ORLANDO, Fla., May 21, 2013—The University of Central Florida (UCF) has reinstated Professor Hyung-il Jung three weeks after unconstitutionally suspending him on the basis of an in-class joke. FIRE wrote to UCF President John C. Hitt in April, urging this result and reminding UCF of its First Amendment obligations.
On April 23, Jung, a lecturer in UCF’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management, was leading an exam review session with roughly 25 students in an accounting course when, according to the Orlando Sentinel, he stated: “This question is very difficult. It looks like you guys are being slowly suffocated by these questions. Am I on a killing spree or what?” A student in the review session reported the joke to the UCF administration, which issued Jung a reprimand letter on April 24, suspending him from “all … university duties,” barring him from the Rosen College campus, and prohibiting “contact of any nature, with any students, for any reason.” UCF additionally demanded that Jung undergo a “thorough mental health evaluation” and obtain written certification from a medical professional that he was “not a threat to [himself] or to the university community.”
FIRE wrote to UCF on April 26, reminding the university of its duty to protect Jung’s First Amendment rights and making clear that his in-class joke in no way constituted an unprotected “true threat.” In Virginia v. Black (2003), the Supreme Court defined true threats as “those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”
Days later, UCF informed Jung that he would not be required to submit to a mental health examination. UCF formally reinstated Jung on May 13, nearly three weeks after it suspended him. Jung will teach a course at UCF this summer.
“We’re pleased that Professor Jung’s ordeal is finally drawing to a close,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “It was outrageous, however, for UCF to have suspended him in the first place. No reasonable person could have felt threatened by Professor Jung’s joke. And it is downright chilling that UCF demanded he submit to mental health counseling because of his clearly protected expression. UCF must expunge this incident from Jung’s record and ensure that neither he nor any other faculty member or student will be punished for speech protected by the First Amendment.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America are described at thefire.org.
Peter Bonilla, Associate Director, Individual Rights Defense Program, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org