Campus Free Speech

Auburn and Extramural Speech: An Update

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

I recently noted that Auburn University was not responding well to a controversy that had erupted over the social media activities of one of its newly hired instructors. Although the instructor's tweets were clearly protected as private political speech under the Constitution and protected as extramural speech under the American Association of University Professors guidelines, Auburn had denounced them as "hateful" and threatened to explore its options for taking action against the instructor. Auburn was in a difficult political spot since the controversy had been amplified by Donald Trump Jr. and local politicians had jumped on the bandwagon calling for the termination of the instructor, but its duty as a university committed for free speech was clear.

Auburn's president has now informed the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that, "I am pleased to respond in order to confirm Auburn's commitment to the Constitution." Always a relief to hear that a university "will not violate the law or Auburn policy." Good to know. Of course, the president did not explain why it took days for Auburn to publicly acknowledge that or why the university had initially suggested that it would be taking such an action.

Less publicly, Auburn has apparently also taken steps to insure that its new adjunct instructor of English will in fact not do any teaching. The position is being converted into a "research-only fellowship." Academics would often view such a change of position to be a net plus since it would provide more time and resources to produce the kind of scholarship that is often rewarded on the academic job market. That might not be the case here, however, since Jesse Goldberg might have benefited more from the teaching experience and evaluations. It is clear enough that Auburn is trying to minimize its exposure to Goldberg without running afoul of the law, and presumably this will make it even less likely that Auburn will extend the term of Goldberg's appointment when the initial position runs out. For tenure-track faculty, these kinds of sudden relief from teaching duties have sometimes been an opportunity to let the storm blow over but sometimes have been the prelude to permanently sidelining the offending faculty member. Goldberg might be willing to accept this offer, but given his circumstances it was an offer he could not have easily refused.

Auburn may have found a solution to its immediate problem, but it has shown little willingness to stand up for its own academic mission and for the rights of its faculty when the mob starts howling.


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  1. Auburn is giving him a year to find another job somewhere else.
    That’s traditional in academia — if you are a leftist.

    Having seen a lot worse happen to conservatives for a lot less, I’ll cry no tears for him.

    1. If you are conservative they just hector you until the point where you literally commit suicide.

  2. So Auburn is committed to the principle that knowledge is a white construct and therefore racist. So why spend tens of thousands of dollars to go there?

    They must protect their tender little snowflake students from any opinion that might upset them. These snowflakes will go out into the world and demand that their world be free from offense. That will work for a while as the media and major corporations and government bow down to them. But when the system complete collapses, they will be ill prepared for the chaos that follows.

    1. Speaking of avoiding knowledge, you have clearly read nothing about critical theory but see fit to explain what it’s thesis is.

      I do like how your second paragraph contradicts your first. If this guy espouses such ridiculous things as you claim, is the school being coddling by not letting him teach their students?

      You gotta pick a lange.

      Also, it appears you want schools to be prepper-teaching institutions, which is delightfully daffy.

      1. I would rather snowflakes live in their little bubble. That way when the collapse does come, and oh boy it is coming, those of us who are prepared will be able to do what needs to be done.

        1. What needs to be done, Jimmy, you coy little mix who is truly fooling everyone?

          Amazing how many on the right seem to get through the day only by hoping for America to collapse.

          1. You know the stuff will need to be done.

      2. Speaking of speaking of avoiding knowledge, you’re describing a tenet of post-modernist thought that ‘critical’ theory has borrowed. Post-modernism is at least a philosophy, the ‘critical’ theories are masturbatory deconstructionist fluff saying in 240 words what can be said in 14, and purporting to know the mindsets of all peoples, dead & living. Pure sophist regurgitation of bile, invective & blame for the largest part.

        And, he needs to pick a ski boot?

  3. I know I ding people a lot for not staying on topic, but this thread does not appear to be jumpin, so I’m going to indulge this once:

    The Georgia student who posted a now-viral photo of the crowded hallways of her high school during COVID19 has been suspended for doing so.
    That’s OK, she said. The world needed to know the danger.
    “This is some good and necessary trouble,” she said.

    1. A true “civil disobedient”. Accepting punishment w/o whining is supposed to be part of the effort.

      1. A rare agreement between you and I.

    2. It would seem under most circuit precedent that as long as this caused some form of “disruption” the school could take action. At least from what the media is reporting it caused quite the stir at school. I don’t think that is wholly consistent with Tinker and its progeny, but that seems to be where most circuit courts have ended up so there you go.

      1. Maybe not illegal, but pretty bad policy when it comes to freedom of speech.

        Cancelling a student like that.

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