University president refuses to fire band director for past podcast comments on transgenderism

President Daniel Ennis stated that the university cannot justly fire Interim Band Director Steven Hugley for offensive comments he previously made on a podcast.

A pro-LGBT rights employee at the school reportedly attempted to have Hugley removed from his role, claiming he held extreme religious views.

The president of a public university in Mississippi is standing up for freedom of expression in response to an effort to oust an employee who spoke critically of transgenderism. 

Recently installed Delta State University President Daniel Ennis announced on Aug. 3 that Interim Band Director Steven Hugley will keep his position despite making comments criticizing transgenderism on a podcast prior to his hiring.

“I acknowledge that this response, which does not include an announcement of a personnel action, will be viewed as insufficient by some and appropriate by others,” Ennis stated in a campus-wide email. “I would not be worthy of my office if I didn’t accept that free expression at Delta State University means I am subject to your assessment and criticism.”

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Hugley previously hosted a podcast called Always Right in which he allegedly advocated for banning all transgender surgeries and mocked the appearances of notable transgender-identifying figures like Dylan Mulvaney and Rachel Levine. 

The campus push to oust Hugley was led by Jonathan Szot, a Delta State library assistant and organizer of LGBT events at the school. According to Mississippi Today, Szot, who knew Hugley when they were both undergraduates at the university, “helped put together a Google Drive of recordings of Hugley’s podcast, which they [sic] reported to the university’s diversity, equity, and inclusion coordinator.”

Szot expressed concerns about Hugley possibly imposing his religious views on others, stating: “he should not tell our students how they should behave, and based on his own podcast, I do not feel confident in his ability to separate his role as an educator in a university and as an evangelist.”

In his campus-wide email, Ennis acknowledged every individual’s right to freedom of speech, while reportedly sending an additional email to band members informing them that he could not fire Hugley for private comments on a podcast from before he joined the university.

Ennis also insisted that he would “be diligent in working to create a climate where all DSU students, employees, and constituents are valued and nurtured.” 

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According to Delta State’s Freedom of Speech and Assembly policy statement, “The University encourages the search for truth and knowledge and does not abridge searchers’ rights to reveal their findings, by both spoken and written word, even if in so doing they might find themselves at variance with their peers as well as the lay community.

It continues: “The University also stands for the right of all the university community to pursue their legitimate activities without interference, intimidation, coercion, or disruption. The University will protect the rights of freedom of speech, expression, petition, and peaceful assembly and affirms all rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States.”

Campus Reform has reached out to all individuals mentioned and the university  for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.