Rutgers University: Tenured professor found guilty of violating discrimination and harassment policy for Facebook posts about gentrification

Category: Cases, Free Speech
Schools: Rutgers University – New Brunswick

On May 31, 2018, tenured Rutgers University history professor James Livingston published a post about gentrification on his personal Facebook account following his visit to a Harlem restaurant. He wrote, “OK, officially, I now hate white people. I am a white people, for God’s sake, but can we keep them–us–us out of my neighborhood?” He went on to write that the restaurant was “overrun with little Caucasian assholes” and said, “I hereby resign from my race.” The next day, Livingston was informed by Facebook that his post violated Facebook’s Community Standards, which prompted Livingston to publish a follow up post stating, “I just don’t want little Caucasians overrunning my life … remand them to the suburbs, where they and their parents can colonize every restaurant.” The Daily Caller reported on Livingston’s Facebook posts, and news coverage followed in local and national outlets.

After receiving complaints from members of the public about Livingston’s posts, Rutgers’ Office of Employment Equity (OEE) launched an investigation of the professor. Despite recognizing that Livingston’s speech was commentary by a private citizen addressing a matter of public concern, the investigator erroneously concluded that Livingston’s posts were not protected by the First Amendment and violated Rutgers’ Policy Prohibiting Discrimination and Harassment. Livingston’s appeal of the determination was denied. On Aug. 20, 2018, FIRE wrote to Rutgers to remind the public institution of its obligation to honor and protect its faculty members’ First Amendment rights and promising to intervene on Livingston’s behalf if the decision was not reversed In response, Rutgers president Robert Barchi remanded the case to the OEE and convened a committee of First Amendment experts to review and advise on Livingston’s and all future faculty speech cases. On remand, the OEE reversed its earlier decision and found that Livingston’s speech was protected by the First Amendment.