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Academic Freedom

Academic Freedom Alliance Statement on Mayo Clinic

Doctor sanctioned for comments to journalists about transgender athletes


The Academic Freedom Alliance released a public letter to the Mayo Clinic regarding the sanctions that it has imposed on Dr. Michael Joyner for his comments made in the media regarding transgender athletes and COVID. The Mayo Clinic claims to respect the academic freedom of its scholars but failed utterly in this case.

Dr. Joyner's comments included in a New York Times article on the controversy surrounding the transgender college swimmer Lia Thomas were completely anodyne and well within the bounds of what would be protected under any reasonable free expression policy at an academic institution. From the NYT article:

Michael J. Joyner, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., studies the physiology of male and female athletes. He sees in competitive swimming a petri dish. It is a century old, and the sexes follow similar practice and nutrition regimens.

Since prepubescent girls grow faster than boys, they have a competitive advantage early on. Puberty washes away that advantage. "You see the divergence immediately as the testosterone surges into the boys," Dr. Joyner said. "There are dramatic differences in performances."

. . . .

"There are social aspects to sport, but physiology and biology underpin it," Dr. Joyner noted. "Testosterone is the 800-pound gorilla."

For such comments, Dr. Joyner was suspended, denied an annual salary increase, and threatened with termination.

From the letter:

The AFA recognizes Mayo Clinic's reputational standing as one of the leading private institutions for scientific and medical research and we appreciate that such institutions may enact policies that public entities could not due to First Amendment constraints. But in 2022, Mayo Clinic secured identification as an educational institution for tax purposes in Mayo Clinic v. United States. Two years prior, in 2020, Mayo Clinic adopted its current 'Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom Policy,' a policy that commits to the 'freedom of expression, which includes the right to discuss and present scholarly opinions and conclusions without fear of retribution or retaliation if those opinions and conclusions conflict with those of the faculty or institution.' The actions taken against Dr. Joyner are neither consistent with an educational institution's protection of academic freedom nor your own institution's policy.

Read the whole thing here.

FIRE has likewise weighed in with a letter of its own.