Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Professor Maurice Eisenstein, an associate professor of political science at Purdue University Calumet. He is suing Purdue after the school’s investigation of his comments about Islam on Facebook. Though the probe cleared him, he says Purdue still violated his free speech rights.
FP: Professor Maurice Eisenstein, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about your ordeal at Purdue. How did the whole incident start?
Eisenstein: Thanks Jamie.
The entire attack on my free speech began over a post I made to Facebook in November 2011. I posted a picture with a storyline about an Islamist Muslim group (Boko Haram) killing Christians in Nigeria. I asked: Where were the moderate Muslims? They must be listening to that idiot Mohammad.
From this, one of my PUC colleagues, a Muslim, told me (on Facebook) that she believed my statement about Mohammad was beyond despicable. Once she responded to me, then several of her students were able come to my Facebook page to tell me that they also believed that I was out-of-bounds for denigrating Mohammad. Their essential issue was that I was offending Mohammed and Islam. In the wake of that incident, the Muslim Student Association became involved and they did a press release saying that no prophet (Jesus, Moses, Mohammad — their argument not mine) should be insulted because offending a religion was not an acceptable use of freedom of speech.
Basically, this whole ordeal started because I insulted Mohammad. I did insult Mohammad. I may not have been nice about it, I may have been provocative about it, but quite frankly, I think killing Christians because they are Christian and not Muslim is much more insulting than calling Mohammad an idiot.
From this incident, there emerged an active campaign from the Muslim faculty and students, the Muslim Student Association (acting, as it claimed, on behalf of all Muslims), and their leftist supporters, active collusion to get the University to fire me for offending them. Because the University could not fire me for Facebook comments, the faculty, students, and the MSA decided that it would then say that I was harassing and discriminating against students in my classroom. Toward that end, audio tapes of one of my courses from Spring 2011 were then posted on YouTube. It was an Introduction to Judaism course, which I taught from a pro-Jewish and pro-Israel perspective. Two of the books I used in the course were: Why the Jews? by Praeger and Telushkin as well as The Israel Test by George Gilder. Anyway, I am very provocative and blunt — I like challenging students, particularly since most of what is taught on campus (irrespective of the discipline) comes from a center left perspective.
Now, there are over 40 to 45 hours of lectures from that class. Out of those 40 to 45 hours, about 16 minutes were posted on YouTube and, of course, these 16 minutes were selectively edited so that I was portrayed in the worst possible light and without context. Then, based on these tapes, in conjunction with my Facebook comments, 9 separate harassment and discrimination complaints were filed against me.
FP: What tactic was used by your accusers?
Eisenstein: The tactic was: the University cannot investigate Facebook, but if we tie the problem to his teaching, well, then the University can investigate it. The problem with these 9 complaints are many. To try to sum it up:
First: only 1 of the complaints was from a student who was ever in one of my classes. That student was in a class of mine in Fall 2011 for two class periods. Yes, you read that right, that student was in a class of mine for two whole class periods. I was teaching how democracy came from the Anglo-Saxon Protestants — the English — as written by DeToqueville and this student was offended because I mentioned that democracy did not derive from any other culture or place. As a Muslim, this student was offended.
Second: There were no student complaints filed about the class I taught in Spring 2011. No student ever complained and to this day, the audio tapes posted on You Tube are anonymous. No one knows where they are from.
Third: 8 complaints involved individuals or organizations that had no basis for filing harassment/discrimination complaints. Two were from students I had never met let alone ever had in one of my classes. One was from the MSA — who filed on behalf of all Muslims. Five were from faculty members and of those five faculty members, 4 of them were not even involved in the Facebook exchange that started the whole ordeal.
In short, there was a concerted effort to get as many people as possible to file harassment/discrimination complaints against me so that the University could have a basis for sanctioning me. The University then spent the next 3 months investigating my freedom of speech. They investigated my Facebook postings, they investigated my class from Spring 2011 (based on anonymous tapes) even though the University policy for harassment/discrimination states that no complaints filed after 120 days can be investigated (e.g., the class had ended far longer than 120 days earlier during which time no complaints were filed — nor have any complaints from a student in that class been filed).
They investigated my Fall 2011 classes because of the one student who was in my course for two class periods. The University hired an outside investigator who interviewed no less than 30 people (some of whom I do not even know) — emphasizing that Facebook was being used as a means of assessing me and my character — covering my entire career at PUC. It was nothing less than an all-out assault being waged against me. For example, one of the faculty members who filed a complaint against me alleged that I took down her name plate (off her door, off her desk, I am not sure) in 1991 or 1992 while we were both adjuncts at PUC! And the University investigated this as well. It was beyond ridiculous. It factually shows that Purdue University has accepted the Muslim notion of "being offended" as a legal definition. It you offend the religion in any way you are liable.
FP: The University cleared you of these 9 harassment/discrimination complaints. How or why do you think that happened?
Eisenstein: My very short answer is: the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, FIRE. If not for FIRE, I think things could have and would have likely gone very differently. FIRE sent a letter in January 2012 and that letter was made public about 1 day before the University had to issue a ruling on these 9 complaints. The University ended up extending its decision time-line in the aftermath of the public relations fallout from the FIRE letter.
I really do think that without the support from a national organization with the credibility that FIRE has, the University would have tried to initiate termination proceedings. The whole attempt to fire me would be over the issue of "offending" someone. (For those unfamiliar — firing a tenure professor is a complicated ordeal.)
FP: What about the retaliation claims found against you?
Eisenstein: Well, these retaliation charges and guilty findings are based on two separate incidents. Basically, professors Lerner and Joyce both (tried to) initiate conversations with me (Lerner by email and Joyce in person). In both instances, I attempted to convey that I was not interested in conversations with them that did not involve official University business. My exchange with Lerner happened over my personal email — that is, I responded to an email he sent to my non-University account.
So, again, we have the University investigating my speech — speech on my personal email account and associated with one of my personal associations — the Jewish Federation of Northwest Indiana. My exchange with Joyce was in person and in the aftermath of that exchange, she then falsely accused me of saying mean-spirited comments. As FIRE pointed out in a second letter to the University, all of the alleged speech is protected by the First Amendment.
FP: Do you anticipate that after all of this the University will change its behavior?
Eisenstein: I am convinced that nothing, at this point, will get the University to change its behavior. In fact, at this very moment, the University is conducting yet another investigation of my free speech. This time the University is investigating whether or not my blog has violated the University’s anti-harassment/discrimination policies. The specific blog in question can be viewed here. It is essentially accusing me of retaliation for publishing emails they provided to me through a FOIA request. But, essentially, the University is continuing to violate my First Amendment rights even up to today. The question of why it would do this remains the University’s commitment to Muslim legal definitions, especially when it comes to "offending" Islam. As recently as last week, Miriam Joyce, a professor who filed a complaint against me is quoted as saying that she believes in free-speech but only if it does not offend our Saudi students. This is the one of the same professors who voted against my department supporting a presentation by Ms. Peggy Shapiro from StandWithUs on the Nazi roots of contemporary anti-Semitism, which was covered here on Frontpage.
FP: Why do you think the University engages in this kind of behavior?
Eisenstein: I think that the University behaves this badly for a number of reasons. First, the university administrators (and others at the university) never have to pay the legal bills for their illegal behavior. If the administrators were held personally accountable for the financial troubles they inflict upon the tax payers (I am at a state funded university), I think we would see a wholesale change in behavior. Second, as an individual, it is expensive to legally defend yourself against an institution that gets to feed off public funds. And, points one and two are related, as I think the University and its administration relies on most professors (and students) not having the resources to legally pursue their cause. I would like to see University administrators, and other professors, have to pay out of their own pocket for patently violating the First Amendment.
FP: How might you advise others to confront similar situations?
Eisenstein: There are two things I would say: 1) get a lawyer right from the start. And 2) contact FIRE.
FP: Tell us a bit about the lawsuit you have filed. What might it achieve? What do you hope it will achieve?
Eisenstein: The lawsuit deals with three issues: administrative violations by the University, the collusion of faculty with Chancellor Keon of PUC to subvert my freedom of speech, and outrageous violations to my right to privacy. For the first issue, the University, as I referenced before, did not follow its own procedures in how it chose to pursue the original 9 harassment/discrimination complaints against me. Most importantly for me, though, is that the University has found me "guilty" of two instances of retaliation that do not meet any legal standard for retaliation. So I want to have those administrative decisions reversed and the sanctions imposed on me reversed.
I also want the University to protect my — and others’ — right to privacy. The University administration released private documents from my personnel file to other faculty members who then made these documents public. This is a plain violation of the law and I want the University to have to take steps to correct this mistake and to ensure it will not ever happen again. Really, this was extreme and outrageous.
Finally, the collusion of the faculty with the administration to deny me my civil rights is as outrageous a situation as one can imagine. The University not only allowed the abuse of its legitimate process dealing with real harassment and discrimination, it encouraged and participated in the abuse. These practices need to stop. The University has policies that say the right thing — their policies state that speech protected by the First Amendment will not be investigated — but the University never adhered, nor adheres, to that policy. What I want is for the University to never again investigate someone’s free speech, ever. As the Supreme Court has indicated, if free-speech is chilled at a university it cannot continue to be an institution of higher learning.
FP: Professor Maurice Eisenstein, best of luck to you in your battle for free speech at Purdue and thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.