Georgia Official Goes from One Free Speech Fiasco to Another

By June 18, 2012

It may be hard to believe that after being sued in a free speech lawsuit that settled for $50,000 and retiring, former East Georgia College (EGC) president John B. Black is getting a new gig as interim president of Macon State College.

FIRE is reporting here, for the first time, the interesting timeline of Black’s retirement. FIRE first reported on the free speech case of Professor Thomas Thibeault at EGC with a national press release on September 15, 2009. After FIRE won the case, we sent out a second national press release on November 3, 2009. On November 19, Black received a letter from Robert Watts, Chief Operating Officer of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. As I read it, the letter basically told Black to retire within the next two years, because staying for more than two years was no longer on the table: 

The Board of Regents is aware that you have given more than forty years of service to the University System and are eligible to retire at any time. … [T]he Board, Chancellor [Erroll B.] Davis [Jr.], and I would like for you to continue to serve as President of East Georgia College and postpone your retirement for up to two years. … No post-presidential leave or employment would be offered. [Emphasis added.]

Black finally announced his retirement on September 28, 2011, just three weeks after FIRE announced the $50,000 settlement of Thibeault’s lawsuit. 

Meanwhile, Macon State has been embroiled in its own free speech controversy related to its own former president. As The Telegraph (Macon, Ga.) reported:

Elizabeth Denise Caldon, [former president David] Bell’s former administrative assistant, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit under the Georgia Whistleblower Act in March 2009. Caldon maintains she was given the option to resign or be fired in September 2008 after a series of events in which she refused to comply with orders to record false information in official records about Bell’s attendance and leave.

Indeed, as Caldon tells it, she was ordered to make up fake information about Bell’s schedule even while Bell was too sick to be traveling. This never became a FIRE case because we rarely can take up a case outside of the faculty and student populations, but this case should have attracted far more attention than it received at the time.

I doubt that Black’s presence at Macon State is going to be a boon for free speech, and one has to wonder what is going on in the University System of Georgia that led Black to be offered this employment.

Schools: East Georgia College Cases: East Georgia College: Professor Fired Without a Hearing over Mysterious ‘Sexual Harassment’ Charge