The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit defended Louisiana State University’s decision to fire a professor for using profane language in the classroom.
Professor Teresa Buchanan was fired from LSU in early 2018 after it was revealed that she had both cursed and made sex jokes in the classroom. Buchanan has claimed that her use of profanity was motivated by a desire to prepare her adult students to be effective teachers.
A statement by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) addressed the court’s decision. In the statement, FIRE argued the court erred in his decision to rule that Professor Buchanan’s speech did not serve an academic purpose.
Last week, a Fifth Circuit panel upheld the district court’s dismissal of Buchanan’s First Amendment claims challenging LSU’s sexual harassment policy both on its face and as applied to her. First, the panel held that Buchanan’s speech was not protected because it did not serve an academic purpose, ignoring record evidence of the pedagogical reasons for her classroom speech. Second, the panel never reached the merits of Buchanan’s facial challenge to LSU’s overbroad sexual harassment policy, although it did vacate the district court decision upholding the policy. Instead, it dismissed the claim on grounds that she sued administrators rather than the LSU Board of Supervisors, somehow reasoning that the officials responsible for her firing had “no ultimate authority to enforce” the policy.
In 2015, LSU allegedly issued a statement concerning Buchanan’s classroom conduct. According to a post from Buchanan’s Facebook page, the statement allegedly suggested that Buchanan had harassed and intimidated students. Buchanan has denied any allegation of wrongdoing. Buchanan claims that the claims of improper conduct came from anonymous student evaluations that had never been vetted for accuracy.
The statement seemingly contradicted Buchanan’s long professional history at LSU, which included several promotions and positive evaluations.
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