Charges against exchange student spark national outcry

Oswego State has become the center of a national freedom of speech debate after threatening to suspend a journalism exchange student for three emails he sent out on Oct. 17.

President Deborah Stanley sent a letter to Alex Myers on Oct. 18, which said he was suspended for dishonesty and disruptive behavior.  The latter charge was later dropped.  Stanley said the administration did not consider a letter they received in support of Myers from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organization Myers contacted after receiving notification of his suspension.

Oswego State has received backlash as a result of the incident from its own academic community and the situation has garnered international feedback after going viral and causing widespread attention.

Myers, a student from Charles Sturt University in Australia, used email to contact sources for a profile article about Oswego State hockey coach Ed Gosek. The profile was a class assignment for a journalism class called Advanced Newswriting and Reporting, taught by adjunct instructor Mike Grogan, a veteran journalist teaching his first semester at Oswego State.

Grogan assigned his students to write a feature story about a public figure of their choice. Due to his interest in sports journalism, Myers chose to write about Gosek.

Myers sent out emails to coaches of three area hockey teams asking their thoughts about Gosek. He introduced himself with a head that read: “My name is Alex Myers, I work for the Office of Public Affairs at SUNY Oswego.” Myers was, in fact, an intern in the Office of Public Affairs, but he was gathering information for a class assignment, not for the college’s official information outlet.

Myers asked rival coaches three questions:

  • “How did you find Mr. Gosek to coach against?”
  • “Have you had any interactions with Mr. Gosek off the ice? If so how did you find him?”
  •  “What is your rivalry like between your school and Oswego State?”

He closed the email by saying, “Be as forthcoming as you like, what you say about Mr. Gosek does not have to be positive.”

After the emails were sent out, Myers received a response from Cornell coach Michael Schafer, who said he found the last line of Myers’ email offensive. After apologizing to Schafer, Myers responded by saying he only wanted to be sure the coach understood he was not writing a “puff piece.”

The next evening, Myers received the letter from Stanley, dated Oct. 18, stating that he was being suspended and would have to leave campus. The letter, a standard form letter, ordered Myers to remove himself and his belongings from campus by 6 p.m. the next day.

“I didn’t feel that my mistake warranted suspension. [It was] like an eviction from where I was living,” Myers said. “I don’t know if I could say it was over the top, but it was definitely troubling.”

It was following receiving the letter that Myers contacted the organization FIRE after learning of it from a friend. The organization gives students and faculty a place to take their concerns about possible violations of their rights, according to Peter Bonilla, the associate director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program.

“It certainly was an extreme reaction [from Oswego State], given the content of his email and how clearly they didn’t constitute any of the kinds of unprotected speech alleged,” Bonilla said. “I won’t speculate on why Oswego State reacted the way it did, but I can say that it’s very common for universities to punish speech that is clearly protected.”

After looking over the case Myers sent, FIRE personnel decided to get involved and sent their findings to Oswego State administrators. But according to Stanley, the case is being handled internally and FIRE’s input had no effect on the outcome.

“[FIRE] sent a letter at some point, but it is not something we generally pay that much attention to,” Stanley said. “We were concerned all along that things be handled correctly, and we did correct things as we went along. Those were totally internal processes.”

Stanley released an email to the entire Oswego State community Tuesday addressing the case. The email reassured students that their First Amendment rights were among the most important things to the administration. According to the Julie Blissert, Director of Public Affairs, the school is standing by what Stanley said in the email.

Shortly after receiving the letter from Stanley, Myers learned he was allowed to stay on campus for an extended period of time. He said he had applied to Dean of Students James Scharfenberger for the extension. After his extension expired, he had to repeat the appeals process. The Office of Judicial Affairs reviewed his case and the charge of disruptive behavior was dropped. The dishonesty charge stood.  As his punishment, Myers lost his internship with the Office of Public Affairs, and must now write an apology letter to coach Gosek and complete an educational assignment.

“Because of that I’ll probably fail on my record back home, and I’ll have to do another semester,” Myers said of losing his internship. “I would have graduated this semester if not for that subject.”

FIRE published the case on its website and it spread to Gawker, The Huffington Post and multiple other websites. The case has gained national attention and has even reached Myers’s home country, Australia. It has especially resonated with Oswego State students, alumni and faculty.

Dr. John Kares Smith of the communications studies department disagrees with the way the administration handled the incident. After Stanley sent out her email defending Oswego State’s decisions, Smith replied to Stanley with an email of his own. He was appreciative of Stanley releasing the statement, but was left with unanswered questions:

“As a Judicial Affairs Advisor for many years, I have served as an Advisor to students successfully accused of hate crimes, sexual assaults, cheating of various kinds, etc., and none of them were immediately suspended. Most left for a semester, perhaps two, and then returned to finish their educations. This kind of suspension is usually reserved for very dangerous students…often armed with guns, knives, etc., and a danger to the society and themselves. Mr. Myers is none of those things, is he? And, frankly, since your suspension was immediately withdrawn I suspect that you may have had second thoughts about it.”

Along with Smith, other faculty members, alumni and students have rallied around him and given him support.

“People that I don’t even know have sent me messages on Facebook just supporting me, which has been great,” Myers said. “Everyone in Hart Hall has been good to me. Students from some of my classes have actually emailed me and got behind me too, which has been great.”

Myers never expected the issue to grow to this extent. When the article was picked up by Gawker, it opened his eyes to the intensity of the situation.

“This issue has been getting kind of crazy,” Myers said. “It has 50,000 views by the time I saw it. All these other organizations had picked up the story, and it’s actually gone back to Australia too. It is kind of embarrassing to have my biggest error over my university career to be broadcasted nationally.”

Myers said this experience has tested his confidence as a reporter.

“It’s definitely tarnished journalism for me,” Myers said. “I was unsure about whether I was suitable for journalism prior to all this. This hasn’t really helped my view on the field, so I’m not 100 percent sure if I’ll continue that career path or if I’ll go into something else.”

The case has led to concerns about the protection of free speech on campus. Stanley said that Oswego State fully supports freedom of speech.

“The campus is vigilant about providing free speech. There just is no learning without the building block of free speech,” Stanley said. “You have to be able to discuss ideas, especially ideas that may not be palatable to everyone. And you also have to be able to discuss them in an atmosphere that is conducive to skepticism. People have to be able to challenge ideas in a way that is protected. That is something we fundamentally understand on this campus. There is no way that we would deliberately close down speech.”

The story has grown beyond the Oswego State campus, with other schools and media organizations reporting on it. Much criticism has come along with these reports for both sides of the situation. According to Stanley, members of the administration have taken the criticism to heart and will admit to any mistakes they have made.

“We would be remiss if we dismissed it [talking about the criticism] or were so defensive about what we do, that we could never examine ourselves in light of what really happens to individuals, to principles, in the way we apply processes and even if the intent is good sometimes the outcome is not what you expect it to be,” Stanley said. “I feel heart sick over the fact that the institution is being viewed this way and that any individual would have suffered, on all sides. I do know that none of this was about speech.”

This is the first case of its kind for the school, according to Stanley, and they are taking the criticism seriously so they are not misjudged on it in the future.


19 thoughts on “Charges against exchange student spark national outcry

  1. I’m personally disgusted with this stanley woman and her actions..but ill probably be kicked out because freedom of speech isn’t a given at SUNY Oswego anymore.

  2. The best story thus far about this unfortunate situation – a balanced approach with all points of view providing perspective. Well done, Oswegonian – you have proven that free speech and student journalism is indeed alive and well on campus.

  3. Less focus should be given on the student and more on the actions of President Stanley. Does she even look at the cases brought to her? Or does she simply deal out an “appropriate” punishment? Don’t pay attention to the circus keep on eye on the ringleader.

  4. I can’t shake the feeling that Stanley is covering something up. Why would she jump so quickly to suspend a student who was only asking about our hockey coach? Is she covering something up?

  5. Im with Cassandra on this. This is not the first time that something like this has happened on this campus in the time that I’ve been here, but this is the first time it involved the coach, and the first time that this kind of reaction was given. I can’t help but think that something more serious is in play here, but its not like a journalist could investigate it on campus safely…

  6. This is ridiculous… blaming a student for doing his homework and making something small into a big issue to the extent of suspending him?! Its outrages… find more about Alex Myers before taking any kind of judgement.

  7. I am at a loss as to the comments given above. It is quite clear that this international student was impersonating as a university employee by stating he worked in the Public Affairs office. Obviously in an attempt to garner some credibility with the recipients of the original email he sent out.

    Additionally, by adding that final line about responses not needing to be positive, he was making it quite clear that he was searching for negative comments about Coach Gosek to juice up his article.

    This incident has NOTHING to do with any First Amendment violation. Ask yourself why he decided to portray himself as a university employee and not simply state he was a student working on a class assignment? Ask yourself why he added that final line to the email suggesting that they could include negative comments?

    At the heart of journalism is the integrity of the writer. If the writer’s integrity is in question then the same can be said for the content of what he writes. Going a step further, sources for a piece need to know exactly who they are dealing with and why. Myers failed horribly on all counts in a feeble attempt to add juice to his assignment.

    Credibility is something that a write must earn, not insinuate by taking on a title that he hasn’t rightfully earned.

    Do you all really think that these seasoned NCAA coaches didn’t see through the poorly veiled email and know that it was someone other than a OSU employee?

    Come on! If you had someone impersonating a professor you all would be going crazy right now.

    Just think about it!

    1. He is an intern at the public affairs office, right? All the interns with whom I ever worked at any employer were considered to be working for the employer. How is that misrepresentation or even deceptive?

      In addition, one of my closest friends of forty years is a reporter at a major metropolitan newspaper and worked at the New York Times in more prosperous days. She says it is a little like police work. A common trick to get a response was to present credentials in a perfectly valid way, but a way that let the target of the query pad the credentials with details of their own mental interpretation. During interrogations in most states, police are allowed to outright lie to get a potential perpetrator to divulge information, which the police believed to be true, but could not prove from physical info.

  8. Mary Ann, all he was trying to do was get an honest piece. It is thoughts like that which really squelch the true voice of journalism these days. To assume a person is trying to commit malicious acts by just asking simple questions is very ignorant.

    Your comment would almost make me assume that you work for the college, but that is not the point.

    Myers was simply doing an assignment that required a journalistic approach and to scrutinize him for asking a question and making a statement to assure open communication, is wrong.

    It scares me to think that institutions which mean to teach and educate students bring punishments down upon students before given fair hearings. As if we are guilty before proven innocent.

    You do know Myers was told that he must leave his dorm and was not allowed to utilize campus facilities before his hearing yes?

    1. @Bob … First, to answer your question, I am an alum and have never worked for the university. Your comments seem almost surreal to me. You are condoning impersonating a employee of the university? That is not what journalism is and please, he was working on a class assignment, not covering Watergate so there is no need for dramatics.

      Was being disingenuous a requirement for this assignment? Were students encouraged to mislead their sources in order to get open communication? Whose to say that Myers wouldn’t have gotten open communication by stating he was a student working on an assignment. As a writer myself, I can tell you that the portions of Myers’ email that were shared in this article don’t encourage, let alone assure open communication.

      Furthermore, if you think that these coaches would talk poorly about Coach Gosek to the Public Affairs office of an opposing university, in an email no less, then I have to assume that you haven’t spent too much time in the real world. Public Affairs, in case you were unaware, has as its primary goal the task of showing the university in a positive light, accentuating the goals and achievements of Oswego’s students, faculty and staff. Why on earth would someone from PA encourage these coaches to share negative opinions of Coach Gosek?

      Myers got caught with his hand in the cookie jar and is now trying to spin it into his 15 minutes of fame. I can understand some being upset about the consequences that were handed down, possibly feeling they were too harsh. Yet, the actions here are clearly unethical and put his academic integrity in question. The fact that you seem to have no concern whatsoever that he mislead the email recipients as to who he was and why he was asking them questions about Coach Gosek is simply mind-boggling to me.

      As far as the demand that he leave the campus while his hearing was pending – how is that any different than someone being arrested for a crime and having to either post bail or stay in jail until his/her court date? I really don’t think you are truly grasping the severity of what he has done.

      1. @Mary Ann

        Although it’s completely valid to say Myers disserves his punishment for misrepresentation, saying his “hand got caught in the cookie jar” and that he’s trying to spin this into his 15 minutes of fame are ignorant and inflammatory. Since you call your self a writer, which is worse; seeking the truth through misrepresentation, or promoting lies through ignorant, unfounded and speculative comments about a student who you’ve never spoken too?

        1. @Keith

          You are ignoring some very specific facts.
          1) Alex received the letter from the university almost a month ago (Oct. 18th). Why is he just going public with it now? Why did he wait?
          2) Bonilla is adding to the publicity (and was brought into this to specifically do just that) if this case by stating that this was “protected speech.” From what I can see, the university is not concerned that Alex attempted to contact these coaches it is the fact that he was deceptive and, in particular, claiming to work for the university.
          3) If you look at the quotes given by Alex himself in the article it is quite clear that he is enjoying the attention. The quotes that I took specific notice of was the mention of the article having 50K reads. His jibe at journalism was not lost on me either and the fact that the news had reached back to his home country of Australia. He even admitted that he made a mistake – he appears to be only taking issue with his suspension. No where does he attempt to defend his actions or even bring up the free speech argument.

          So, to address your claim that I am being ignorant and promoting lies that are unfounded is moot at this point. There is more than enough in the article to substantiate the fact that he knew exactly what he was doing and now that he was caught he is hoping that with enough public attention, the university will back down from the suspension.

          Seeking the truth thought misrepresentation is not journalism. As I clearly argued in my last comment – encouraging negative comments about Coach Gosek to someone in Public Affairs is a huge red flag for anyone who has any real life experience. Lying to get to the truth is not anything that any true journalist would condone. If a journalist is worth their salt, the don’t have to lie to get to the truth. And what skeletons exactly did he expect to find about Coach Gosek? Why go after Gosek in the first place? Was he hoping to do some Deadspin-type expose to bring down someone that Oswego holds in such high regard? If that isn’t an attention-getting scheme, I don’t know what is.

          And lastly, to address your personal digs at me, let me make something perfectly clear, I live by a mantra that you may find antiquated but I believe that actions speak louder then words. So my “speculation” is based on the deep-seeded deceptive nature of the acts in question. If he does this was for a simple class assignment, what should be expect of him for his Master thesis or PhD dissertation? In closing, my evaluation of the topic, based solely on the contents of the above article and the words of the student himself are the basis for my opinion. So, they are in no way, lies, ignorant, unfounded and certainly not speculative.

          1. @ Mary Ann

            1)Myers contacted FIRE for assistance the week of his suspension from SUNY Oswego on Oct. 17. The letter from FIRE to the President Stanley is dated October 26. Myers did not “wait” until now to go public. He found himself expelled from school in a foreign country and he got help during what most students would consider a traumatic experience. By stating he waited to go public, you’re maliciously implying he’s doing so to seek publicity, despite his statements and actions that suggest otherwise.

            2) Bonilla posted the story to his organizations website, which was then picked up by several Oswego Alum and circulated across the web. You’re right, that was what he was hired to do. For Myers sake, it may have saved him his academic career. What would your 20 something college self done facing expulsion? Run off with your tail between your legs? From your comments, you don’t seem like the fall-on-your-sword type.

            The most severe charge, using campus resources to harass or bully an individual, is most certainly a free speech issue since it stemmed from the fact Coach Schafer was “offended” by Myers rather benign “doesn’t have to be positive” email statement. He was to be punished for offending another person, hardly a crime in this country. The charge was dropped only after FIRE brought the story public. At the time FIRE filed the letter, free speech was most definitely an issue on the table.

            3) How you contrive that Myers is eating up this attention is mind-boggling. He has refused interviews with almost every media outlet that contacted him directly. Most publications simply reran FIREs initial story verbatim. In the interviews he has given, he’s repeatedly stated he just wants to get the whole thing behind him. If he wanted to drag things out publicly, he’d be fighting all forms of discipline by the college.

            How would you feel if 50,000 people got to read the academic mistakes you made in college? The kid was here to learn and he made a mistake. Unfortunately chemists mistakes stay in the lab and accounting students screw up someones taxes. Being a journalist, this kid now faces a public panel of a million judges telling him where he erred.

            You can’t just ramble falsehoods and call the opposing argument moot. It validates the fact that you’d rather ignorantly look down on this kid regardless of the circumstances and embody your beliefs in his misfortunes. It’s irresponsible.

            You talk about “real life experience” like it’s something that you somehow magically obtained without having ever learned from your mistakes. I’m going to go out on a limb and say you’re in your 40s or older, judging by your assumption I am young and therefore your views are “antiquated” to me. Also, you’re ability to put a coherent sentence together and use punctuation on the internet is a pretty dead give away (please correct me if I’m wrong, and yes, that was a compliment). How did you get to where you are today? You haven’t said what kind of writer you are, but classically, some of the best have been passionate wanderers of the the world, unafraid to misstep for what stories may become of it, their writing born out of there own mistakes and misfortunes.

            You say he was asking for trouble by seeking more than a generally praising of Coach Gosek. Journalists don’t get answers to questions they don’t ask. Hockey is a holy grail in Oswego and Gosek is it’s protector, and if you’ve studied history or literature at all, you know things of power hold tight to there secrets. So why wouldn’t Myers ask about Gosek?

            And if you want to extrapolate Myers email indiscretion upon his hypothetical masters and PHd career, go for it. However, you should really read up on the fraud, data manipulation and misrepresentation that continues to bestow thesis papers and publication of all ranges of academic ilk, including medical students and working doctors, where lives are at stake.

            To wrap it up, you’re right, actions do indeed speak louder than words. That applies to Myers and President Stanley. Her actions indicate she needed to intimidate a student who seemingly threatened her majestic view of SUNY Oswego and all of it’s activities. When called out on the factual and legal basis of her intimidation, she backed it down a ladder and fast as the rungs were publicly pulled out from under her.

    1. no eviction, no suspension, a hearing with a panel of students, faculty and staff, the charges were adjusted with a punishment that fit the violation…personal attacks, no facts and conspiracy theories under the protection of anonymity do not advance the discussion.

  9. Note to self. Discourage your niece from attending this university, which one of three in the Northeast she was considering . Clearly this is a not a liberal arts school but a school based on Tea Party principles of ignoring truth. I think I’ll contact my uncles in Australia to see if they can help bring to bear pressure to end exchanges between Australian university programs and such a backwards thinking American university. They probably thought being part of SUNY meant a high-minded school that respected freedom of press and civil liberties of students.

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