Last month, FIRE wrote to Kirkwood Community College to call on administrators to rescind their termination of Jeffrey Klinzman, an adjunct professor whose Facebook comments about President Trump and evangelical Christians, and his affirmation that he views himself as “antifa,” sparked public anger.
The college’s leadership professed that it was motivated not by Klinzman’s speech, but by the public reaction, citing threats from members of the public angered by Klinzman’s views. Kirkwood’s president, Lori Sundberg, told a local newspaper, “[A]t the end of the day for me, if I’m found legally wrong on this, I can live with that,” but she said that she couldn’t live with the professor or others being harmed.
FIRE’s letter explained that, although the safety of faculty and students is critical, Klinzman’s remarks were plainly protected by the First Amendment and the college was facilitating a heckler’s veto. If a college can terminate a professor because people are angry enough at his or her views to make threats, any view may be suppressed on campus by a small number of individuals who could be located anywhere in the world.
But freedom of expression is not the only right imperiled by Kirkwood’s rush to quell public anger as the story went national and state legislators began making inquiries. Now, the American Association of University Professors has written to the college’s leadership to explain that its summary dismissal of Klinzman is contrary to basic principles of due process and threatens academic freedom. Kirkwood’s policies expressly adopt a modified version of the AAUP’s standards.
The letter notes, in pertinent part:
Your administration has never alleged that Mr. Klinzman’s Facebook posts had any bearing on his professional fitness, even acknowledging, as quoted in the Gazette article, “There is no evidence that he espoused these views in class.” The only stated basis for terminating his services was campus safety, clearly a legitimate concern, but one that could have been addressed by increasing security (which was done anyway), having him teach remotely, offering him the opportunity of a paid suspension, and so on.
Mr. Klinzman’s dismissal was therefore not only effected without affordance of academic due process (or any process at all) but in apparent violation of widely accepted principles of academic freedom.
The AAUP’s letter also expresses skepticism of the administration’s characterization of the termination as a “resignation”:
Although your administration has suggested that Mr. Klinzman voluntarily resigned his position at Kirkwood Community College, we would regard that resignation as forced and therefore tantamount to a summary dismissal in disregard of AAUP-supported standards of academic due process.