To his credit, Andre Massena just wants to put everything behind him and graduate. If I’d been screwed with to the extent that he has, I’d be out for blood.
Massena, a master’s degree candidate in the Binghamton University department of social justice, has been hanging in limbo since he hung up flyers in August 2008 protesting what he believed to be unethical eviction practices at the Binghamton Housing Authority. That might have been the end of it if David Tanenhaus, the BHA’s executive director, was not also an adjunct professor in the department of social justice.
Massena lost his job at the BHA and was threatened with suspension from the University, he said, if he did not issue an apology and a retraction of his statements. When the case drew national attention through the efforts of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the Binghamton University administration issued a statement claiming that because of “regrettable procedural misunderstandings,” the case was “no longer being pursued.” In Massena’s world, things were looking up.
Except they weren’t. Massena said that he is being given failing grades in his classes. Before the case hit papers, Massena was a poster boy for the department (you may have seen his face in BU recruitment brochures), and he said he regularly received transcripts full of A and B grades. Now, Massena said, his professors claim he’s been sleeping in class, failing to participate and neglecting his assignments. Massena said he and his classmates vigorously deny these charges, and the department could not be reached for comment on its allegations against Massena.
Massena retaliated, going up the chain of command and issuing written grievances for perceived academic misconduct in February 2009. He filed no fewer than 17 grievances against various professors. According to Massena, only one of those grievances initiated a response and a proper grievance hearing.
When I contacted University spokesman Ryan Yarosh for comment, inquiring as to whether the University was investigating the allegations against the department of social justice, this was his response:
“As of right now all I can really say is that he is appropriately using the grievance procedures available to him.”
At least he said something, considering the department wouldn’t even talk to me.
So Massena hangs around, his academic career under a cloud, while the administration and the folks over in the department of social justice wring their hands and hope to God everyone forgets about this story.
Now, I came to Binghamton expecting certain things. I thought college would be a stronghold of free speech, and a place where I could learn in peace and start working toward the rest of my life.
I did not expect to run aground against an administration that just doesn’t care what happens to any of us.
If Massena is telling the truth, the department of social justice is guilty of academic misconduct on a grand scale. The level of contempt it has for its own students is obscene. But our administration clearly is not lifting a finger to intervene on Massena’s behalf, or even mounting a departmental investigation. What is the administration doing if it’s not protecting its students from unethical attacks? Why can’t I trust them to do the right thing?
“Sit down and shut up” is the constant undertone I hear from the Couper Administration Building. “Go to class, get on the Internet, watch the Game Show Network, which we’ve so graciously provided for you in every dorm room. Did you know we got the Game Show Network? Why don’t you go watch it right now?”
Don’t get me wrong; we can learn here. But does it really have to be an uphill battle like this? Do we really have to fight against President Lois DeFleur in her ivory tower?