Professor claims PUC violated rights

By May 17, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS – A Purdue University Calumet political science professor has sued officials and other professors at the school’s Hammond campus for the treatment he received after he posted criticism of Muslims on Facebook.

Maurice Eisenstein claims in the suit that PUC officials violated his rights of freedom of speech and religion by subjecting him to a disciplinary investigation which eventually yielded mixed results.

The lawsuit filed May 10 in a Lake County court says Eisenstein was cleared of the initial allegation that he had violated the school’s policy against discrimination and harassment, but officials reprimanded him for what they considered retaliation against the two professors who filed the complaints.

"This is not the first time and it won’t be the last time we will see a university punish a student or professor for constitutionally protected speech on Facebook. Professors at public universities should not have to go to court to defend their free speech rights," Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said in a statement Wednesday.

FIRE, a nonprofit educational foundation devoted to free speech, has sent letters to Chancellor Thomas Keon advocating Eisenstein’s position and tried to raise public awareness, but is not involved in the suit, said Adam Kissel, the group’s vice president.

The complaints were filed last fall amid student protests on the Hammond campus, citing comments Eisenstein, 64, an Orthodox Jew, made inside and outside his classroom. The complaints followed posts on his personal Facebook page questioning the response of moderate Muslims to other Muslims killing Christians in Nigeria, and insulting the prophet Muhammed.

According to the suit, Keon found in February that the remarks cited in complaints filed by two other professors were protected free speech. But at the same time, he found that Eisenstein had retaliated against the two professors by phone and email. Eisenstein was given a written reprimand, the lawsuit says. Eisenstein appealed the decision, denying that those remarks were intended as retaliation, but his appeal was denied.

The suit alleges that officials and professors conspired to smear Eisenstein’s reputation. It says officials violated Eisenstein’s rights of free speech and religion under the Indiana constitution, as well as his right to privacy by making the disciplinary action public. It also claims that Purdue’s procedure for handling harassment complaints is arbitrary and capricious. The suit asks a judge to set aside the sanctions and rule the retaliation complaints invalid, and seeks unspecified damages.

Keon’s office had no immediate comment when contacted Thursday. The head of a Muslim student group at PUC didn’t return a request for comment via Facebook, and his phone number wasn’t listed.

Eisenstein didn’t return phone messages and emails seeking comment.

Schools: Purdue University Northwest