Faculty Legal Defense Fund
Defending Your Rights
The Faculty Legal Defense Fund is FIRE’s program tailored to offering “first responder” assistance in protecting the freedom of expression and academic freedom held by faculty members at public colleges and universities. This narrower focus seeks to provide legal help — at no cost to faculty members — by connecting them, where needed and appropriate, to experienced counsel in their area who are in our network of pre-screened and pre-selected participating attorneys.
When referrals are made, FLDF pays the lawyer’s fees directly, with the goal of quickly and efficiently resolving disputes related to free expression and academic freedom in favor of the faculty member.
FIRE recognizes that colleges and universities play an especially vital role in preserving free thought within a free society. To this end, we place a special emphasis on defending the individual rights of students and faculty members at our nation’s campuses, including freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience.
Public college and university faculty who face a threat of sanction by their institution or have been punished for expressive activity — whether it’s instruction, scholarship, or speaking on issues of public concern — can submit matters for FLDF consideration. They can do so through FLDF’s dedicated 24-hour Hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533), or submit a case online. Our staff will quickly review the matter and, if it falls within FLDF’s mandate, connect the faculty member with one of the experienced nearby lawyers in the FLDF network for assistance.
The attorney will engage the faculty member directly as a client, then work with them through initial legal efforts such as advising on possible courses of action and trying to help resolve disputes with the institution or administrators. Funds from FLDF pay the legal fees for these initial steps.
If substantial further legal work appears warranted, including that the matter may require resolution in court, the attorney may apply on the faculty member’s behalf to FLDF’s Litigation Committee for further funding. If the matter is approved, FLDF may pay the legal fees for the litigation (or other further dispute resolution) needed to seek a positive outcome for the faculty member.
These college faculty successfully defended their rights in the classroom and beyond
Fired for Speaking Out
After public outrage, Coastal Carolina University reinstates theater professor who criticized student protestors.
Ousted for Screening ‘Othello’
When students called on University of Michigan to investigate music professor Bright Sheng for showing a version of “Othello” that included actor Laurence Olivier in blackface, FLDF paid for his attorney.
Save Ferris State Professor
When Ferris State history professor Barry Mehler was suspended from teaching over tongue-in-cheek remarks, he got legal help through FLDF.
Think Your Rights Have Been Violated?
Our goal is to connect you with an attorney to intervene early in disputes with your institution. If you are a college faculty member at a public university, you can submit a case online or call FIRE's Faculty Legal Defense Fund Hotline at 254-500-FLDF (3533).
Frequently Asked Questions
The Fund pays fees and costs for FLDF participating attorneys for a set number of hours of initial legal work, subject to specified quantitative benchmarks. Such work can include (but is not necessarily limited to) consultation between the lawyer and faculty member, the lawyer’s review of relevant documents, informing the faculty client of legal (and/or other relevant) options, and/or negotiation or correspondence to resolve the legal issue.
Our Advocacy, Your Rights
Learn more about how FIRE advocates for your rights.
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- Academic Freedom
- Due Process
- Free Speech
- Freedom of Conscience
- Press Freedom
- Religious Liberty
- Title IX
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- College Administrators
- College Faculty
- K-12 Teachers
- Legal Professionals
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