On January 21, 2016, tenured education professor Teresa Buchanan filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the president of Louisiana State University (LSU) and other top administrators for violating her free speech and due process rights by firing her in 2015.
Buchanan was fired for her alleged occasional use of profanity and sexual language in preparing her adult students to be effective teachers. LSU claimed Buchanan’s teaching methods violated its policy prohibiting “sexual harassment” of students, which defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical behavior of a sexual nature.”
LSU’s policy mirrors the language of the sexual harassment definition propagated by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice in 2013 as “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country.” FIRE and other civil liberties advocates have warned this controversial language threatens the free speech and academic freedom rights of faculty and students. Buchanan’s lawsuit challenged the policy and its application to her case.
On March 22, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the district court’s dismissal of Buchanan’s First Amendment claims, holding that Buchanan’s speech was not protected because “speech that does not serve an academic purpose is not of public concern.” . The court dismissed Buchanan’s facial challenge to LSU’s sexual harassment policy, ruling that Buchanan should have sued the LSU Board of Supervisors rather than the named high-ranking administrators, who the court saw as having only “limited roles in administration of LSU’s [policies].”