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Free speech the topic of Faculty Council discussion

BY GRETA MEYLE | OCTOBER 09, 2013 5:00 AM

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University of Iowa faculty representatives want to discern the difference between free speech and provocative behavior among their peers.

At the Faculty Council meeting Tuesday, after mixed court verdicts regarding university staff members’ rights, Faculty Council members held a detailed discussion on to what extent a faculty member has the right to criticize the institution he or she works for.

In the 2006 case Garcetti v. Ceballos, the court found public employees don’t necessarily have the right to criticize the institution they work for. Contrarily, a recent 2011 case involving a faculty member and the University of North Carolina-at Wilmington, the court decided that faculty members of a public university should be remised from the Garcetti ruling.

Even more recently, the Aug. 21 case of Demers v. Austin, the U.S. 9th Court of Appeals ruled in favor of faculty that the First Amendment protects faculty if the issue is related to “scholarship and teaching.” These rulings, and groups that encourage faculty free speech, such as the American Association of University Professors, have given rise to many universities considering modifying their policies.

Faculty Council President Erika Lawrence said that the goal was to start the conversation early to protect against future implications.

“I mean, this is a huge issue for the faculty of a public university,” Lawrence said. “Some courts are protecting faculty free speech more than others — this could really affect us down the line.”

Lawrence said it really comes down to whether a faculty member is “expressing disagreement” or “being hostile or disruptive,” especially under representation of the UI.

Law Professor Christina Bohannan approached the issue from a Supreme Court standpoint.

“In this case, when the court says, ‘You can’t do this in this situation,’ that’s a very fine line between being very disruptive and when somebody is just exercising First Amendment rights — I mean, where do you draw the line?” Bohannan said. “I don’t know if we’d want to live in a world where we really had complete First Amendment rights all the time.”

At the University of Minnesota, faculty members are given “the freedom, without institutional discipline or restraint, to … speak or write on matters of public concern as well as on matters related to professional duties and the functioning of the university.” The University of Delaware implemented a similar policy, saying faculty members’ possess the “freedom to address the larger community with regard to any social, political, economic, or other interest” and to do so “without institutional discipline or restraint.”

Currently, the UI has some policies regarding faculty rights and protection, saying that it supports diversity of opinion in the workplace and supports intellectual freedom when appropriate.

Mathematics Professor Paul Muhly said he had experience with this a few years ago when he had thoughts of critiquing Iowa’s curriculum.

“As long as [we] didn’t claim to represent anybody but ourselves … you could criticize the university, you could criticize administration, you could criticize anybody you wanted,” Muhly said. “You can’t take away a person’s First Amendment rights, and I think that’s a very important point — there should be nothing in our documents where anybody can restrict us from being able to say the things that we think as long as we don’t claim to be representative of the University of Iowa.”


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