Case Overview

FIRE Victory closed

John Heim is an adjunct professor of economics at the State University of New York at Albany (UAlbany). Heim’s economic philosophy and research approach is Keynesian, which differs from the UAlbany economics department’s adherence to “Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium.” He applied for several tenure-track positions at UAlbany, but was denied because of his economic philosophy. Heim sued, alleging that UAlbany violated his First Amendment rights. The district court found for the university, holding that regardless of whether Garcetti applied, Heim’s scholarship and teaching were not protected by the First Amendment because they were not on matters of public concern. Heim appealed.

On September 14, 2022, FIRE filed an amicus curiae brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in support of Heim. FIRE argues that the Second Circuit should join its sister courts in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Ninth Circuits by recognizing that Garcetti’s effect of removing on-the-job public employee speech from First Amendment protection does not apply to teaching and scholarship of faculty at public colleges and universities. FIRE also argued that Heim’s scholarship and teaching on Keynesian economics constitutes speech on a matter of public concern because even though disputes among academics may be opaque, they can still have significant impacts on the broader public.That is particularly so in Heim’s case, where his typical audience involves government officials and policymakers. Read FIRE’s blog on this brief here.

On August 30, 2023, the Second Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the university in an economics professor’s First Amendment failure-to-hire claim. Despite the loss for Heim, much of the language in the opinion may prove useful in the ongoing fight for free speech! This includes the Second Circuit’s conclusion that Garcetti does not apply to speech related to scholarship and teaching.