The University of Virginia has apparently forced an engineering and business professor to take a leave of absence because he made a negative comment about Black Lives Matter. Last week, Doug Muir wrote on Facebook, “Black lives matter is the biggest racist organization since the clan. Are you kidding me? Disgusting!!!”
In a statement in response, university administrators explained that Muir has “agreed to take leave”:
While free speech and open discussion are fundamental principles of our nation and the University, Mr. Muir’s comment was entirely inappropriate. UVA Engineering does not condone actions that undermine our values, dedication to diversity and educational mission. Our faculty and staff are responsible for upholding our values and demonstrating them to students and the community. Mr. Muir has agreed to take leave and is preparing his own statement to the community.
As Reason Magazine’s Robby Soave notes, it appears that “the university made him take a leave of absence as punishment for speaking his mind about BLM.” If so, this punishment is a flagrant violation of the First Amendment.
Doug Muir’s criticism of BLM is speech protected by the First Amendment, under court rulings such as Dube v. State University of New York, 900 F.2d 587 (2d Cir. 1990), which held that a professor had a First Amendment right to repeatedly argue that Zionism is racism, even though it caused a growing furor. In Levin v. Harleston, 966 F.2d 85 (2d Cir. 1992), a federal appeals court ruled that the First Amendment protected a professor whose published “writings contained a number of denigrating comments concerning the intelligence and social characteristics of blacks.”
Another case also illustrates that speech about such matters of public importance cannot be suppressed because it offends listeners or even co-workers. In that case, the California Department of Corrections attempted to fire John Wallace after he angrily denounced its affirmative action plan to the Hispanic female employee he perceived as benefiting from it. The California Court of Appeal, however, found that his criticisms of the plan were protected by the First Amendment, and barred Wallace’s firing, in California Department of Corrections v. State Personnel Board, 59 Cal.App.4th 131 (1997). And in yet another case, Thompson v. Board of Education (1989), a federal judge ruled that a teacher’s remarks in a news article about problems in the Chicago school system (such as gang activity) was constitutionally protected, even though some community members and teachers perceived the teacher’s comments as racist and inflammatory.