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Academic Freedom: Specfic Incidents Involving Academic Freedom

Finding More Information

The list below is a sample of incidents involving individuals and their challenges with Academic Freedom.

The list was compiled by Dr. Shannon Duffy, Faculty Senate Fellow, in Fall, 2019.  

Please see news and website tabs at the top of the page for sources of additional information on these or other cases. 

List of Incidents

  • Abbate, Cheryl, NTL, Graduate Student and Philosophy Instructor, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI (2014): Secretly taped by student during exchange over same-sex marriage. Left Marquette.
  • Adamo, Phil, T, Professor of History, Augsburg University, Minneapolis, MN (2019): 2015 Minnesota Professor of the Year. Said “N-word” while quoting James Baldwin and during a discussion of whether euphemisms should be used in discussing the issues raised by Baldwin. Several nonstudents showed up at the next class to observe, and one secretly recorded class and uploaded it to YouTube. Suspended by university following student complaints; case currently under review.
  • Bork, Nathaniel, NTL, Part-Time Instructor of Philosophy, Community College of Aurora, Aurora, CO (2016): Advocate for failed Colorado bill to classify adjunct instructors as faculty, talked about being “poor” in television interview. Also criticized college’s Gateway to Success initiative as “lowering standards” to get better pass rates. Summarily dismissed mid-semester, and terminated. AAUP is supporting his case.
  • Butler, Shannan, T, Associate Professor, St. Edward’s University, Austin (2018): Immediate termination for “in an unprofessional, intimidating, and bullying way towards [their] colleagues and department leadership” in a departmental meeting.
  • Ciccariello-Maher, George, T, Associate Professor of Politics and Global Studies, Drexel University (2017): Author of “White genocide for Christmas” tweet. He was responding to racist criticisms of a Christmas State Farm commercial showing an interracial couple as “promoting white genocide.” “The university acknowledged Mr. Ciccariello-Maher’s rights to free speech but reiterated that his tweets did not represent Drexel’s values.” Put on leave in October following another inflammatory tweet about the Las Vegas shootings; university cited safety concerns. He resigned in January 2018, saying it was no longer safe for him to teach.
  • Click, Melissa A., TT, Assistant Professor of Communication, University of Missouri Columbia (2016): Confrontation with two students trying to film protestors. She had just had a successful tenure vote, but amid widespread public pressure, including over 100 Republican state legislators threatening budget cuts, terminated.
  • Cox, Olga Perez Stable, NTL, Instructor of Psychology at Orange Coast College (2017): Secretly videotaped talking about 2016 election. Put on Professor Watch List. Had to leave state due to death threats, but was later named Faculty Member of the Year. The student was suspended for the videotaping and is threatening a lawsuit over it.
  • Cronon, William, T, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin at Madison, president of AHA (2011): Republican Party of Wisconsin used open-records laws to get his emails after he criticized the Wisconsin governor regarding collective-bargaining legislation. They’re trying to prove he violated a state law that prohibits state employees from using state resources for partisan political purposes. University backing him up but complying with records request; both AAUP and AHA have lodged protests.
  • Curry, Tommy, T, Africana Studies/Philosophy Professor, Texas A&M, College Station, TX (2017): Talked about blacks needing to own guns to defend themselves on a radio talk show in 2012. Picked up by InfoWars in 2017—presented as advocating race war. Got death threats; hundreds of alumni tried to get him fired. The university (sort of) stood behind him, but he ultimately left to take a position in the UK.
  • Dettwyler, Katherine, NTL, Adjunct, Anthropology Department, University of Delaware (2017): Posted a comment on Facebook that called Otto Warmbier, student detained who died in North Korea, “clueless” and said he “got what he deserved.” University statement: She will “will not be rehired to teach at the University in the future.” Delaware Republican Party chairman Mike Harrington, Sr. noted his approval of the firing: “A professor of any college should stick to the profession of educating and stay out of politics.”
  • Durden, Lisa, NTL, Adjunct Instructor, Essex County College, Newark, NJ (2017): Gave an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox, defending a blacks-only Black Lives Matters event. Her institutional affiliation was never mentioned. Suspended two days later, then fired. She’s filed a lawsuit.
  • Grise-Owens, Erlene, T, Professor of Social Work, Spalding University, Louisville, KY (2017): Had complained in emails to administration about unfair treatment of students of color in her program, and about the failure to warn her and other professors of color of racial threats made by a white student. Terminated. The AAUP has logged an objection.
  • Guth, David W., T, Associate Professor of Journalism, University of Kansas (2013): In response to the Washington Navy Yard shooting, tweeted, “The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time let it be YOUR sons and daughters.” Campus Reform turned that into “Journal professor says he hopes for murder of NRA members’ children.” University got over 1000 calls demanding firing, death threats. Prof put on temporary leave with pay. University system now has a policy that would allow firing of tenured faculty for such offences as a result of the controversy.
  • James, Paul., T, Associate Professor, Anthropology (2019): Western Washington University, Bellingham, WA (2019). Said “N-word” while describing a racial incident in class. Students held sit-in, have lodged numerous protests. Cleared after three separate reports filed, but protestors still trying to get him fired.
  • Karpf, David, T, Associate Professor, Political Science, Associate Direct of School of Media and Public Affairs, George Washington University (2019): Tweeted a joke about New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, comparing him to a bedbug. Stephens contacted his provost and another administrator to complain. Stephens said to MSNBC: “people should be aware, managers should be aware, of how their people—their professors, their journalists—interact with the rest of the world.” The provost is backing Karpf, has also invited Stephens to campus to talk.
  • Kipnis, Laura, T, Professor in Department of Radio, Television, and Film, Northwestern University (2015-2017): Wrote several columns criticizing her university’s handling of a Title IX case. Hit with student protests and her own Title IX charges, levied by two students who charged she had creating a hostile climate through writing the column. Her case was ultimately dismissed; she’s still writing on the original case.
  • Klinzman, Jeff, NTL, Adjunct Professor, Kirkwood Community College, Cedar Rapids, IA (2019): Told local TV station he was member of Antifa. Pressured into resigning amid public outcry.
  • Lawton, Courtney, NTL, Graduate student and part-time lecturer, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2018): Protested, loudly, against a Turning Point table on campus. Political pressure put on university by state legislature and Nebraska Republican Party. Immediate, permanent suspension of teaching responsibilities for being “disrespectful to a student.”
  • McAdams, John, T, Associate Professor of Political Science, Marquette University (2018): Wrote in blog about Abbate case, criticizing her by name. Marquette fired him, but Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered him reinstated.
  • Michael Mann, T, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University (2014): Attacked for work saying climate change man-made (“hockey stick graph”). Extended campaign to get him fired. Both his institutions (UVA and then Penn State) have supported him.
  • Palermo, Joseph, T, Professor of History, Sacramento State University (2017): Blog criticizing Trump’s climate-denial. Orchestrated death-threat campaign, got hundreds of threats. AAUP condemned attacks as harassment.
  • Peterson, Katie E. TT, a tenure-track assistant professor, St. Edward’s University, Austin (2018): Complained about sexual harassment by a dean. Non-renewed.
  • Quenette, Andrea, TT, Assistant Professor, University of Kansas (2019): Said N-word during classroom discussion of race, led to graduate students’ letter demanding her dismissal. Students claimed that “legal precedent indicates that Dr. Quenette’s speech is not protected by the First Amendment.” Cleared of wrongdoing by university but not re-appointed to TT position, left university. FIRE is defending her.
  • Rosen, Lawrence, T, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Princeton University (2018): Used N-word in course on hate speech and pornography, students walked out. Cancelled course.
  • Sajnani, Damon, TT, Assistant Professor of African Cultural Studies, University of Wisconsin at Madison (2016): Republican lawmakers objected to a planned class on racism, “The Problem of Whiteness.” University threatened that funds would be withheld; a state rep called for the professor to be fired. Wisconsin Senator Steve Nass: “Madison must discontinue this class,” he said. “If [Madison] stands with this professor, I don’t know how the university can expect the taxpayers to stand with [Madison].” Also criticized professor for his tweets. University supporting both course and professor.
  • Salaita, Steven T* [Tenured position but not yet started] (2014): Anti-Israel tweets. Contract rescinded. Now drives a school bus.
  • Schmitt, Richard, NTL [no tenure at institution], Associate Prof of English, Nunez Community College, Chalmette, LA (2019): Reported concerns with accreditation reports to SACS. Contract not renewed: “As an ‘at-will’ employee who is an unclassified non-tenured faculty employee, your contract is subject to renewal on an annual basis.” No reason given.
  • Sheck, Laurie, NTL, Part-Time Assistant Professor, New York’s New School (2019): Said N-word while quoting James Baldwin in class. Case under investigation.
  • Suk Gerson, Jeannie, T, Professor of Law, Harvard University (2014, 2019): Set off controversy with column in New Yorker claiming that trigger warnings impeded law professors’ ability to teach criminal law relating to rape cases. Set off further controversy by questioning Title IX legal standards and legal issues related to the MeToo movement.
  • Sullivan, Ronald, NTL, Clinical Professor of Law, faculty dean resident at Harvard’s Winthrop House (2019): Agreed to defend Harvey Weinstein in criminal court case. Led to student protests and demands for his resignation. Sullivan’s contract was not renewed.
  • Swain, Carol M., T, Political Scientist, Vanderbilt (2017). Black Conservative Christian, Criticized Islam, Black Lives Matter, and the pro-choice movement; she’s a Trump supporter. Students started a petition campaign calling for her dismissal. She took early retirement.
  • Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta, TT, Assistant Professor of African-American Studies, Princeton (2017): Got death threats and calls for firing after she criticized Trump in commencement speech, cancelled public talks. Still at Princeton.
  • Triffin, Eric, NTL, Adjunct Instructor, Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven, CN (2019). Said “N-word” while singing along with a rap song. Suspended following student protests. Had taught 32 years at school.
  • Wax, Amy, T, University of Pennsylvania law professor (2019): Provocative pro-Western culture statements at a national conference and in other venues She’s been barred from teaching the first years, but is still on faculty.
  • Weinstein, Bret, T, Professor of Biology, Evergreen State College, Olympia, WA (2017): Questioned a black-only day of protests. Death threats, college shut down temporarily, students demanded firing. He and his wife resigned; the college paid him $500,000 severance in response to his tort suit.
  • Weisgerber, Corinne, T, Associate Professors, St. Edward’s University, Austin (2018): Immediate termination for “in an unprofessional, intimidating, and bullying way towards [their] colleagues and department leadership” in a departmental meeting.
  • Wild, Alex, NTL, Adjunct and Curator of Entomology at UT, Austin (2019): Called Trump and his supporters “Nazis” in a tweet, and said that the Republicans want “ethnic cleansing.” Campus Watch and Brietbart are currently orchestrating a campaign to get him fired.
  • Williams, Johnny Eric, T, Associate Professor of Sociology, Trinity College, Hartford, CN (2017, 2019): Got death threats after Campus Watch erroneously reported he had said first responders should have let the Republican Congressional baseball shooting victims die. Campus shut down for the day; he had to leave town. State lawmakers called on the college to fire him. Trinity put him on leave but later cleared him; he gained tenure shortly after that.
  • Zwier, Paul, T, Professor, Emory University School of Law (2019). Used N-word during a class and in office hours during a discussion of a 1967 law cases involving a man who was refused service at a luncheon and possibly called that—the language of the court case itself might have been edited, according to Zwier. Placed on leave and barred from teaching lower-level classes. Review ongoing