Tawwater v. Rowan College at Gloucester County


Rowan College at Gloucester County

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Case Overview

A. Dawn Tawwater was fired from her job as a full time, tenure track professor for airing a feminist parody of Robin Thicke’s controversial music video “Blurred Lines” during her sociology class. Tawwater intended to prompt class discussion on the objectification of women, but students complained that it objectified men. Rowan College terminated her based on the students’ complaints. Rowan administrators also presented Tawwater with a “Last Chance Agreement” that would have limited her future speech. FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program wrote to Rowan College calling on the school to respect Tawwater’s expressive rights, but ultimately she was not reinstated and filed suit in New Jersey state court in 2015. 

On May 23, 2022, FIRE filed an amicus curiae brief in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, urging the Appellate Division to return Tawwater’s claims to the trial court for consideration. FIRE argued in the brief that Tawwater’s speech and decision to air the parody video are protected by the First Amendment and academic freedom, and that “Last Chance Agreements” are impermissible prior restraints on speech. Further, FIRE argued that faculty like Tawwater are particularly vulnerable to retaliation based on their First Amendment-protected expression because they lack the protections of tenure, which means it is of even greater importance that these faculty are able to vindicate their rights in court. Tawwater is represented by FIRE Legal Network members Donald F. Burke and Donald F. Burke, Jr.

On May 9,  2023, the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the lower court's order.  Tawwater appealed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey. On November 17, 2023, FIRE filed an amicus brief with that court urging it to take up Tawwater's appeal and affirm the First Amendment's protections for academic freedom and privacy.