Dixie State University Limits Speech Rights of Returning Professor

Free Speech College
AFP PHOTO/Josh Edelson

The public Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, is under fire this week after issuing a speech restriction to a returning music professor.

Dixie State University Music Professor Ken Peterson, who was almost fired for “gossiping” about one of his colleagues, is now facing bizarre restrictions on his speech rights. Peterson was given a “Last Chance Agreement,” which includes broad provisions that directly conflict with his right to speak on campus.

The agreement, which was first covered by The College Fix, is “punitive, vindictive, disenfranchising, and dehumanizing,” according to Peterson, who posted the entire document on his Facebook page at the beginning of August. It includes subsections about racial and sexual discrimination as well as about inappropriate relationships between instructors and students. Professor Peterson has not been accused by the university of misconduct in either of these two areas.

The text of the agreement includes provisions that broadly restricts Professor Peterson’s right to use “harsh, foul, or coarse” language to insult others.

Dr. Peterson shall refrain from such behavior construed as being unprofessional and uncivil to DSU’s faculty, students, administration characterized by:
1. Verbal, written, and/or physical diatribes that would cast himself or DSU in an unfavorable light in the view of the communities served by DSU;
2. Harsh, foul or coarse language used to insult others;

The issue is not that the university is asking Peterson to act with kindness and civility towards those in his professional community, it’s that now Peterson is subject to broad interpretations of the agreement that could be used to justify his firing. Another portion of the agreement says that violation of any of the provisions would lead to his termination from the university.

Dr. Peterson acknowledges and agrees that if he engages in any conduct prohibited by this Last Chance Agreement or fails to comply with any conditions required by this Last Chance Agreement, then (i) DSU’s Human Resource Department and Office of the General Counsel will promptly investigate any claim of conduct that is prohibited by this Last Chance Agreement when DSU becomes aware of the alleged conduct, and (ii) any substantiated claim of prohibited conduct shall constitute just cause for his discharge from employment at DSU; and (iii) DSU shall immediately move for the termination of Dr. Peterson pursuant DSU Policy 371: Faculty Termination.

At a time when even comedy sites like the Onion are mocking the state of free speech on campus — due to the way students (often conservatives) are censored — it is critical to remember that professors have free speech rights as well.


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