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Two Years Later, Nobody at UCLA Has Evaluated Enstrom’s Free Speech Claims

Last week, FIRE reported on the federal lawsuit just filed by UCLA professor and researcher James E. Enstrom, who sued UCLA in order to keep his job after exhausting all internal remedies at the university. As the documentation of his case shows, and as his lawsuit reiterates, UCLA came up with a bunch of shifting rationales to get rid of him after more than 30 years of his service to UCLA, all because of his successful whistleblowing and his challenges to the science behind environmental regulations in California.

One amazing thing about all of this is that UCLA claims that Enstrom actually received all the process that the university is supposed to provide. If this is true, that means that UCLA provides no process at all for adjudicating allegations that a faculty member's free speech rights have been violated.

First, Enstrom's complaint notes that when a Step II–A Review (part of the internal grievance process) was conducted by UCLA School of Medicine Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs Richard H. Gold in 2010, "Gold ... failed to conduct a full review of the evidence and information Dr. Enstrom asserted, specifically regarding his concerns that his rights under the First Amendment had been violated." 

Then, Enstrom's complaint also notes that in his "Step III-B Hearing regarding his APM 140 Grievance and Whistleblower Complaint" (where an outside adjudicator holds a hearing and evaluates the evidence), the same thing happened: "Despite Dr. Enstrom raising concerns based on Academic Freedom and his constitutional and free speech rights, Hearing Officer Sara Adler explicitly refused to address these claims." (Emphasis added.)

This fact pattern puts the lie to any claim by UCLA that Enstrom has already received due process.

Moreover, this process also spells trouble for any professor or researcher at UCLA who might have an academic freedom or First Amendment claim. UCLA's Academic Senate does have a Committee on Academic Freedom, but the UCLA administration won't respond to that committee's request to provide information about Enstrom's case. According to the committee, "the administration has 'dug in its heels'" with respect to the decision to get rid of Enstrom.

UCLA may well have avoided this entire lawsuit if it had internal procedures that truly evaluate and vindicate free speech and academic freedom claims. But it looks like UCLA has decided to give faculty members nowhere to go—except to court.

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