FIRE President Greg Lukianoff and I have written a piece for Minding the Campus explaining the importance a federal jury’s March 20 verdict in favor of Dr. Mike Adams, who sued the University of North Carolina Wilmington for allegedly denying his promotion to full professor because of his outspoken conservative views.
The case is notable for a number of reasons. As we’ve written here on The Torch, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s decision to exempt professors’ teaching and scholarly writings from the Supreme Court’s holding on the speech rights of government employees in Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U. S. 410 (2006) was a monumental victory for academic freedom:
The court understood that professors are generally expected to provide such commentary and writing in their role as academics, and noted that—if applied to academics—Garcetti could preclude First Amendment protection from anything related to their function as professors, a perverse result that would turn academic freedom on its head. The Fourth Circuit ruling was a crucial step in putting the Garcetti genie back in the bottle, on campus at least.
But that was only one of the legal hurdles that Adams faced. After his victory in the Fourth Circuit, Adams still had to convince a jury that he was denied promotion because of his outspoken views. As Greg and I explain, that’s no small feat:
Adams did not have the benefit of a letter outlining the content of his speech as the explicit reason for denial of his promotion application. In fact, Adams’ department chair did everything she could to put as little of her reasoning in writing as possible. As the federal district court detailed in its 2010 order granting the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, concerns about his columns (expressly noting their “offensiveness”) were couched in phrases that sought to convey a vague legitimacy, such as “not demonstrat[ing] a cumulative tangible pattern of expertise.” Adams’ record of service to the school and profession were simply deemed “insufficient.” Without a smoking gun, such slippery reasons for denying promotion are difficult to disprove, presenting a major hurdle for professors, like Adams, who allege viewpoint discrimination.
Check out the full piece at Minding the Campus and join us in celebrating this terrific victory!