A recent letter to the editor written by Professor Bruce McKinney shows why we cannot trust most college professors and administrators to defend free speech. In just four short paragraphs, McKinney misrepresents key facts, misapplies relevant law, and attempts to project his own hypocrisy upon those who are committed to defending the free exchange of ideas. His letter is presented in full with my commentary interspersed between each paragraph:
A recent letter cited "UNCW's administration attempt to stop freedom of speech" in which very large graphic images of aborted fetuses were shown on campus.
If Professor McKinney’s letter stopped here, he would have a valid point. The attempt to stop pro-lifers from expressing their constitutionally protected views was actually limited to one administrator, rather than the administration at large. Unfortunately, McKinney keeps writing.
How could these images be blocked? They were right in everybody's face. So what happened? Did UNCW police drag away one of the many vice chancellors at UNCW as they tried to hide the pictures? These images were clearly displayed for several days outside my office. There was no censorship.
McKinney is correct in saying that there was no censorship. That is because the police were called in to prevent a UNCW administrator from forming a human chain around the exhibit. McKinney is correct to say that the human chain would not have prevented people from seeing the pictures. But it would have prevented pro-lifers from having conversations with passersby and it would have prevented them from passing out their literature.
McKinney’s error is that he focuses solely on the pictures and fails to recognize the constitutionally protected status of the literature and the conversations. That they are all constitutionally protected free speech can hardly be disputed.
The author implies that this event was saved by the heroic actions of Mike Adams (to date the only UNCW faculty member promoted not by a jury of his peers, but by a ... jury). Where was Professor Adams when the university tried to censor "The Century Project" on campus a few years ago? I was Faculty Senate president at the time, and I recall no outrage from Dr. Adams at this time. Does his desire to protect free speech apply only to the causes he champions?
Obviously, I wish to first address McKinney’s assertion that I am the only faculty member to be promoted not by a “jury of (my) peers, but by a … jury.” It is a reflection of academic arrogance to suggest that the seven women, four blacks, and one white male who sat on my jury were not my “peers” but somehow inferior. But that is largely irrelevant because McKinney has his facts wrong. The jury did not promote me.
After the jury found that I had been denied a promotion because of my speech, the federal judge asked attorneys on both sides what the proper remedy should be. Both my attorneys and attorneys for UNCW agreed that promotion was the proper remedy. The judge then implemented the remedy both sides agreed upon. So, to date no jury has ever promoted a UNCW professor.
I cannot answer the question of where I was when the university tried to censor the Century Project because the university did not try to censor it. Some took offense at the Women’s Center for posting pictures of naked girls near an area in the library where pedophiles had been caught downloading child porn. The Women’s Center defended the exhibit saying it was only art, not pornography. So the exhibit was moved to an art room in an adjacent building.
That’s not censorship. That is a time, place, and manner restriction. When such restrictions are imposed in a content-based manner, they must be justified by a compelling government interest. There is a legitimate question about whether that burden was met. Did the previous incidents where pedophiles were caught downloading child pornography in the library lobby provide a compelling interest sufficient to move the pictures of nude children out of the library and to another area nearby?
That is the sole issue. Regardless of one’s stance on that question, the exhibit was not censored. It was moved approximately 100 yards.
The answer to McKinney’s question about where I was during the controversy is simple: I was fighting against the university’s attempt to say that they could punish professors for their political views expressed in opinion columns (if professors so much as mentioned them on a promotion application or on an annual productivity report).
This raises three questions for Professor McKinney:
As faculty senate president, where were you when the university was trying to apply the Garcetti case to opinion columns?
Do you really think protecting pictures of nude children is a greater First Amendment cause than protecting opinion columns?
The AAUP defended me but McKinney did not. Obviously, the AAUP leadership defends people who do not share their views. But what about you, Professor McKinney? Do you only defend people who share your views?
It is rather bizarre that the university attempts to shut down a tastefully done exhibit documenting the aging of women's bodies, yet has no problems with huge posters of aborted fetuses.
It is even more bizarre that some professors continue to pretend that the Century Project controversy was worthy of a faculty senate resolution on free speech while the Garcetti issue – raised in my federal case – was not.