This Month in FIRE History: SUNY Fredonia Professor Targeted for Political Expression

By July 19, 2011

In July 2006, Steven Kershnar, a professor at the State University of New York, Fredonia, came to FIRE for help after he was denied promotion for publicly disagreeing with university policies.

As a columnist for a local newspaper, Kershnar had written a number of pieces that questioned the school’s student conduct policies, examined affirmative action practices at SUNY Fredonia, and highlighted what he perceived to be the unbalanced political makeup of the broader academic community. This earned the attention of SUNY Fredonia President Dennis L. Hefner, who called Kershnar’s articles "misrepresentations."

Soon thereafter, Kershnar received a letter from Hefner explaining that although Kershnar’s "teaching has been described as excellent," he would not be promoted because of his "deliberate and repeated misrepresentations of campus policies and procedures … to the media," which Hefner claimed "impugned the reputation of SUNY Fredonia."

Hefner later agreed to approve the promotion, but only if Kershnar would submit all of his public writings to a "Prior-Consent Committee," consisting of two other professors who would decide if his statements deliberately misrepresented the university. Kershnar then contacted FIRE.

After three weeks of significant public attention and pressure from FIRE, the school approved Kershnar’s promotion.

Kershnar’s case is a classic example of the danger of an empowered administration using its authority to punish unfavorable speech, and the case was later featured as part of a profile about FIRE’s work on the PBS show "Voices of Vision." Five years later, FIRE still sees cases involving professors who are targeted by administrators for their unpopular opinions or vocal dissent, and we continue to bring them the public attention and swift resolution they deserve.

Schools: State University of New York – Fredonia Cases: State University of New York at Fredonia: Professor Punished for Public Expression