FIRE to NYU medical school: Stop muzzling faculty fighting coronavirus

March 31, 2020

NEW YORK, March 31, 2020 — They trust medical faculty on the front lines of the pandemic to save lives, but a comment to the press may mean termination. 

The NYU Grossman School of Medicine and NYU Langone Health ordered faculty doctors on Saturday not to speak with reporters about COVID-19 without express approval from the Office of Communications and Marketing. Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reminds the university that free speech and academic freedom do not become less important during a crisis, and that it’s critical that faculty members — many of them serving on the front lines of the pandemic — be able to share information with the broader public.

“It is precisely in times of crisis that it is most important that lines of communication to the public be open,” said Robert Shibley, FIRE’s executive director. “These faculty members are there because they’re the experts. Inhibiting their ability to communicate important information about COVID-19 presents enormous risks.”

Though the NYU Grossman School of Medicine is a private institution, and is not bound by the First Amendment, requiring faculty to obtain permission before speaking to the press is antithetical to the values of our free society. This is especially true when the threat of punishment appears intended to chill speech of intense public concern involving matters of life and death amidst a global pandemic. 

FIRE is not alone in criticizing gag orders on medical faculty. On Friday, a group of prominent medical, research, and civil rights organizations also called on the American Hospital Association to publicly denounce efforts to silence health care workers, instead encouraging them to allow medical faculty and staff to be open with the public about shortages and other challenges.

“Attempts to cover up these shortages by muzzling health care workers who are on the front lines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic are reprehensible and reckless and endanger public health,” wrote Dr. Michael Carome, Director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group and author of the organizations’ letter.

To meet the challenges of this pandemic, FIRE urges NYU to rescind its threat of punishment against faculty members so that the nation may gain a clear understanding of their valiant work, the daunting challenges they face, and how all of us may best help them.

“Let your faculty and the press talk to each other,” FIRE’s letter concludes. “The public they both serve will benefit.” 

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.

CONTACT:

Daniel Burnett, Assistant Director of Communications, FIRE: 215-717-3473; media@thefire.org


Cases:  New York University: NYU Grossman School of Medicine media policy muzzles faculty during coronavirus crisis