Professional Consequences

The concept of academic freedom is frequently invoked to defend a professor’s incendiary comments in the classroom. But posted online, the same comments could cost the professor his or her position. Because not all universities are publicly funded, competing interpretations of exactly what speech is protected have emerged. Common disciplinary actions include removing professors from teaching, placing them on academic leave, or, particularly in the case of adjunct faculty, firing them outright. The career disruptions go beyond academia, too: In October 2017, a government contractor in Virginia was fired from her job after being photographed giving the middle finger to the presidential motorcade as she bicycled past.

Reflection Questions

  1. What are the appropriate distinctions, if any, between academic freedom and Free Speech?
  2. Should the “extracurricular utterances” of faculty members or journalists, once private but now almost universally and immediately public, be taken into account when evaluating their fitness to hold their positions?
  3. Is there any reasonable, albeit unofficial, statute of limitations governing the relevance of past writings or statements reflecting racism or sexism?


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