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‘Inside Higher Ed’ on the Quick Suspension of Professors for Protected Speech

Colleen Flaherty writes for Inside Higher Ed today to look at several recent and quick suspensions of university professors and to discuss where the line should be drawn between allowing offensive but constitutionally protected speech and responding appropriately to objectionable conduct. As FIRE’s Robert Shibley told IHE, “A faculty member’s expression does not lose protection, nor is it punishable by a state university, simply because someone might find it offensive (even highly so).” Instead, administrators must consider whether the professor’s speech falls into one of the limited categorical exceptions to the First Amendment, like true threats or incitement to imminent lawless action. The tweet that resulted in the suspension of University of Kansas professor David Guth, for example, appeared to wish harm upon others but did not rise to the level of a true threat. In contrast, Robert explains, administrators have more latitude to punish conduct, as in the case of the University of Florida professor charged last week with secretly recording female students’ bodies. Head over to Inside Higher Ed to read more commentary from Robert and others on this important distinction.

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