After outcry, professor canceled for not getting mad at fake racial bias incident has been reinstated

In September, Coastal Carolina University theatre professor Steven Earnest was barred from the classroom after he questioned reactions to a perceived racial bias incident that proved baseless.

The university then decided that Earnest will return to the classroom in the spring.

Coastal Carolina University has reinstated Steven Earnest, the theater professor it removed this fall after he questioned colleagues’ reaction to a perceived racial bias incident that proved to be baseless.

The South Carolina university confirmed Nov. 18 that Earnest will be allowed to resume his teaching duties in the spring semester.

As Campus Reform previously reported, a non-White visiting artist working with non-White students wrote their names on the board so that they could connect in the future. Students in the next class assumed that the list of names had been written with malicious intent, and they staged a protest in response.

“I don’t plan to socialize with the faculty or students anymore given the false claims that were made about me,” Earnest told Campus Reform last month. “At this point it’s uncertain what my relationship will be at CCU.”

[RELATED: Professor canceled because he wasn't upset over a fake racial bias incident]

An email from the Department of Theatre’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee nevertheless told students that the “feelings” experienced after the incident were legitimate. Responding to the email, Earnest wrote, “Sorry but I dont think its a big deal. Im [sic] just sad people get their feelings hurt so easily. And they are going into Theatre?” 

Humanities and Fine Arts Dean Claudia Bornholdt then requested that Earnest no longer teach his classes — provoking a FIRE letter noting 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.” 

“You have not been suspended from your employment and no other disciplinary employment action has been initiated against you,” read a letter from Bornholdt addressed to Earnest, which added that the professor’s email “does not warrant disciplinary employment action at this time.”

[RELATED: Yale students try to cancel classmate who sent edgy Constitution Day email]

Ronnie London — who leads FIRE’s Faculty Legal Defense Fund — told Campus Reform that challenging cancellations is utterly necessary.

“Students are increasingly likely to bypass counter-speech as the best response to commentary on matters of public concern with which they may disagree, in favor of pursuing the silencing, punishment or termination of the speaker, and universities have become too quick to appease those demands,” London explained. 

“Challenging cancellations is critical to preserving those contributions, and ensuring that those with a viewpoint and willingness to share it can take advantage of the First Amendment protection for doing so.”

When Campus Reform reached out to Coastal Carolina University for comment, the school responded with a lengthy account of the “several inaccurate statements” regarding the situation.

For example, the school said it was inaccurate that Earnest “was reassigned because he criticized a protest.” 

Rather, the university stated, “The truth of this matter is that the professor unnecessarily interjected himself into an email communication between the department’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee and the entire theatre department student body concerning a racially sensitive situation and made several comments that inflamed the already tense situation, resulting in the students boycotting their classes. The professor did not criticize the protest; he directly criticized the students for raising a legitimate concern.”