Professor canceled because he wasn't upset over a fake racial bias incident

Though the incident was determined to be a misunderstanding relatively quickly after students raised concerns.

“I thought my university, where I had worked for over 15 years, would stand behind its faculty. I was wrong," the professor said.

A professor at Coastal Carolina University was canceled after he emailed his department questioning their reaction to a perceived racial bias incident that proved to be baseless. 

“Free speech and basic civility are disappearing,” the theater professor Steven Earnest told Campus Reform. “So, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I still am.”

On Sept. 16, a non-White visiting artist working with non-White theatre students at the South Carolina university wrote a list of names on the board so that the students could connect as a group. 

When the next class arrived, those students jumped to the conclusion that the list of names had been written with malicious intent. In response, they staged a protest.

The Department of Theatre’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee concluded that the names had been presented “as a resource for newer students who are looking to be in community with other BIPOC students.” But that finding didn’t stop them from apologizing for the confusion in an email to the department.

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“This in no way undermines the feelings that any of you feel about this incident,” reads the email:

“The faculty and students involved as well as the Theatre Department as a whole are deeply sorry to anyone who was affected by this incident. It should have never happened and the DEI committee will be discussing with faculty and students the gravity of the situation and how to handle these requests in the future.”

Earnest then responded to the email, “Sorry but I dont think its a big deal. Im just sad people get their feelings hurt so easily. And they are going into Theatre?” 

After other recipients criticized his remark, he responded again to add that he was “just defending our guest artist,” according to Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which published the response as written by the professor. 

FIRE, which is advocating for Earnest, is also reporting that Humanities and Fine Arts Dean Claudia Bornholdt requested that Earnest no longer teach his classes.

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A letter sent by the FIRE to Coastal Carolina reminds administrators that “while the First Amendment does not shield Earnest from criticism, it does limit the actions a public university may take in response to faculty members’ speech on matters of public concern.” 

The school’s suspension of Earnest “transgresses those constitutional limits,” according to the nonprofit organization. 

Earnest noted to Campus Reform that similar incidents are occurring at campuses across the United States. 

“Free speech and basic civility are disappearing,” he said. “So, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I still am. I didn’t think that I would be facing losing my job for questioning an uproar to what everyone agreed was a false alarm.”

“I thought my university, where I had worked for over 15 years, would stand behind its faculty. I was wrong,” he said. 

Many of Earnest’s coworkers and many across the country have expressed their allegiance. In the Department of Theatre, however, he received no support. “If anything, some of them may have contributed to the attacks against me.”

FIRE has not received a response from Coastal Carolina as of October 22. Earnest’s attorney says that the university is launching a termination process against Earnest.

Coastal Carolina University declined to comment, citing an inability to provide information about personnel matters.