FIRE’s press release today celebrates the settlement reached by Professor Walter Kehowski with the Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) allowing him to return to teaching this fall. Kehowski was placed on administrative leave in March when he sent George Washington’s Thankgiving address over MCCCD’s “announcements” listserv last November. He included a source link in the e-mail to Pat Buchanan’s website where he found Washington’s address. Five professors filed harassment complaints with the district calling Kehowski’s e-mail “hostile” and “derogatory” because of the link to Buchanan’s website, which contained information on Buchanan’s views on immigration and other topics.
MCCCD found Kehowski in violation of its Equal Employment Opportunity policy and other policies regarding unsolicited, non-work-related e-mails. MCCCD Chancellor Rufus Glasper placed Kehowski on paid administrative leave and recommended his dismissal. Other employees had previously sent non-work-related e-mails over the “announcements” listerv about a variety of topics, including politics, without any repercussions. When it became evident Kehowski’s rights to free expression and legal equality were not protected by MCCCD, he contacted FIRE.
As we recounted in today’s press release:
FIRE wrote to Chancellor Glasper on April 25 to protest the actions against Kehowski, stating that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that for workplace expression to be considered “harassment,” it must be “severe or pervasive enough to create an objectively hostile or abusive work environment.” Sending a link to a website, which readers can either visit or simply ignore, does not fit this exacting standard. FIRE further wrote that MCCCD applied a double standard to Kehowski because numerous other employees frequently send similarly unsolicited announcements over the same listserv.
When Chancellor Glasper failed to address these concerns, FIRE issued a press release to publicize MCCCD’s actions against Kehowski, eliciting outrage over Kehowski’s treatment from journalists, academics, and concerned citizens across the country.
On Friday, June 22, MCCCD and Kehowski reached a settlement that will allow Kehowski to return to teaching classes this fall. MCCCD has withdrawn the charges that Kehowski violated its policies, though it will henceforth restrict his use of the district e-mail system. A confidentiality agreement prohibits either side from discussing the details of the settlement, but Kehowski affirms that he is satisfied with the outcome.
“Dropping the charges against Kehowski was the only acceptable resolution to the district’s excessive and unfair actions,” Lukianoff said. “Hopefully, this settlement will remind other universities that abusing harassment policies to bully students and professors who engage in unpopular expression will not stand.”