LSU prof fired for 'inappropriate comments,' KSU prof keeps job despite ISIS investigation
A former Louisiana State University (LSU) professor filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the president of LSU and other ranking administrators for violating her free speech and due process rights when she was fired last year. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is sponsoring Professor Teresa Buchanan’s lawsuit, which is the eleventh in FIRE’s undefeated “Stand Up For Speech Litigation Project.”
In December 2013, Buchanan was informed she would not be allowed back in the spring because of unspecified allegations she had made “inappropriate comments” in class, according to a FIRE press release obtained by Campus Reform. It was not until six months later that Buchanan was informed she was being charged with violating the university’s sexual harassment policy. At the time, Buchanan had taught at LSU for nearly 20 years and was a tenured professor in the school’s education department.
“It’s a professor’s job to provoke students into thinking and examining their assumptions...”
Under LSU policy, any “unwelcome verbal, visual, or physical behavior of a sexual nature” is considered sexual harassment. LSU’s policy mimics the sexual harassment definition recommended by the U.S. Department of Education, which defines itself as “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country.” FIRE and other free speech advocates are troubled with the language of the policy, saying it “threatens the free speech and academic freedom rights of faculty and students.”
“FIRE predicted that universities would silence and punish faculty by using the Department of Education’s unconstitutional definition of sexual harassment—and that’s exactly what happened at LSU,” said FIRE Director of Litigation Catherine Sevcenko in a press release on Thursday. “Under this broad definition of sexual harassment, professors risk punishment for teaching or discussing sex-related material, be it Nabokov’s Lolita or the latest episode of The Bachelor. Now Teresa is fighting back to protect her rights and the rights of her colleagues.”
In the months following Buchanan’s sexual harassment charges, LSU failed to provide her with specific information about the charges and withheld the name of the plaintiff, thus violating Buchanan’s due process rights. FIRE found that not a single student ever accused Buchanan of sexual harassment.
After she was removed, Buchanan sent a letter to LSU administrators explaining that she occasionally uses sexual language and humor during lectures as a way to prepare her students for possible scenarios in the classroom. She argued that her lessons are meant to prepare educators for interactions with “children from family backgrounds that are different from their own.”
“It’s a professor’s job to provoke students into thinking and examining their assumptions,” Buchanan said, “and that’s precisely what I did. You don't have to be a lawyer to know it's wrong to fire a professor for exercising her academic freedom. LSU said I offended some people, called it sexual harassment, and fired me. In doing so, they violated LSU’s promises of free speech and academic freedom for its faculty.”
In March 2015, a faculty committee convened to discuss Buchanan’s letter and unanimously determined the university should revoke her termination. The committee ruled that asking Buchanan to modify her lesson plans would be sufficient. Despite widespread support from her peers, LSU ignored the committee’s ruling and in June 2015 the Board of Supervisors permanently suspended Buchanan’s employment with the school.
In response, an LSU faculty senate adopted a resolution demanding the administration reinstate Buchanan and criticized the university for applying “confusing, dangerous, and untenable standards” to Buchanan’s case. Immediately following the faculty resolution, the American Association of University Professors published a report that found Buchanan’s due process and free speech rights had been violated by LSU administrators.
LSU replied with a statement to the press and defended Buchanan’s termination by saying it followed “the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights’ advisements.”
Meanwhile, Professor Julio C. Pino of Kent State University (KSU) is under investigation by the FBI for alleged ties to the Islamic State. At least a few of Pino’s run-ins with the KSU Jewish community gained national attention, including a 2002 eulogy Pino wrote in a campus newspaper praising Palestinian terrorist Ayat al-Akras. Al-Akras murdered two Israelis in a suicide bombing back in 2002.
Pino came back into the spotlight in 2011 after he interrupted a student event featuring Arab-Israeli diplomat Ishmael Khaldi with shouts of “death to Israel!” Pino stood up in the middle of Khaldi’s presentation and shouted “your government killed people.” He proceeded to call Khaldi a liar before storming out of the room.
A few years later, Pino published an open letter to his Israeli academic peers blaming them for the murder of Palestinian children and called the Israeli government the rightful heir to Nazism. “You have chosen to openly work for and brag about academic collaboration with a regime that is the spiritual heir to Nazism,” Pino wrote in his letter. He concluded the letter with calls for a jihad, saying “hasta la victoria siempre” and “jihad until victory!”
In 2007, the school launched an ongoing investigation after Pino posted on a Jihadist blog. The school concluded its investigation and confirmed Pino’s action were in accord with his First Amendment rights.
A student journalist at KSU interviewed Pino earlier this week to ask him about the investigation. Pino defended himself by appealing to his free speech rights.
“I’ve not broken the law,” he said. “I don’t advocate anyone else break the law, so I’ll stand by that statement that I fulfill my duties as an American citizen by speaking out on issues that some people find controversial, of course, but no, I have not violated any laws that I’m aware of or than anyone has informed me of.”
The regional director of Cleveland’s Anti-Defamation League said her office has received a number of complaints from students and parents about Pino’s behavior. Regional Director Anita Gray said Pino will likely go free unless any legitimate connection to the Islamic State is established because his actions have been legally permissible.
“So far, Pino has been protected by the first amendment,” Gray said. “So his speech has been legal but it has not been right, moral and just.”
Pino will continue teaching courses during the spring semester. Buchanan has not been allowed back in the classroom since December 2013.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski