Two Professors Face Discipline After Posting Flyers Denouncing a Conservative Colleague

There’s an interesting and difficult free speech controversy brewing at Tennessee Tech University.  Two professors, Julia Gruber and Andrew Smith, circulated a flyer accusing another scientist, Andrew Donadio, of being a racist and stating that he is”on our list.” They are now facing possible discipline.  It seems that this mess started because Donadio applauded a bit too loudly at a meeting of the Putnam County School Board. Seriously.According to websites like Inside Higher Education, Gruber (as associate professor of German) was present at the meeting thinking of a need to change the name of the Algood Middle School Redskins. What he didn’t know was that Gruber was sitting facing him and found his applauding excessive and offensive.Gruber subsequently contacted Smith, a professor of English at Tennessee Tech. Smith had a complaint with Donadio over his serving as the adviser for Turning Point U.S.A..  The conservative team is often the goal of liberal professors and activists because it preserves a Professor Watchlist that tracks faculty who express”radical” or biased comments in class.  The team insists that it is seeking to not just expose such bias except to allow pupils to avoid such classes.Smith and Gruber spread a menacing-looking flyer of Donadio on a seat of knives (ala The Game of Thrones) that accused him of”hate speech” and becoming a racist. There’s absolutely no proof to support claim.
The flyer stated in part:

“This racist college professor believed it’d be a terrific idea to help start a Tennessee Tech chapter for this national hate group, where racist students can unite to harass, threaten, intimidate, and terrorize individuals of color, feminists, liberals, and the like, particularly [sic] their teachers. Their organization created a nationwide”Professor Watchlist” to harass and bully innovative teachers, including most women, African-American, and Muslim professors…
Professor Donadio and Turning Point USA. You are on our listing. Your hate & hypocrisy are not welcome at Tennessee Tech. Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech.”

After a complaint was filed by Donadio, campus police identified that the professors out of security footage. The flyer reference to being on a listing was viewed as threatening and the professors were found to be in breach of two state policies,” Firstthey are required to”run themselves honestly, in good faith and in compliance with the greatest moral and professional standards.” Second, they must create”an environment which encourages academic freedom, diversity, fair treatment and respect for all staff, faculty, pupils and the general public.”
It’s difficult to defend the behavior of Smith and Gruber, who certainly sought to harass a colleague due to their political views.  They embody the term for opposing views that’s destroying higher education and free speech. Turning Point is a recognized student group on campus which Smith and Gruber were trying to demonize and tag a racist. The clear objective is to make it even more difficult for faculty and students to encourage the class.
However, this was an act of free speech. They’re eligible to speak out against a colleague and they also insist that the flyer’s reference to the list was intended to mimic the record by Turning Point.  I do not see the reference as a plausible threat.
My next concern is that the faculty policies are so normally and ambiguously written that they are sometimes used arbitrarily or capriciously.
That leaves us in a muddle.  The activities of Smith and Gruber have been in my view in labeling a colleague as a racist who participates in hate speech. It was unjust and unsupported. If it had been accurate, Smith and Gruber could have filed a complaint with the university. They might also have written or spoken against his views rather than simply anonymously distribute rumors or allegations. They lacked the integrity or the courage to do either.
Rather, they sought to trigger a campus backlash against a colleague.  It’s difficult therefore to take their effort to claim victim status after they sought to harass Donadio because he applauded too loudly and holds views that they oppose.
I feel that the conduct of Smith and Gruber are all worthy of condemnation and a possible official reprimand.  I would not support termination or emptying them of tenure. Repeated conduct could warrant increased punishment. This is a close issue for me frankly since there are free speech worth at stake on each side. The problem for me is that the effort to harass and defame a colleague within this kind of effort.  They also sought to tag a student class as racist without any formal complaint or offer any proof to support that price.
One course might be for Donadio to look for civil liability for defamation but that avenue would pose significant challenges.  Donadio is a public official and a public figure due to his county place and also his public advocacy.
The benchmark for defamation for public officials and figures in the USA is that the product of a choice over 50 years ago from New York Times v. Sullivan. Ironically, this is exactly the environment in which the opinion was written. The case emerged from the highly divisive span of the civil rights movement.  The Montgomery Public Safety commissioner, L. B. Sullivan, sued for defamation and won under Alabama law. He was given $500,000 — a massive decision for the moment.  Sullivan’s lawsuit was just one of a variety of civil actions brought under state laws that targeted Northern media covering the violence against liberty marchers.  The judgments represented a possible threat to both media and average citizens in budding our politicians.
The Supreme Court ruled that tort law could not be utilized to overcome First Amendment protections for free speech or the free press.  The Court sought to create”breathing room” for the media by articulating that standard that currently applies to both public officials and public figures.
It would be tricky to sue Smith and Gruber above claims that Donadio is a bisexual since that can be viewed as comment and thus protected speech. Tort liability for those statements from the flyer could contravene heart free speech rights.
Of course, Smith and Gruber were obviously hoping to harass and silence Donadio (as well as students who are members of this group) but they are not the degree of free speech fundamentals.  They’re the evaluation of free speech fundamentals. We often need to defend the speech of people like Smith and Gruber who little tolerance or respect for the free speech or academic freedom rights of others.
According to the school newspaper The Oracle, both Smith and Gruber were found guilty of violating university policies and are awaiting a decision in their own punishment.Like this:Like Loading…