you have a Department of Social Work and then be surprised when they protest (what they see as) social injustice?

What's next? An architecture school expelling students for doing architecture?

Social work people are in the business of speaking truth to power; the school probably didn't expect that they we're going to be the power being spoken against.
11.13.2008 2:15pm
Sean M:
If there is one positive in all of this, it's that FIRE will be able to win this case blindfolded with one hand tied behind its back.

And that FIRE is out there taking cases like this in the first place.
11.13.2008 2:16pm
U.Va. Grad:
I support the facist lefties v. the lefty lefty. Let Mr. Massena start his McDonald's career now.

"I'm all for free speech and academic freedom when they agree with me!"
11.13.2008 2:17pm
Brian Sniffen (mail) (www):
Part of the role of a social worker is to operate in a modern bureaucracy. It sounds like these posters were impolitic: they angered people, they generated bad blood between the government and the school. The professors want to teach this student how to operate these bureaucracies.

How should they proceed? The paper on how to operate in a bureaucrac and the role of self in macro social work seems quite appropriate.
11.13.2008 2:20pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
Richard Aubrey,

Which is why it depends on what sorts of complaints they were receiving, exactly. Complaints about the close tie should be fair game. Complaints about how BHA actually conducts itself not so much.
11.13.2008 2:20pm
R Nebblesworth:
Sniffen, what do you think of the rest of the steps forced on the student, aside from the paper?
11.13.2008 2:22pm
Brian Mac:
And the good name "Brian" is forever tainted :-(
11.13.2008 2:23pm
Houston Lawyer:
And you will be obligated to name your first child Bronstein-Weiner.
11.13.2008 2:27pm
The General:

ginsocal:

I don't see how they're trying to force a liberal or progressive mindset on the guy. He was speaking out against "social injustice" after all, which isn't exactly anathema to the left.


"Social injustice" can't be perpetrated by those on the left. That's the rub. Anyway, conformity to the left IS the liberal/progressive mindset.
11.13.2008 2:32pm
Splunge:
I think the New York Legislature should empower SUNY-Bing to have Mr. Massena taken out and shot.

It's only when the Stalinists start shooting people that normal people realize what's up and get rid of them.
11.13.2008 2:38pm
not so stunned (mail):
Hummm...I wonder how much they will end up paying this guy for trouncing his speech rights? Perhaps he won't need to go into social work as a career now since he will be rich.
11.13.2008 2:57pm
PeterWimsey (mail):
I have to agree with Eugene here. Looking at this in the light most favorable to SUNY-Binghamton, the only really questionable thing that the student did was put up anonymous posters around campus. This is, perhaps, slightly unprofessional (although also possibly justified on the basis that retaliation is likely, which this incident seems to support) - but the appropriate remedy would be, at most, a discussion of productive ways of dealing with the perceived injustice. But the overreaction on the part of administrators - and in particular their requirement that the student retract his statements - suggest that they aren't interested in the anonymous postering at all, but simply in the content of the posters.
11.13.2008 2:58pm
W. J. J. Hoge:
Tar! Feathers!
11.13.2008 2:58pm
Blue:
Congratulations, Andre Massena, you just won a full-ride after the fact scholarship for your master's degree, a down payment on your first house, and a new, if modest car!
11.13.2008 3:11pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Soronel.
If there were no connection, SW students ought still to be discussing injustices they have found. Probably are. The connection here seems to be the reason one entity is to be immune.
11.13.2008 3:13pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I have to agree with Eugene here. Looking at this in the light most favorable to SUNY-Binghamton, the only really questionable thing that the student did was put up anonymous posters around campus. This is, perhaps, slightly unprofessional (although also possibly justified on the basis that retaliation is likely, which this incident seems to support) - but the appropriate remedy would be, at most, a discussion of productive ways of dealing with the perceived injustice.
Actually, in the light most favorable to the school, he lied about putting up the posters. The problem is that the punishment they imposed on him makes clear that this wasn't their concern; apologizing for the content of the fliers is only relevant if the content of the fliers is their actual concern.
11.13.2008 3:13pm
Carolina:

Actually, in the light most favorable to the school, he lied about putting up the posters.


I don't think he can be punished for the lying, either, even if they honestly objected to it. The right to make anonymous political speech is clearly constitutionally protected. See, e.g., McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n. If you have a right to publish anonymous political leaflets, the right doesn't mean much if you are required to fess up when interrogated by The Man.
11.13.2008 3:27pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

"I'm all for free speech and academic freedom when they agree with me!"


Yes, I know I should care but I just don't.

We are talking about social workers, not something that is useful. Parasites on the poor.
11.13.2008 3:27pm
Kazinski:
A dilemma for former conservatives, now that free market conservatism has been relegated to the dustbin of history, which side should we support? The Anarcho-Leftists or the Authoritarian-Leftists? As much as I admire jack-booted stormtroopers, I think I'll have to go with the Anarcho-Leftists, I think it's likely they get hotter chicks.

Massena was wrong not to acknowledge that he authored the posters, it's obvious from SUNY's reaction that he had nothing to worry about. At least they didn't go out and expel every 10th student until someone came forward and admitted responsibility.
11.13.2008 3:38pm
Bama 1L:
I agree with Brian Sniffen: social work is working within the system. A student who, confronted with a problem, goes so outside the system might need to find a new profession. Maybe community organization? It really strikes me as a problem of professional attitudes and ethics.

I wonder how people would feel about a law student who did something like this. Say a law student put up posters anonymously attacking a judge who teaches at the law school. I say expel, because the student has shown a lack of temperament for the bar and will probably not be admitted on character &fitness grounds.
11.13.2008 3:38pm
wb (mail):
"he lied about putting up the posters."

EV's post did not say that he denied putting up the posters. It says he refused to state whther he put up the posters. Taking this at face value, he was punished for the content of the posters and for exercising his free speech rights not to speak.
11.13.2008 3:50pm
R Nebblesworth:
Bama 1L, isn't the bar association supposed to decide if the student will pass the c&f test?

Why does putting up anonymous political flyers/posters call someone's character &fitness into question?
11.13.2008 3:54pm
Happyshooter:
Why does putting up anonymous political flyers/posters call someone's character &fitness into question?

Michigan has failed an applicant on C&F for winning a pro se case where the lawyer on the other side was state bar president. The 6th Circuit upheld the block.
11.13.2008 4:24pm
Bama 1L:
R Nebblesworth, yes, the state bar examiners make that call. But law schools make predictions. An applicant to law school has to list every brush with the law, disciplinary action at work, etc. just to get in. If it looks like you can't pass character &fitness, then you find yourself in serious trouble well before the bar examiners know your name.

My law school's student handbook lists among the requirements for a J.D. that the student must have "maintained, in the judgment of the faculty, a satisfactory record of honorable
conduct befitting a prospective member of the legal profession." I think most schools have a similar policy.

I don't think a campaign of anonymous posters characterizing a public agency as "inhumane" and calling out enemies by name is particularly honorable or professional. But the student in question was in a social work program. I don't know what ethical standards obtain.

If Massena had wanted to take advantage of academic freedom to criticize policies with which he agreed, he might have organized a brownbag on BHA's fascist policies, written a paper critical of BHA, or issued a signed manifesto denouncing BHA. But anonymous posters? No.
11.13.2008 4:31pm
R Nebblesworth:
happyshooter, is there a link to that case? I'd love to read the reasoning.
11.13.2008 4:31pm
R Nebblesworth:
I agree with everything you wrote, Bama 1L, but could you elaborate on what you mean by "But anonymous posters? No."? Do you mean No w/r/t the standards of the legal profession or do you mean that you agree with SUNY's treatment of Massena in this particular case?
11.13.2008 4:35pm
Jestak (mail):
Andre Massena--wonder if he's descended from Napoleon's marshal of that name :)
11.13.2008 4:43pm
Bama 1L:
I don't think one gets to chant "academic freedom" after putting up anonymous posters. There's nothing particularly academic about it. That's why I contrasted what I consider more academy-specific means of opposing BHA that Massena apparently did not follow. Academic freedom means being able to follow knowledge wherever it leads without fear of reprisal from academic highers-up.

Maybe Massena should win on some free speech principle that is not peculiar to the academic forum. His statements are basically political, as far as I can tell. Political speech certainly deserves protection.

But I don't think people in professional school should get to display such poor judgment and expect to advance in their careers. Dismissing them from the program may end up doing everyone a favor.
11.13.2008 4:46pm
R Nebblesworth:
I agree in principle with most of what you wrote, and I think the "critical reflection paper" (#8) might be an appropriate "punishment". But, I don't think that making him publicly recant his message (#5), and making him publicly contradict his original speech (#6), are related to his judgment or professionalism. Those 'demands' seem directly aimed at forcing him to change the content of his opinions and speech rather than addressing his professionalism issues.
11.13.2008 5:06pm
Bama 1L:
Maybe I read those requirements differently.

#5 requires Massena to repudiate his statement that he would never apologize for causing harm or inconvenience.

#6 requires Massena to right the wrong of suggesting that persons aggrieved by BHA should complain to the Dept. of Social Work.

I don't think he's being forced to disavow his substantive political views, just certain unprofessional and nonacademic methods.
11.13.2008 5:22pm
R Nebblesworth:
Both of those require him to disavow previous speech that he had made in connection with his political views, though. Say he had written in a signed letter to the editor (or some suitably appropriate forum) that he thought people should contact the DSW that way and that he wouldn't apologize for the resulting influx of calls, would the school still be justified in forcing him to recant?
11.13.2008 6:08pm
statfan (mail):
What sense does it make to say that "social work is working within the system."? If a university has a choice between giving degrees in working within the system and degrees in working outside the system, isn't it inevitably going to choose the option that offers it the greatest degree of control? Why can't it define all degrees that way?

"Oh, you wanted a BS in Anarchy? Why don't you try down the street, at the School of Hard Knocks?"

Working within the system is a strategy, not a moral imperative. If you're wrongly accused of a murder, the first thing you do is get a lawyer. But if you're convicted anyway, you flee to Venezuela. There's no virtue in going to jail for a crime you didn't commit.

Similarly, in this case, the system appears to be run by cowardly bullies. Working within the system would have gotten this guy stepped on. So he decided to work inside a larger system -- the marketplace of ideas. How can he be faulted? What would you have had him do?
11.13.2008 6:16pm
statfan (mail):
Also, who says that social work means working within the system? Wikipedia doesn't. The IFSW's Ethics in Social Work, Statement of PrinciplesStatement of Principles doesn't.
11.13.2008 6:22pm
Malvolio:
It's only when the Stalinists start shooting people that normal people realize what's up and get rid of them.
Uh, you mean the way they did with Stalin?
If you have a right to publish anonymous political leaflets, the right doesn't mean much if you are required to fess up when interrogated by The Man.
You know, that seems logically impeccable but I can't get around the feeling that it's just wrong. You have an right to refuse to answer police questions, but isn't lying to them considered obstruction?
11.13.2008 6:30pm
Kazinski:
Massena had no reason to be fearful of expressing his views, the only thing he had to fear was the consequences of expressing those view anonymously.

Kafka, right?
11.13.2008 6:31pm
PDXLawyer (mail):
I'm troubled by a social work education that includes things like "critical reflection." Of course, I'm all for good character, but efforts to instill good character seem akin to religious training, rather than secular education. Obviously this sort of training doesn't touch on questions of the nature or existence of God, but it *does* get into a lot of other moral / ethical areas that are, in most professions, considered to be matters of private conscience rather than professional ethics.

Is there any doctrine on the line between religious indoctrination and secular character building as it relates to the Establishment Clause?
11.13.2008 6:50pm
Adam J:
Bama 1L- "I don't think one gets to chant "academic freedom" after putting up anonymous posters."

You're kidding right? You are yourself an anonymous posters. I don't see what's wrong with lying and remaining anonymous, especially here where he clearly was lying to protect himself from having his freedom of speech violated. Suppose you criticized a teacher at your lawschool on this blog, and then the teacher confronts you? Should you have to tell the truth when its clear his goal is to violate your freedom of speech?
11.13.2008 6:53pm
luagha:
I think Mr. Massena had better be far more careful about being 'anonymous' if they found him out so easily.
11.13.2008 6:55pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Does the last graf of the punishment piece say he's supposed to try to get others to keep it buttoned about BHA?
11.13.2008 6:57pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
EV's post did not say that he denied putting up the posters. It says he refused to state whther he put up the posters. Taking this at face value, he was punished for the content of the posters and for exercising his free speech rights not to speak.
I didn't say that EV's post did. The school said he did. Which makes it the best case argument for the school.


I don't think he can be punished for the lying, either, even if they honestly objected to it. The right to make anonymous political speech is clearly constitutionally protected. See, e.g., McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm'n. If you have a right to publish anonymous political leaflets, the right doesn't mean much if you are required to fess up when interrogated by The Man.
I'm not sure about that. It's a tricky question, but your argument sounds a lot like the "exculpatory no" doctrine the Court rejected in Brogan v. U.S.; the right to remain silent does not include the right to lie.
11.13.2008 9:07pm
hey (mail):
To give any credit to the legal profession, I have to believe that Bama 1L is just a very determined, tongue in cheek troll.

That anyone could see putting up posters as an inherently unethical act that would prevent one from bar admission is absurd beyond belief. Elizabeth Wurtzel can get into Yale and then get a job at a prominent NYC law firm, but some political activity that is 100% legal is grounds for bar refusal?? She's a self admitted drug user and was fired from the Dallas Morning News for plagiarism!

I think that John Jay would have some rather severe disagreements as to the fitness of an anonymous political commentator. As previously suggested, I hope that Bama 1L lives up to his rhetoric and withdraws forthwith from law school, as he is inadmissable to the bar by his own lights.
11.13.2008 9:40pm
BobDoyle (mail):

Bama 1L

I wonder how people would feel about a law student who did something like this. Say a law student put up posters anonymously attacking a judge who teaches at the law school. I say expel, because the student has shown a lack of temperament for the bar and will probably not be admitted on character &fitness grounds.


I agree that anyone who is foolish enough to believe he or she really is permitted to exercise his or her first amendment Constitutional rights clearly lacks the temperament for the bar and the character &fitness required to practice law. Well, hell, if there were LOTS of such lawyers, it might even influence the laymen's stereotypical perception of the character of lawyers!
11.13.2008 11:17pm
MartyA:
Thank God that once Lord Hussein Obama-Mugabe rules, these criminals will not be allowed to dispute those who have been anointed.
11.14.2008 12:13am
Happyshooter:
happyshooter, is there a link to that case? I'd love to read the reasoning.

Go to statebarwatch.org. The case I was talking about is Dubac, but a couple they link to are interesting.

Note that the site is very opposed to the way Michigan run C&F, but they do link to case documents.
11.14.2008 9:51am
Bama 1L:
Adam J: Yes, I'm posting anonymously. I'm not claiming academic freedom, though. I'm following the convention of anonymous posting on the internet, which this blog follows. But suppose the Conspirators imposed a rule that everyone must post under their actual names. Then we'd have to type out or names or stop posting here. (That differs significantly from the Massena case.) So I can live with any contradiction I am creating by posting here.

As I've stated, I do think there may be some other free speech principle that should protect Massena, particularly because he is talking about a political issue in a public forum. But this case is not about academic freedom. That is the point I have been trying to make.
11.14.2008 10:00am
Bama 1L:
statfan, I freely acknowledge lack of expertise in social workers' ethical obligations. That's why I tried to analogize to lawyers and law students. The point is that there are certain professional ethical obligations that may attach even during training and which end up being more important practically than the First Amendment.

I do think a social worker would probably get in a lot of trouble for, let's say, suggesting that a sympathetic client take her children out of the country to avoid an adverse custody outcome, just as I'm more certain a lawyer who told a defendant to go to Venezuela would.

We've recently discussed on this blog criminal defense lawyers who knew that innocent persons had been convicted, either because their own clients had admitted committing the crimes or because they knew of police misconduct that had benefited their own innocent and unconvicted clients. Attorney-client obligations prevented them telling the truth. The First Amendment was just not that important. Consider also the consequences of putting up anonymous posters--even on a political topic--in an ordinary private-sector workplace.
11.14.2008 10:16am
Bama 1L:
hey, if I'd written a major novel before entering law school, gone to Yale, and gotten a job at Boies Schiller, I'd have many fewer worries overall.
11.14.2008 10:17am
Angus:
The punishment is garbage and out of line. No one should have to retract statements made in good faith outside of libel/slander legal actions.

On the other hand, were I director of a program and one of the students enrolled it it publicly attacked and tried to undermine it, I'd kick the ungrateful little sh*t right to the curb without hesitation.
11.14.2008 11:39am
bobby b (mail):
"I don't think one gets to chant "academic freedom" after putting up anonymous posters."
- - -

Blarney.

Were the statements on the posters untrue? Were they defamatory? Libelous? Outright lies about a specific person's actions or character?

That is the extent to which his speech bears official examination. If he passes this test - if the actions of the BHA were, indeed, unfair, or even close enough to being unfair so that reasonable minds might disagree, the inquiry ends.

You ought never face academic or professional sanction for saying something that is truthful about a government action. That's the essence of freedom to speak.
11.14.2008 1:35pm
neurodoc:
"advanced" = "expelled" Paging George Orwell.
That one jumped out at me too. How does "advanced" become a synonym for "expelled?" Is that a special SUNY-Binghamton locution or are others here familiar with "advanced" equaling "expelled" in other contexts?
11.15.2008 6:49am
neurodoc:
I support the facist lefties v. the lefty lefty. Let Mr. Massena start his McDonald's career now.

"I'm all for free speech and academic freedom when they agree with me!"
Do you think Bob from Ohio might have been doing the irony thing?
11.15.2008 6:54am
neurodoc:
the only really questionable thing that the student did was put up anonymous posters around campus
Personal story and confession...many years ago I did something very similar to what Massena did, so should probably be struck from the jury pool.

In my residency program, we had to complete some research during the course of each year and present it to the assembled department before we could be promoted to the next year, or graduate from the program if we were in our last year. One weekend, I was sitting in the department library making little progress in putting together my meager results and feeling resentful that I had to be working when I otherwise would have had a rare free weekend to myself. Well, a mischievous impulse stirred within my breast and caused me to do the somewhat imprudent, which I thought wouldn't be traced to me if I was careful to cover my tracks.

The department had lost some faculty and not been able to recruit suitable replacements to fill some gaps. So in the manner of one of those announcements of faculty position vacancies that appear to the back of journals, I wrote out a faux one for our department. It oozed sarcasm, which I thought rather droll, but didn't want to be "credited" with. So after typing it, I taped my effort to the library door, taking great care not to leave my fingerprints on the scotch tape. I took a step back to admire my work, then headed home. My project was still unfinished, but I felt a little less resentful. Well, the next day, while I was in a patient's room, the phone rang and it was our chairman on the line. In a decidedly stern voice, he asked whether I was the author of that screed. For a split second I paused, uncertain what to do, before confessing that I was the would be Martin Luther. Needless to say, he did not congratulate me for my fine sense of humor, and though I received no formal punishment, I was not invited to faculty meetings like prior chief residents had been.

Now, decades later, I look back on the episode with both a tinge of regret for my stupidity (thinking no one would connect it to me) and a bit of wry amusement.
11.15.2008 7:24am
neurodoc:
he might have organized a brownbag on BHA's fascist policies, written a paper critical of BHA, or issued a signed manifesto denouncing BHA. But anonymous posters? No.
You really think they nailed him because he hadn't put his name on the posters, that had he done so, nothing would have come off it?
11.15.2008 7:30am
Ryan Waxx (mail):
This student was attacking BHA from the left, making it a poor example for ginsocal's argument.


Soon after the revolution succeeds, the hunt for counterrevolutionaries begins. This always the most interesting stage of leftist capture of a segment of society.
11.15.2008 8:31am
Anonymous Social Worker (mail):
As a social work professor at a different institution, please allow me to correct some regrettable misinformation posted by Bama1L, who wrote, among other things, "Social work is working within the system. A student who, confronted with a problem, goes so outside the system might need to find a new profession. Maybe community organization? It really strikes me as a problem of professional attitudes and ethics."

First, social work is not necessarily about working within the system. Rather, social work is about advocating for the rights of vulnerable and marginalized people and advocating against social injustice. I don't know much about the Binghamton case, but with the facts that are out there, it's an amazing mystery as to why the social work school would object to Massena's advocating against social injustice, an action that truly is in line with social work values.

Second, community organization is a form of social work. It is taught in social work programs, and community organizers have used some of the very tactics adopted by the social work student here.

Third, regarding "professional attitudes and ethics," the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics calls on social workers to advocate for the rights of others, to wit: "Social workers should advocate for living conditions conducive to the fulfillment of basic human needs and should promote social, economic, political, and cultural values and institutions that are compatible with the realization of social justice." Advocating for a family with a 2-week-old baby, when that family was unfairly evicted from public housing, would certainly be within the profession's normative attitudes and ethics.

Further, the student's actions, as described here and elsewhere thus far, fall well within social work values outlined in the following preamble to the NASW Code of Ethics:

"The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well­being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty. A historic and defining feature of social work is the profession’s focus on individual well­being in a social context and the well­being of society. Fundamental to social work is attention to the environmental forces that create, contribute to, and address problems in living.

"Social workers promote social justice and social change with and on behalf of clients. 'Clients' is used inclusively to refer to individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Social workers are sensitive to cultural and ethnic diversity and strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty, and other forms of social injustice. These activities may be in the form of direct practice, community organizing, supervision, consultation administration, advocacy, social and political action, policy development and implementation, education, and research and evaluation. Social workers seek to enhance the capacity of people to address their own needs. Social workers also seek to promote the responsiveness of organizations, communities, and other social institutions to individuals’ needs and social problems."

I realize that some on this site view social workers negatively, but please know that social workers in general would support advocating for the rights of a family unjustly evicted from public housing, whether that advocacy called for working from within the system or from without the system.

And please, lawyers who know nothing about social work values really should not try to argue what social work values are. The analogy of a social worker encouraging a custodial parent to flee the country with a child to avoid court involvement is a poor analogy, because in this case, the social work student in question did not advocate that anybody take any illegal action. Instead, the student advocated that people protest to one of the employers of the public housing authority's director, in this case, the social work department.
11.16.2008 4:35pm
Bama 1L:
I do hope that no one took any of my postings as "informative" with respect to the actual professional ethics of social workers. I wanted to raise the issue of professional ethics as raising a set of limits on expression separate from 1st Amendment Free Speech and academic freedom. Professionals in many fields are forbidden to make certain true, nondefamatory, etc. statements because of their ethical obligations. For instance, again risking spreading misinformation, I would guess that there are some circumstances under which social workers must keep information confidential. (Right? Wrong?) On the other hand, I would again guess that in some cases social workers must speak out even though their revelations might damage their own or someone else's interests. (Right? Wrong?)

If Massena's actions were so in keeping with the professional ethics of social workers, then it is indeed mystifying why a bunch of social workers bound by the same ethics (right? wrong?) took such action against him. I guess they were just protective of institutional power or did not have their ethics caps on.

By the way, by "working within a system" I meant that Massena had perhaps shown poor judgment in pissing off the institution where he "works." What had been tried previously? Was there an ongoing campaign to get BHA's attention that had failed? In the context, were the posters a means reasonably calculated to achieve redress for the problem? Etc. A lawyer whose client has an easy recover against a drunk driver but insists on instead suing the highway department on some crazy theory of bad lighting is above all showing bad judgment. There must be an analogous idea in social work.

ASW, do you think perhaps the faculty acted unethically in punishing Massena? Could pointing this out help him make it go away?
11.16.2008 5:20pm
Sammy Finkelman (mail):
This wasn't exactly just pure speech.

t sees like Massena was trying to do something to harm someone - to bring pressure on the University to get someone fired.

But even if you want to say that he had no right to do so, the proposed remedy is ridiculous. And you can ask - why shouldn't he have a right to do so, even if he is in their program?

Nothing in this post by the way gives us any way to guess at the merits of the complaint.
11.16.2008 9:44pm
Anonymous Social Worker (mail):
Thanks, Bama1L, for your thoughtful response. "Mystifying" is the word I was looking for earlier when I said the school's actions were a mystery. It's an appropriate descriptor.

You are correct that there are instances when a social worker must remain silent. Social workers must honor clients' confidentiality; more psychotherapists in this country are social workers than psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers, and client confidentiality (which also applies to case work, etc.) is held sacred by social workers, even if the courts don't always agree.

I agree that this young man's actions were not the wisest or most mature actions to take. But still, for the social work department to eject him from the program and require him to retract his views, etc., is the very sort of infringement of rights that social workers are taught to protest.

It's all very strange. I'm hoping that there's more to the story than is reported here and elsewhere, at least something to make sense of this.

I was telling a friend yesterday the case would make more sense to me if the student had posted signs of a racist or homophobic nature, because curtailing hate speech and discrimination is certainly within the values of social work. (I know, there are folks on this site who might think it's OK to speak negatively of gay and lesbian people.) But if such were the case, the social work school would be on the side of progressive politics, and the National Review, where I first read about this story, would be on the side of conservative politics. Instead, it's all reversed.

Somebody, please bring order back to the universe! :)
11.17.2008 9:31am