The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

February 22, 2013

Susquehanna's punishment is too much

Daily Item

---- — As a Susquehanna University alumnus who is now studying free speech, it disappoints me to see the latest example of an administrative overreach comes from my undergraduate institution.

This, of course, is a reference to the 11 student-athletes who were removed from their teams as punishment for joining the "Harlem Shake" video craze.

I understand some people at Susquehanna may have found the video to be inappropriate. Some may have simply missed the humor. Others, like myself, may have never heard of the Harlem Shake before we saw it. But making rules and handing down punishments based on personal judgments of morality is a dangerous road.

In a statement, Susquehanna claimed it found the authority for these punishments in the student-athlete handbook, which expects "first-class" behavior from students. But such an interpretation of these words contradicts the university's purpose as a beacon of student expression and exploration, and instead it rests on the arrogant assumption that any administrator at any school is qualified to be the final arbiter of morality.

It also ignores one of Susquehanna's guiding values: we aim to serve as a "learning community that values … learning in and out of the classroom."

Anybody who has had an educational experience at Susquehanna can tell you the lessons one learns while in school come in many forms. Learning in and out of the classroom transcends textbooks and lectures. It is a broad idea that encompasses students' rights to goof-off, act their age sometimes, and mature on their own terms as long as they are not hurting anybody.

Susquehanna should trust its students to process and debate borderline content, using moments like this as independent learning experiences. The decisions of the athletics department in this instance suggests that the appearance of non-controversy was more important to them than their student's free expression. I'm sure I speak for many current and former student-athletes in saying that I hope those who are in charge realize this fundamental error and quickly correct it.

Luke Trama, West Chester