Letter from FIRE to Texas A&M University-San Antonio President Maria Hernandez, Ferrier, June 1, 2012

By June 1, 2012

June 1, 2012

President Maria Hernandez Ferrier
Texas A&M University-San Antonio
Office of the President
One University Way
San Antonio, Texas 78224

URGENT

Sent via U.S. Mail and Facsimile (210-932-6219)

Dear President Ferrier:

As you can see from the list of our Directors and Board of Advisors, FIRE unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of liberty, due process, legal equality, voluntary association, religious liberty, and freedom of speech on America’s college campuses. Our website, thefire.org, will give you a greater sense of our identity and activities.

FIRE is deeply concerned by the threat to free speech presented by Texas A&M University-San Antonio’s (TAMU-SA’s) decision to effectively terminate a faculty member following the publication of an article in which she made comments critical of the university administration. Especially in light of clear evidence that TAMU-SA had been fully intent on her teaching this fall, this decision leaves the unmistakable impression that the faculty member has been retaliated against solely on the basis of her expression.

This is our understanding of the facts; please inform us if you believe we are in error. Since fall 2010, Sissy Bradford has served as a lecturer in TAMU-SA’s criminology and sociology departments, teaching four course sections in each of the last three semesters. In November 2011, Bradford voiced criticism of the placement of crosses on the tower of the Torre de Ezperanza (“Tower of Hope”) at the entrance to the TAMU-SA campus, and stated her concern that the crosses implied an improper endorsement of Christianity by the university. Around November 18, 2011, the crosses were removed. As a result of her voicing her opposition, Bradford received numerous angry emails and letters, one of which included the message “As a professor, do you have the right to live?” Eventually, Bradford began to feel concerned for her safety. On December 5, 2011, she submitted a statement to the TAMU-SA police, citing among other things what she believed to be a “pattern of harassment, stalking, invasion of privacy, [and] threats.”

In February 2012, Bradford was assigned to teach four course sections at TAMU-SA in the fall 2012 semester, consisting of two sections of a criminology course on “Community Perspectives in Crime” and two sections of a criminology course (cross-listed with sociology) on “Social Deviance.” A February 2, 2012, email from Assistant Professor of Criminology Durant H. Frantzen confirmed the assignment, informing Bradford that “I have you for these 4 classes in the fall.” Further, an April 2, 2012, email from interim TAMU-SA School of Arts and Sciences head William S. Bush, in response to an inquiry about additional teaching opportunities by Bradford, stated that “[w]e still have you on the schedule for fall as you describe.” Bradford placed an order for her course materials in March.

Records further show that in early April a significant number of students had already registered for Bradford’s fall courses, which had already been placed on the schedule. For Section 001 of her Social Deviance class, to be taught Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:45 p.m., 21 students were already enrolled out of a maximum allowance of 35 students. 16 out of a maximum of 35 students had signed up for Section 002 of the same course, to be taught from 12:30 to 1:45 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays.

On May 16, The Current, a San Antonio weekly newspaper, published a story detailing Bradford’s criticisms of the way TAMU-SA handled her complaints, including allegations that “the University Police Department refused to take her statements” and that TAMU-SA had failed to provide her with any extra security measures. Shortly after 5:00 p.m. the very same day, Bush emailed Bradford, stating, “I’m writing to inform you that the School of Arts and Sciences will not be able to offer you any classes in the fall semester.” TAMU-SA also revoked Bradford’s TAMU-SA email account.

As a public university, TAMU-SA is morally and legally bound by the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of expression. That the First Amendment applies fully on public college campuses is long-settled law. See, e.g., Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169, 180 (1972) (citation omitted) (“[T]he precedents of this Court leave no room for the view that, because of the acknowledged need for order, First Amendment protections should apply with less force on college campuses than in the community at large. Quite to the contrary, ‘the vigilant protection of constitutional freedoms is nowhere more vital than in the community of American schools'”). Adjunct faculty members do not possess diminished First Amendment rights because of their employment status. Adverse employment action against an adjunct faculty member, when that action is due to the professor’s protected expression, violates the professor’s First Amendment rights. This includes decisions not to rehire adjunct faculty members who have a reasonable expectation of being rehired. See Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 283 (“[A teacher's] claims under the First and Fourteenth Amendments are not defeated by the fact that he [does] not have tenure.”) While a public college may choose not to rehire an adjunct faculty member for a variety of reasons, per contractual agreement, public universities like TAMU-SA may not make such a decision for a constitutionally impermissible reason. Because it appears that TAMU-SA has effectively terminated Bradford’s employment on the basis of her protected speech as a citizen, TAMU-SA has relied on precisely such an impermissible reason.

Dismissing faculty in the manner TAMU-SA appears to have dismissed Bradford serves to dramatically chill speech at TAMU-SA, sending the unmistakable signal to faculty that they criticize the university at their peril. As should be obvious, free speech and academic freedom cannot survive in such an environment, betraying the traditional American conception of the public college campus as being “peculiarly the ‘marketplace of ideas.'” Healy, 408 U.S. 169 at 180. As the Supreme Court noted in Sweezy v. New Hampshire, 354 U.S. 234, 250 (1957), “To impose any strait jacket upon the intellectual leaders in our colleges and universities would imperil the future of our Nation.”

FIRE notes that since Bradford’s dismissal, TAMU-SA has publicly claimed that her dismissal was not motivated by the content of her speech, that she was one of 20 adjunct faculty members who were released, and that the decision was based on TAMU-SA’s desire to give more class sections to tenure-track faculty members. However, the sequence of events presented herebolstered by correspondence demonstrating that TAMU-SA intended to have Bradford return to teaching in the fall and that students were already signed up for her scheduled classesstrongly suggests that Bradford’s effective termination was motivated solely by the article in The Current, which appeared on the same day as her dismissal. As such, Bradford’s dismissal appears to violate TAMU-SA’s obligation to respect the First Amendment rights of its faculty.

Texas A&M University-San Antonio bears the burden to demonstrate that its decision to dismiss Bradford from her scheduled fall teaching responsibilities was not motivated by Bradford’s protected expression as a citizen. If TAMU-SA cannot do so, then FIRE asks that the university immediately reinstate Sissy Bradford and restore to her the courses she was scheduled to teach at TAMU-SA this fall. FIRE is prepared to use all resources at our disposal to ensure a just outcome in this case.

We request a response to our letter by June 15, 2012.

Sincerely,

Peter Bonilla
Associate Director, Individual Rights Defense Program

cc:
Brent M. Snow, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
William S. Bush, Interim School Head, School of Arts and Sciences
Durant H. Frantzen, Assistant Professor, Department of Criminology

Download file "Letter from FIRE to Texas A&M University-San Antonio President Maria Hernandez, Ferrier, June 1, 2012"

Schools: Texas A&M University – San Antonio Cases: Texas A&M University-San Antonio: Professor Dismissed After Publication of Critical Article