Last week, FIRE noted the case of Michigan State University creative writing professor William Penn, who was suspended from teaching after a controversial video was posted on YouTube that was recorded during one of his lectures. FIRE was among those concerned that Penn had not been given a hearing before being removed from teaching—a severe punishment for a teacher, particularly given the apparent lack of an investigation into Penn’s in-class speech. In the full text of the comment FIRE provided to Inside Higher Ed last week (which IHE carried in shorter form), FIRE’s Will Creeley stated: “As FIRE has long maintained, students do not possess a general ‘right not to be offended’ on campus—and that includes within the classroom. Federal courts have made clear for decades that public institutions like Michigan State University may not privilege ‘civility’ over the First Amendment. Academic freedom requires breathing room, and professors’ speech in the classroom should presumptively be protected provided it is germane to the subject being taught. That determination is properly made by Professor Penn’s academic peers.” IHE reported yesterday that Michigan State’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has released a statement expressing concern for Penn’s academic freedom and due process rights. The entire statement is worth reading in full, but I’ll briefly note this particular statement: [I]t is vital to ensure that the procedures for determining whether a professor may have acted outside the umbrella of protection for the exercise of academic freedom in the classroom be thorough and infused with the spirit of due process. FIRE joins the Michigan State AAUP in its concern that this “spirit of due process” has gone missing at Michigan State. We’ll continue updating Torch readers on Professor Penn’s case.
University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill and board chair Scott Bok announced their resignations after McGill said the university should back away from its traditional protection of speech.