Stacy Snyder and the Untruth That Won’t Die
“The Web Means the End of Forgetting,” but that doesn’t mean it remembers it right
The NY Times published an article in their Sunday Magazine on 25 July 2010, “The Web Means the End of Forgetting,” by Jeffrey Rosen. Mr. Rosen leads his article with the sad story of Stacy Snyder, who posted a picture of herself on her MySpace page entitled “Drunken Pirate.” “As a result, days before Snyder’s scheduled graduation, [Millersville University] denied her a teaching degree… When historians of the future look back on the perils of the early digital age, Stacy Snyder may well be an icon… Stacy Snyder couldn’t reconcile her ‘aspiring-teacher self’ with her ‘having-a-few-drinks self’: even the impression, correct or not, that she had a drink in a pirate hat at an off-campus party was enough to derail her teaching career.”
It’s a potent story, and tends to bring out emotional reactions from people. Millersville University still gets hate mail and flame emails for “what they did” to the poor, aspiring student teacher, who studied so hard and long, who only ever wanted to be running a classroom full of kids, and who was abruptly and without warning denied her future just a few days before graduation.
Minor problem: it’s not quite true.
Snyder’s lawyer, Mark W. Voigt, managed to control the story in interviews when the story initially broke in 2007; Millersville University (MU) could not comment on many of the facts of the case because of privacy laws regarding students. So it was easy to paint a picture of a single mother of two whose dream was destroyed by heartless university officials who could not forgive a simple mistake, even after Snyder apologized.
However, reading the legal opinion on the case reveals a different picture. Basically, MU could not grant a teaching degree (they fiddled with credits to get Snyder a B.A. degree in English) because Snyder failed to pass her student teacher course, as determined by the high school where she had a full-time role as a teacher. Failing to be okayed as a student teacher means, under Pennsylvania Department of Education rules, she cannot be certified as a teacher.
The findings of fact in the case show that Snyder, despite having had college-level courses in the British Literature subjects she was supposed to be teaching, and despite having a teacher’s edition text book, did not understand the course matter she was supposed to be teaching (see page 4 of the judge’s opinion). Her “grammar and spelling were deficient” (page 4). “Students did not understand what the plaintiff [Snyder] was teaching” (page 4). She had trouble controlling her class (page 5). Snyder’s performance was rated “unsatisfactory” at her mid-point performance review, before the pirate picture was posted (page 6). She was cautioned about unprofessional behavior in the classroom (page 6). The high school finally barred her from returning to campus, “based on the plaintiff’s incompetent and unprofessional behavior throughout the entire semester” (pages 8 & 9). “Because [the high school] barred plaintiff from returning, plaintiff did not complete the student teaching practicum and was not eligible to pass student teaching” (page 10). “Because plaintiff had not passed student teaching, pursuant to MU’s academic requirements, she was not eligible to receive a B.S.Ed.” (page 10)
Reading the findings of fact in the case, I was rather glad that Snyder hadn’t become a teacher. Essentially, the system worked, and the high school prevented someone who was not competent to teach from getting her certificate.
I was also amazed at her lawyer, Mark Voigt, who sued Millersville University (whose hands were tied) instead of the high school (who could have reversed their grades). It couldn’t be deep pockets, because the suit only asked for $75,000 in compensatory damages. And while Snyder has become an “icon” of stupidity in the digital age, she is also guaranteed now never to get a second shot at becoming a teacher — what school would risk the negative publicity? Maybe Voigt was counting on MU caving in and awarding Snyder her teaching degree, but since he should have known that MU had no latitude in the case, that makes no sense. So I have no clue what his strategy was, but it does not seem to have served his client very well.