In this weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, FIRE’s Will Creeley explains why those of us who care about free speech on campus should watch closely Teresa Buchanan’s recently filed civil rights lawsuit against Louisiana State University (LSU).
Buchanan’s lawsuit against LSU, filed last month with FIRE’s help, followed her firing over her alleged occasional use of profanity and sexual language in preparing her adult students to be effective teachers. Buchanan, a tenured associate professor teaching in LSU’s acclaimed teacher certification program, was charged with violating the university’s sexual harassment policy—which, importantly, mirrors the language of the sexual harassment definition propagated by the Department of Education in 2013 as a “blueprint” for universities—despite never having been accused by anyone of sexual harassment.
LSU’s decision to fire Buchanan defied a faculty panel’s unanimous recommendation that she be kept on the job, and resulted in a censure of LSU administrators by LSU’s faculty and criticism by the American Association of University Professors.
In his op-ed, Will explains why Buchanan’s lawsuit is important for those outside the LSU community, and how its result could have far-reaching effects for free speech rights on campuses nationwide:
LSU’s decision to fire a star professor on trumped-up sexual-harassment charges makes sense only in light of recent pressure from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights. Since 2011 this office has aggressively pursued investigations into colleges it suspects have failed to conform to its expansive interpretation of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex.
The office’s mandates on Title IX are legally suspect and constitutionally unsound. But because it may terminate the federal funding of any institution it deems noncompliant—a death sentence for all but the wealthiest schools—colleges have hastily revised their policies to meet the new dictates, sacrificing free speech and due process.
Colleges nationwide are adopting the Education Department’s “blueprint” as operational policy. So these cases could be replicated at campus after campus. But not if Teresa Buchanan can help it. If her lawsuit against LSU is successful, it will send other schools and the federal government a powerful message about the importance of the First Amendment in higher education.
Read Will’s full op-ed in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal here.