Tennessee Technological University: Professors Punished for Satirical Flyer Criticizing Another Professor


Tennessee Technological University

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Case Overview


In February 2021, two Tennessee Tech professors, Julia Gruber and Andrew Smith, created and distributed a flyer depicting professor and Putnam County Commissioner Andrew Donadio sitting on the Iron Throne from HBO’s Game of Thrones. The flyer criticized Donadio after a dispute over the failed effort to rename a middle school mascot. Tennessee Tech disciplined Gruber and Smith for harassment, discrimination, intimidation, and threats. On August 18, FIRE wrote to Tennessee Tech to explain that the flyers were protected political expression. On October 5, after Tennessee Tech refused to back down from disciplining the professors, the professors filed a lawsuit against the university. On December 1, 2022, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee ruled against the professors, finding their flyer “cuts against the promotion of the ‘free exchange of ideas’” and thus the university was justified in punishing them under the First Amendment.