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U. of Tennessee Ends Glenn Reynolds Investigation, Cites First Amendment

By September 27, 2016

University of Tennessee College of Law (UT Law) Dean Melanie Wilson announced today that law professor and noted Instapundit blogger Glenn Reynolds will face “no disciplinary action” for his tweet (“Run them down”) about protestors blocking an interstate highway during the recent unrest in Charlotte. I penned a blog entry last week about the tweet, the investigation, and whether Reynolds’ comment was protected speech under the First Amendment (it was).

Today, Dean Wilson wrote:

Following Professor Glenn Reynolds’s tweet and my public response last week, I began an investigation that included an examination of the facts, policies in the university’s Faculty Handbook, and the law. I discussed the situation with Professor Reynolds, university leadership, and General Counsel. I also sought feedback from College of Law students, staff, faculty, the Alumni Council and Dean’s Circle, and other UT Law alumni. As a lawyer and a law school dean, I know that gathering information and upholding the principles of due process are absolutely necessary in a situation like this.

In short, no disciplinary action will be taken against Professor Reynolds. The tweet was an exercise of his First Amendment rights. Nevertheless, the tweet offended many members of our community and beyond, and I understand the hurt and frustration they feel.

You can read the whole statement on UT Law’s website.

Professor Reynolds also emailed—and UT Law has posted—a statement of regret to the law school community today, saying:

Thursday one of my 580,000 tweets blew up. I try to be careful and precise in my language. I didn’t do that this time, and I unfortunately made a lot of people in the law school community sad or angry, something I certainly didn’t mean to do, and feel bad about.

I was following the riots in Charlotte, against a background of reports of violence, which seemed to be getting worse. Then I retweeted a report of mobs “stopping traffic and surrounding vehicles” with the comment “run them down.”

Those words can be taken as encouragement of drivers going out of their way to run down protesters. I meant no such thing, and I’m sorry it seemed to many that I did. What I meant was that drivers who feel their lives are in danger from a violent mob should not stop their vehicles. I remember Reginald Denny, a truck driver who was beaten nearly to death by a mob during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. My tweet should have said, “Keep driving,” or “Don’t stop.” I was upset, and it was a bad tweet. I do not support violence except in cases of clear self-defense.

I have always strongly supported peaceful protests, and I’ve spent years speaking out against police militarization and excessive police violence in my USA TODAY columns, on my blog, and on Twitter itself. I understand why people misunderstood my tweet and regret that I was not clearer.

FIRE is glad to see the university has come to the same conclusion we did about Professor Reynolds’ tweet, and recognizes the need for both due process and respect for faculty members’ First Amendment rights. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville is a “green light” school according to FIRE’s Spotlight speech codes rating system, and we’re glad to see that it is continuing to recognize constitutionally protected speech on its campus.

In the social media age, when expression on highly controversial topics is expected to be quick and is often character-limited, universities and other institutions need more than ever to apply First Amendment principles to both faculty and students in a consistent and just fashion.

Schools: University of Tennessee – Knoxville