As you may have seen on The Torch this week and last, we have been covering the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Rodriguez v. Maricopa County Community College District, which is an exciting affirmation of the court’s commitment to protecting the First Amendment on campus. The case began with e-mails sent by Glendale Community College Professor Walter Kehowski in 2004 that some of the district’s employees found offensive.
As Will mentioned last week, FIRE actually defended Kehowski in a similar case in May 2007. He had been put on administrative leave for e-mailing a Thanksgiving message to his colleagues. On the day before Thanksgiving, Professor Kehowski sent out the text of George Washington’s “Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of 1789” and a link to the full text, which he had found on Pat Buchanan’s website. The college district, Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD), attempted to punish him for violating its Equal Employment Opportunity policy and policies prohibiting unsolicited, non-work-related e-mails, despite the fact that other MCCCD employees frequently used the “announcements” listserv to send unsolicited, opinionated, non-work-related e-mails.
After FIRE intervened, MCCCD and Kehowski came to a private agreement which allowed him to return to campus.
Of course, this was not the first time that Kehowski’s e-mails had offended his co-workers. The federal lawsuit against MCCCD originated from three e-mails sent by Kehowski espousing his views on immigration and other issues in 2004. His coworkers believed that the e-mails constituted harassment and that MCCCD should be held accountable. The Ninth Circuit strongly disagreed.
Though MCCCD’s reaction to Kehowski’s e-mails in 2007 was initially poor, its refusal to punish him in 2004 even in the face of a federal lawsuit is commendable.