Legal victory for professor fired after criticizing ‘microaggressions’
A University of North Texas professor was fired after criticizing the concept of 'microaggressions.'
A federal judge decided that this violated his First Amendment rights.
A University of North Texas (UNT) professor was fired after making a joke at the expense of “microaggressions.” Now, a federal judge decided that this penalty violated his First Amendment rights.
Former UNT math professor Nathaniel Hiers discovered flyers warning about microaggressions left unattended on campus, prompting him to write on his classroom chalkboard “Please don’t leave garbage lying around” with an arrow pointing to the flyers.
Upon becoming aware of Hiers’ joke, the chair of the UNT math department, Ralf Schmidt, emailed the entire department with a photo of the chalkboard and a message stating, “Would the person who did this please stop being a coward and see me in the chair’s office immediately. Thank you.”
After refusing to apologize or take non-mandatory diversity training, Hiers was fired “without notice,” according to the Apr. 2020 complaint filed by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on his behalf.
The school also revoked Hiers’ already-accepted offer of employment for the next semester.
In a Mar. 11 decision, Judge Sean D. Jordan stated that “Hiers has plausibly alleged that the university officials discontinued his employment — that is, punished him — because he did not express honest regret about his views and speech on microaggressions.”
“Precedent establishes that the government violates the First Amendment when it tries to compel public employees to affirm beliefs with which they disagree. Period,” the judge decided.
As a result of the Memorandum Opinion and Order, the lawsuit can continue, with the court denying the university’s motion to dismiss Hiers’ allegations of First Amendment retaliation. The court also denied qualified immunity to the UNT administrators involved.
“Any reasonable university official would have known that it was unconstitutional to discontinue [Hiers’s] employment because of his speech,” Judge Jordan said regarding the denial of qualified immunity.
According to the ADF complaint, Hiers believes that the concept of microaggressions “hurts diversity and tolerance,” and that “[t]his mode of thinking teaches people to see the worst in other people, promotes a culture of victimhood, and suppresses alternative viewpoints instead of encouraging growth and dialogue.”
As defined by the flyers, microaggressions are “verbal and nonverbal behaviors” that “can be intentional or unintentional” and “communicate negative, hostile, and derogatory messages to people rooted in their marginalized group membership.”
The flyers additionally list examples of microaggressions, including saying “America is a melting pot,” “I believe the most qualified person should get the job,” and “America is the land of opportunity.” Encouraging the “myth of meritocracy” and advancing “color blindness” are also examples of microaggressions.
The concept of microaggressions is rooted in Critical Race Theory, as is the concept of color blindness, which is defined as the “[b]elief that one should treat all persons equally, without regard to their race,” according to scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic.
The authors attribute racial or otherwise bigoted motivation for perceived slights in everyday interactions, labeling them “microaggressions” when these interactions are negative or indifferent.
In a previous statement to Campus Reform regarding the lawsuit, ADF legal counsel Michael Ross said, “Universities should encourage free speech, not shut it down.”
Campus Reform reached out to University of North Texas and Ralf Schmidt for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.
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