Law prof slams AAUP for defending mistreatment of student

Grace Gottschling
Investigative Reporter

  • A law professor who has taught at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for more than 30 years blasted an academic group that censured UNL for suspending an instructor who aggressively harassed a conservative student last year.
  • John Lenich argued that the AAUP needs to "re-evaluate its priorities" if it is more concerned with protecting professorial misconduct than protecting students.
  • Courtney Lawton during her "protest."

    A University of Nebraska-Lincoln law professor is blasting the AAUP for taking the side of a teaching assistant who was disciplined for bullying a conservative student on campus.

    In a letter-to-the editor of the Lincoln Journal-Star, UNL law professor John Lenich suggested that it is time for the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to “re-evaluate its priorities” after its members voted to censure UNL for holding Courtney Lawton accountable for harassing student Katie Mullen while the latter attempted to recruit students for her Turning Point USA chapter.

    "She repeatedly mocked and insulted an undergraduate student outside the Union and reduced the student to tears, all because she disagreed with the student’s political views."   

    Lawton was among several UNL faculty members who surrounded Mullen’s recruitment table, but while others contended themselves with holding signs critical of TPUSA, Lawton got more personal, marching around the vicinity chanting, “neo-fascist Becky right here. Wants to destroy public schools, public universities, hates DACA kids.”

    [RELATED: VIDEO: Profs bully TPUSA prez while she recruits on campus]

    “Let’s be clear about what Ms. Lawton did,” Lenich wrote. “She repeatedly mocked and insulted an undergraduate student outside the Union and reduced the student to tears, all because she disagreed with the student’s political views.”

    “No instructor should treat a student that way,” Lenich asserts, noting that he is approaching the issue not from the perspective of a political partisan, but as someone who has taught at UNL for more than 30 years.

    “There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it. It’s wrong,” he declared. “By treating a student as a verbal punching bag, Ms. Lawton demonstrated that she should not be teaching at UNL. UNL therefore made the right decision in relieving her of her teaching duties.”

    [RELATED: State Sen. demands UNL fire prof who ‘berated’ conservatives]

    The AAUP, however, maintains that this is actually “a case that crystallizes the current right-wing assault on higher education,” calling it an example of “faculty harassment and exaggerated controversies over free speech on campus” in a statement addressing the findings of an AAUP investigation into the controversy.

    Citing Lawton’s personal assurance that she “never addressed [her] shouting” directly at Mullen, the AAUP concluded that the reason UNL suspended her from teaching must have been “related to the political content of her speech.”

    One month later, at its annual meeting in early June, the organization voted to add UNL to its official “censure list,” which serves only as a form of rebuke because the AAUP cannot impose any actual ramifications on censured institutions.

    [RELATED: AAUP censures UNL for punishing lecturer who bullied student]

    Lenich asserted in his letter-to-the-editor that the AAUP had “waded into the political thicket” with the censure vote, saying it suggests to him that the organization has allowed its own political leanings to supersede consideration of basic decency.

    “To this professor, it looks as though the [AAUP] is far more concerned with protecting the ability of instructors to engage in inappropriate conduct than it is with protecting students from being subjected to that kind of conduct,” Lenich concluded. “I think it's time for the organization to re-evaluate its priorities.”

    UPDATE: Lenich elaborated on his position in a statement to Campus Reform, saying he felt that the political ramifications of the controversy had overwhelmed the underlying issue of faculty misconduct.

    "The reason I wrote the letter was that I thought Ms. Lawton’s conduct was getting lost amid all the talk about due process, free speech, and academic freedom," Lenich explained. "Plus I think it’s hard for a university to expect its students to engage in civil dialogue with each other when instructors fail to engage in civil dialogue with students. I thought that someone needed to say something."

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Grace_Gotcha





    Grace Gottschling

    Grace Gottschling

    Investigative Reporter

    Grace Gottschling is the Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. She is a recent graduate of The College of New Jersey, where she wrote for the university newspaper. Grace was the vice president of the pro-life club on her campus and has experience traveling across the country to engage and train others in pro-life apologetics.

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