Purdue professor balks at investigation following Facebook comments that led to student protests

By February 14, 2012

A professor at Purdue University-Calumet says he is being unjustly investigated by campus officials for comments that upset some students.

Political scientist Maurice Eisenstein said he believes officials are trying to block his free speech rights and scare other faculty into political correctness by looking into complaints about him that stretch back 21 years.

On Monday, Eisenstein publicly released a letter by the national group Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, that was sent to Calumet Chancellor Thomas Keon last month.

Adam Kissel, FIRE’s vice president of programs, wrote that he thinks Eisenstein is being harassed by officials due to his online opinions on politics and religion.

"Please do not let your students abuse the university’s disciplinary process in order to interfere with the free personal expression and academic freedom of one of your own professors," Kissel wrote.

The controversy began in November, when Eisenstein posted critical comments on his personal Facebook page about Muslims linked to killings of Christians in Nigeria.

Eisenstein asked where the response was from "moderate Muslims." He then wrote about Muhammad, the central figure of the Islamic faith, in a way followers might deem blasphemous.

That led to a firestorm on the campus in Hammond. Students protested for two days, calling for Eisenstein’s classes to be boycotted and for him to be dismissed.

In response, campus officials said the public university is a venue to exchange diverse views and opinions. But they said comments on Eisenstein’s personal Facebook page were not in line with the school’s quest for tolerance, even if protected by the First Amendment.

Complaints against Eisenstein were filed with the school by students and faculty before and after the Facebook controversy. The complaints ranged from relatively recent classroom comments he made to an alleged incident in 1991.

In 2009, Bert Chapman, a professor of library science on the West Lafayette campus, wrote a post about homosexuality on his personal blog that set off calls by students for him to be publicly reprimanded or even fired.

Purdue’s response at the time was that Chapman was acting within university policy by making it clear his viewpoints do not necessarily reflect those of the university.

Schools: Purdue University Northwest