BINGHAMTON, N.Y. (CN) – A former graduate student claims SUNY Binghamton expelled him because he posted signs on campus accusing a professor – who was also the city’s low-income housing director – of wrongfully evicting a tenant of color.
Andre Massena speech rights were violated when the school kicked him out of its master’s program in social work and public administration. He claims he was expelled because high-ranking university officials disagreed with what he said on his posters.
Professor David Tanenhaus is not named as a defendant.
“Tanenhaus was and continues to be the director of the Binghamton Housing Authority,” overseeing the city’s HUD low-income housing, according to the federal complaint.
Before resorting to the posters, Massena says, he complained of Tanenhaus’ alleged mistreatment of tenants several times to defendant Laura Bronstein, chairwoman of the social work department, but she did nothing to investigate his claims.
Tanenhaus is no longer listed in SUNY Binghamton literature as a teacher at the university, Massena says.
“On or about Aug. 25, 2008, while Tanenhaus was still teaching at SUNY Binghamton, plaintiff placed posters in the halls of a SUNY Binghamton building, a public forum in which other political posters calling for action were displayed, which stated that a particular tenant of color in one of Tanenhaus’ buildings was wrongfully evicted,” the complaint states. “The posters included pictures of the eviction process and described the surrounding circumstances of the evictions.
“The posters blamed the Binghamton Housing Authority and the director of the Binghamton Housing Authority (who, at the time was Professor Tanenhaus) for the tenant’s treatment, and they suggested that people call the SUNY Binghamton Social Work Department and the Binghamton Housing Authority to express their views. [Parentheses in complaint.]
“The poster did not disrupt, nor call for a disruption, of the educational mission, work or discipline of the school.
“The only activity encouraged by the poster was telephoning the Binghamton Housing Authority and SUNY Binghamton Social Work Department, ‘to let them know what you think,’ which was not harmful in any way,” the plaintiff claims.
Four days after posting the signs, Massena says he received an email from Bronstein accusing him of entering a university building “under false pretenses” and then lying about it, both of which he denied.
The school suspended Massena and ordered him to apologize to the city and its housing authority, under threat of dismissal, he says.
Massena says that before the incident with the signs, he received numerous awards and scholarships, and was asked to speak to students of color at a retreat for the social work program, and was treated by SUNY Binghamton “as a model” and “good spokesperson” for the department, appearing in the university’s student handbook and on the school’s website, standing alongside Bronstein.
Massena sued the State University of New York at Binghamton, the City of Binghamton, Bronstein, and Deputy Mayor Tarrick Abdelazim, who refused to renew Massena’s employment contract with the city, purportedly citing “the postering incident” as the reason.
Massena is represented by Robert Isseks of Middletown and Peter Sell of New York City.