The University of Kansas’ Response to Professor’s Controversial Tweet Threatens Speech. Here’s Why.

By September 25, 2013

Over in The Huffington Post, I explain why the University of Kansas’ decision to suspend—pardon me, “administratively withdraw”—Professor David Guth threatens the free speech rights of all KU students and faculty. 

Drawing on FIRE’s letter to KU, sent over the weekend, I point out that because Guth’s speech is protected by the First Amendment, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little’s claim that the suspension is necessary because the university needs time to figure out what to do next just doesn’t wash. I write: 

Gray-Little states that Guth was put on administrative leave "so that the university may review the entire situation." But this poses the obvious question: What’s to review? If Guth’s speech is protected—and it plainly is—then the review should be over very quickly. There’s no need to place Guth on administrative leave (the functional equivalent of a paid suspension) just to figure out whether his speech is or isn’t protected by the First Amendment.

Worse still, suspending Guth because people didn’t like his viewpoint chills speech and enshrines the heckler’s veto on KU’s campus: 

By conditioning the university’s response to controversial but protected speech on the basis of listeners’ reaction, Gray-Little is sanctioning what’s known in First Amendment jurisprudence as the "heckler’s veto." She’s empowering those who disagree with a speaker to determine if his or her message may be heard on campus. Don’t like what someone has to say? Simply threaten to act violently or otherwise "disrupt the learning environment," and the university will quickly censor the speech in question. The university’s explanation provides would-be censors with a road map for how to shut down speakers in the future.

Check out my piece in full and let me know what you think in the comments.

Schools: University of Kansas