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Academic Freedom or Poor Judgment?

An article in last week’s Chicago Sun-Times explains that John Marshall Law School professor John Gorby is suing for breach of contract and violation of academic freedom because the school took action on comments Gorby made to a student after class back in 2002 that were perceived by students to be anti-semitic and racist. The article says:

The student, who is Jewish, was doing well in class and Gorby pondered whether his religious training—which from a young age encouraged critical analysis of written Scripture—explained why Jews pass the bar at higher rates than African Americans. Gorby opined that blacks were brought up in religions such as Baptist churches that “emphasize an emotional and spiritual religious experience rather than discussion and debate about the meaning of scriptural language.”

Word spread about Gorby’s comments, students filed a complaint, and the law school dean stripped Gorby of a raise he’d recently received and put a letter of reprimand in Gorby’s file, writing, “Academic freedom does not excuse poor judgment. It does not excuse ‘pondering’ about racial or religious stereotypes to students who legitimately may fear that their law professor may see them through that prism and treat them accordingly in class.” While the letter of reprimand was removed after Gorby appealed the decision and won, the school never reinstated his raise. Gorby is therefore suing for $150,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. According to the Sun-Times, Gorby “thinks the whole episode represents a stifling of the academic freedom that should allow him and other professors to have provocative discussions with students about subjects such as how to boost bar-passage rates.”

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