Opinions and Legal Insights

Auburn Professor Free Speech Fight Over Anti-Police Comments

2020 08 26 05 USA Mem Opening Briefdownload Auburn Lecturer Jesse Goldberg has triggered a firestorm over social media posting containing anti-police sentiments and other controversial comments.  The recently hired academic drew critics when, after his hire, he would not use the school’s battle cry of “War Eagle” because of the inclusion of “war.” That was however mild in comparison to later postings targeting police or declaring “Wait til M-Fers find out I’m queer and teach in goddamn heels too. They gonna get madder.”  As will come as little surprise to people on this blog, I do not believe that the university should punish Goldberg for his political and social expressions outside of school. We recently discussed such protections for a Texas A&M professor who posted anti-Trump comments.

Goldberg has been criticized for tweets proclaiming “F*ck every single cop. Every single one” in response to the Portland protests and used “ACAB,” the acronym for “All Cops are Bastards.”

downloadAs we have previously discussed (with an Oregon professor and a Rutgers professor), there remains an uncertain line in what language is protected for teachers in their private lives. Recently, a conservative North Carolina professor, who faced calls for termination over controversial tweets, was pushed to retire. Adams (right) later committed suicide.

There were also controversies at the University of California and Boston University, where there have been criticism of such a double standard, even in the face of criminal conduct. There were also such an incident at the University of London involving Bahar Mustafa as well as one involving a University of Pennsylvania professor. Some intolerant statements against students are deemed free speech while others are deemed hate speech or the basis for university action. There is a lack of consistency or uniformity in these actions which turn on the specific groups left aggrieved by out-of-school comments.  There is also a tolerance of faculty and students tearing down fliers and stopping the speech of conservatives.  Indeed, even faculty who assaulted pro-life advocates was supported by faculty and lionized for her activism.

In this case, Auburn President Jay Gogue correctly affirmed that Goldberg’s remarks were constitutionally protected. However, Gogue noted the university had “agreed to Dr. Goldberg’s request that his role transition to a research-focused assignment.”

That drew an objection from two dozen fellow professors over the treatment of Goldberg in an August 28 letter.

The letter legitimately raises the concern over Goldberg’s change in status from a lecturer to a researcher. However, the professors then use their letter to attack another professor who voiced opposing views on transgender issues. Nevertheless, there is a valid concern, as stated in the letter, whether “releasing Dr. Goldberg of his teaching duties as a result of his public politics sets a disturbing precedent in which people outside the academy have influence on how and what we teach.”

It is heartening to see the university support the free speech rights of this professor and I hope that his colleagues will show equal support for those professors who voice countervailing or opposing views on these very same subjects.