Thursday, November 27, 2014

Professors' Rights to Free Speech at Risk Nationwide

Working for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending civil liberties on campus, we've seen faculty nationwide punished for speaking their minds as of late. The list of examples is long:

    In September 2013, University of Kansas Professor David Guth was placed on administrative leave following a tweet he posted to his personal Twitter account condemning the National Rifle Association. Though the tweet comprised only constitutionally protected speech, the controversy surrounding it inspired the Kansas Board of Regents to enact a new policy on "improper use of social media" that allows the state's public institutions of higher education to punish faculty for a range of protected expression online.

    Back in January, Bergen Community College Professor Francis Schmidt posted a picture on Google+ of his young daughter wearing a T-shirt that said, "I will take what is mine with fire & blood"--a quote from the popular HBO show Game of Thrones. An automatic email was sent to Schmidt's Google+ contacts, which was forwarded to administrators who deemed it a "threatening email." BCC placed Schmidt on unpaid leave until a psychiatrist attested to his mental fitness and told him he could be terminated if he made "disparaging" comments about the college. BCC finally cleared Schmidt's record only under pressure from the law firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.

    Twice a year for over 20 years, Professor Patti Adler included a presentation on prostitution in her "Deviance in U.S. Society" course, which included a skit in which teaching assistants volunteered to portray prostitutes and answer questions as their characters. The course was a perennial favorite at the University of Colorado at Boulder, but in December 2013, administrators told Adler that a former teaching assistant had objected to the presentation. Because some students might be "uncomfortable" (though no students said they were), Adler was given a choice between resigning or canceling the course. Under public pressure, CU-Boulder eventually allowed Adler to return and continue teaching, but by then, participation in the presentation had already been significantly chilled, forcing Adler to discontinue it.

    In March 2012, Appalachian State University Professor Jammie Price was placed on administrative leave for criticizing the university's handling of sexual assault cases and screening a documentary that took a critical look at the adult film industry in her sociology course. Students alleged that Price had created a hostile environment, and App State found her guilty without affording her due process and ordered her to complete training on how to teach "sensitive topics."

    Professor Suzanne Sisley worked for years to obtain the necessary governmental approval for her study on the therapeutic effects of marijuana, to be conducted at the University of Arizona, where she had worked since 2007. In June 2014, however, the university abruptly terminated her employment amidst accusations that she supported a recall petition against a senator who had blocked state funding for her study. Arizona lawmakers wrote to UA to express concern that Sisley's termination appeared to be politically motivated and to note the severe chilling effect this could have on future research.

    This summer, University of North Carolina at Wilmington Professor Mike Adams finally reached the end of his seven-year federal lawsuit alleging that UNC Wilmington denied him a promotion because of conservative political viewpoints he had expressed in non-university publications. The university was ultimately ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees and back pay. Adams created positive First Amendment precedent in the Fourth Circuit for everyone, regardless of views, but this legal battle demonstrates the extreme lengths to which professors sometimes must go simply to defend their right to free speech.



Anonymous said...

Higher education suffers from two serious sicknesses. The first sickness, which has been going on for more than forty years, is the pressure for faculty to beg for grant money, do something called research, and get mostly worthless papers published which are usually of interest only to other faculty trying to publish on the same general topic.
The second sickness is somewhat more recent, but is probably more insidious. It is the takeover by Political Correctness which is totally opposite to the basic premise of open discussion and consideration of conflicting ideas.
Higher education used to be student centered with education of students being primary; now it is administration and faculty centered with the reputation of the administration and faculty being primary.

Jerry Doctor said...

Anon (12:44):

We used to talk about the "New Scientific Method." Step one was "get the grant."

When I was an undergraduate in the mid 60's I had several very liberal professors. My "Au H2O" button pretty much gave my political leanings away. We had several classroom discussions where I was basically told I was an idiot to believe what I did. However, I never felt that my grades were threatened by these discussions. My right to hold those opinions was never questioned. Today I'd probably be dragged in front of some phony committee and threatened with expulsion.