Prof levels attempted viewpoint censorship charge at SUNY

July 28, 2006

A professor at the State University of New York-Fredonia is accusing the school of punishing him for expressing conservative viewpoints. Philosophy Professor Stephen Kershnar claims he was denied a promotion to a full professorship after he wrote three opinion articles criticizing the university’s affirmative action policy, its student code, and its lack of conservative professors.

In a letter, SUNY-Fredonia President Dennis Hefner told Kershnar he would not be promoted because of his “deliberate and repeated misrepresentations of campus policies … to the media.” Hefner later told the professor that, if he wanted a promotion, he would have to agree to a contract requiring him to get “unanimous consent” from a university committee before writing anything publicly about the university again. Kershner refused to sign the contract.

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), says prior review committees have been considered incompatible with a free society since the time of John Milton. “It’s just absolutely stunning,” Lukianoff contends. “Can you imagine a newspaper being told by the president that they would have to get approval before they published any articles about the U.S.?”

The very idea of submitting his opinions to be vetted by a university committee is “laughably unconstitutional,” the FIRE spokesman says, “but Hefner actually went ahead and recommended this.” And what makes the case even more remarkable, Lukianoff adds, is that the university president was willing to put his viewpoint discrimination in writing, in a document that he signed.

The free-speech advocacy group’s president notes that it is a violation of the First Amendment to require someone to submit their point of view to a public college before they can publish their opinions. “It goes completely against academic freedom,” he says. “It goes completely against free speech, and the president should have known this.”

But, “amazingly,” Lukianoff observes, “the president not only required the prior review committee, but said that [Professor Kershnar would] have to get unanimous consent from the prior review committee and that it would be for an indefinite period of time.” If the object of all this to silence the professor, the FIRE spokesman suggests, SUNY-Fredonia’s president is going about it in a blatantly unconstitutional way.

Lukianoff feels Hefner should lose his job over this incident. The university’s chief administrator was on vacation and unavailable to comment for this article. However, a spokeswoman for SUNY stated that the president does not comment on “personnel matters.”

Download file "Prof levels attempted viewpoint censorship charge at SUNY"

Schools: State University of New York – Fredonia Cases: State University of New York at Fredonia: Professor Punished for Public Expression