How About a Little Free Speech Protection for Unprotected Adjunct Professors?

Students aren't the only ones on campus struggling with the First Amendment.


Kenneth Storey, an adjunct sociology professor at the University of Tampa, was recently fired after he insinuated on Twitter that Hurricane Harvey was "karma" for Texans voting "red" in the last election. After vague "discussions" with Storey—and a fair bit of criticism from the American Association of University Professors—the university technically reinstated him and accepted his resignation.

This past spring, Lars Maischak, an adjunct history professor at Fresno State, tweeted, "To save American democracy, Trump must hang. The sooner and the higher, the better," hashtag, "the resistance." Breitbart caught wind of this and made him famous. Maischak won't be teaching this semester, despite the fact that his contract doesn't technically expire until next year.

And Kevin Allred, an adjunct at Montclair State in New Jersey, got fired for a tweet several weeks before he even started teaching. When Allred tweeted he wished someone would just shoot Trump, Montclair administrators denied that the school had ever hired Allred.

This pattern is playing out again and again as colleges attempt to avoid the backlash from professors getting politically aggressive online. It's a given colleges should be able to fire bad professors and replace them with better ones. But it's often hard to figure out when colleges are firing adjuncts because they're incompetent and unfit, or because they're afraid of bad publicity and student protest.

On many campuses, students know they can force administrative action if they stir up enough controversy. They have gotten speakers like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos disinvited and have called for administrators to be fired for questioning the political narratives surrounding sexual assault. Student activists can effectively shut down the speech of professors, who hope to avoid their students' ire (like those at Evergreen State).

Adjunct professors have less job security and without tenure are not permanent members of staff. In many states they are employed at-will, which means a public college doesn't need a reason to fire them. When administrators fire professors for distasteful or offensive speech, although they're well within their rights to do so, they create environments where free speech can't thrive. Professors must always wonder whether their controversial ideas cross a line.

Colleges should be able to fire their professors (perhaps even those with tenure), but it seems administrators are afraid of the monsters they created—they don't want to be in the forefront of the next national news scandal, and they act accordingly.

There is a clear tension for libertarians here. Of course, there will always be a limit to what type of speech is acceptable to society at large—tweets advocating ethnic cleansing or Nazism would most probably probably result in firing. That line isn't quite being crossed by these professors, but they're still experiencing retribution.

So far, most of the scandals have involved speech by progressive professors who think Trump should receive the death penalty, or think natural disasters are an act of divine retribution on Republicans. But conservative or libertarian professors could face dismissal for any speech administrators deemed outrageous.

The ability of adjunct professors to speak freely matters if you genuinely care about ideological diversity. If a professor wants to make a foolish claim that Texans deserved disaster for their political preferences, other people, students and professors, should be free to counter with fiery and, yes, ridiculous tweets of their own.

Rather than fearing and curbing political speech, what if administrators believed more ideas in the marketplace is better than fewer—regardless of ideology?

NEXT: Harvard University's Shameful Rejection of Michelle Jones Shows Just How Far We Have to Go

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  1. Where muh comments go?

    1. Same place as the PM Links, apparently.

      1. I’m getting antsy, I need to shitpost. Oh god.

        1. This should hold you over.

          Fact: the video is much better than the summary implies. SHE SPELLS IT OUT!

          1. That lady looks like she going to cry. Man, I am out of touch with the world. I wouldn’t have even noticed that.

            1. Now you know you best not say that…that…word…to a lady.

              1. I just feel bad for the guy on the left, he was doing his best to read the room clearly. He was doing his damnedest.

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  2. I stopped reading at “sociology professor”.

  3. When administrators fire professors for distasteful or offensive speech, although they’re well within their rights to do so, they create environments where free speech can’t thrive. Professors must always wonder whether their controversial ideas cross a line.

    Well too bad. That’s what it’s like to have a real job.

  4. Rather than fearing and curbing political speech, what if administrators believed more ideas in the marketplace is better than fewer?regardless of ideology?

    Then the world would be a happy shiny place full of rainbows and sparkles.

    How about instead we let people associate or not associate with whomever they choose?

    1. Now that we’ve launched an unprovoked attack on Saturn with a plutonium-laden missile, people can stop worrying about such small issues. Interplanetary war will prove distracting.

      1. Look on the bright side,please…

        Being counter-attacked (really soon now) by Saturn will be a LOT better than being counter-attacked by Uranus!

        (I am told there’s a BUNCH of Klingons hanging around Uranus, is it TRUE?!?!?!)

  5. Well, to be particular, two thirds of the examples or ‘free speech’ are in fact criminal threats of bodily harm against the President of the USA. Say ‘hi’ to the secret service guys for me.

  6. Is this going to be the PM Links for the day?

    1. Hey, I am avoding happy hour so I am all linked and ready to go. Here is another one, fella: Here’s Why Steve Bannon Wears So Many Shirts

      1. Layering is important in cold weather climates.

  7. A college fired him after he signaled he was a far left loon? Hell, they should have given him tenure!!!

  8. I hope the Friday afternoon news dump is something good enough to be worth delaying the PM lynx for. Jared Kushner named papal envoy? Hillary fell down drunk again? Comey caught in a wide stance in the Minneapolis airport again?

  9. Were I President of a College and one of my adjunct Professors had poster ‘kill Trump’ drivel, I would be strongly tempted to fire him on the grounds that he was clearly rabid, and might bite one of the students.

  10. Looks like tReason unpersoned a whole bunch of people again.

  11. The private institution was right to fire a contractually unprotected employee for whatever reason they want. Public institutions should be free to do so as well.

    1. Yes, especially if they think they will get a bad reputation from keeping them (I’m looking at Mizzou!).

  12. Tenure was supposed to “protect” the free speech rights of university professors.

    But look at what actually happened …

    Today tenured university professors are the very driving force behind the anti-free speech movements that are sweeping university campuses, which has both (1) given rise to violent antifa enforcers and (2) has spread out from the universities into big silicon valley companies like google, facebook and twitter, who, in turn, are censoring all speech which these tenured professors deem to be offensive.

    That is the reality for those of us who do not live the privileged life of a tenured professor. And you think the solution to this problem is to expand the protection of tenure to even more people? What world are you living in that you can be so out of touch? You actually expect people to respect the free speech rights of the very people who are leading the witch hunts to destroy the free speech of others?

    The students at Evergreen and elsewhere are being systematically brainwashed into the postmodernist cult by tenured professors who have turned all of the non science based parts of universities into a madrassa for their ideology of perpetual victimhood.

    Should we support the free speech rights of islamists who brainwash children to become suicide bombers? If your answer is no, then why should the tenured professors who brainwash children to become antifa be treated differently?

  13. Reason, you can whistle Dixie before you get another penny from me. How about you use some of the money you used to get from me to run a professional web site?
    Hey, Matt? Tell your interns not to waste time calling until you folks act like adults.
    Hey, Nick? Go to the ‘business altruism’ thread and put a sock in it.
    You guys are pathetic.

    I posted this earlier today, and it seems to have disappeared.
    “…at the University of Tampa,…”
    “…at Montclair State in New Jersey…”
    Looks like both are gov’t schools. A-1; the slimy twits are slimy but not under ‘at will’ employment.

  14. Adjuncts are like pathetic guys the hot chick will allow to buy her dinner and stuff as a platonic friend. All the work without the benefits. Getting tossed aside for doing something that the real boyfriend can get away with, is actually a positive improvement for their situation. Get on with your lives already. You make more money mowing lawns than as an adjunct.

  15. Would Reason have a similar commentary about professor’s free speech rights if their exact same rants against Trump had been made against Obama? I think not.

    1. Probably not, but then there was no arguable case of treason against Obama. Any such tweet could only be advocating a lynching of a black man.

  16. One has to feel somewhat bad for the author, Liz Wolfe, as she missed out on Mr. “it’s a pleasure to teach future dead cops” in a school that caters to those wanting to go into law enforcement. I guess he missed the line in Moonlight, “Don’t shit where you eat.” But two publications in the Review of Black Political Economy since 2012, so he was on his way to permanent adjunct-level at best.

  17. I wonder if calling something “karma” might be considered protected religious speech. After all there are plenty of people out there, including probably teachers at Christian schools, saying Harvey was divine punishment for gay marriage.

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