Southern Illinois University at Carbondale: Professor Investigated for “Spreading False Rumors” Via Hypothetical Example


Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

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Case Overview

FIRE Victory closed

On February 15, 2023, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale Professor Tony Williams questioned whether Dean Joddy Murray’s military background made him fit for tenure. On April 3, Williams wrote in an email to a faculty listserv “He may have been pushing papers in Washington . . . he may have been standing by DeSantis in Gitmo torture sessions . . . We don’t know for certain.” In August, SIUC told Williams he violated a policy banning “false and malicious rumors, gossip, or innuendo.” FIRE wrote SIUC on August 16, objecting that the First Amendment protects Williams’s comments because they were not declarations or suggestions of fact, but opinions in the form of hypothetical examples. Regardless, the SIUC policy is an unconstitutional “civility” requirement, and we urged SIUC to stop investigating Williams and meet its First Amendment obligations. Although SIUC responded to FIRE on August 21 that it planned to continue the investigation, after Williams met with the SIUC administration, it informed him it would not discipline him, and that no further action would ensue.