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Pushback: Professor fired for making joke wins $165K settlement from university

Speech that is forbidden at the University of North Texas
Speech that is forbidden at the University of North Texas

Nathaniel Hiers, fired by his boss as a math professor at the University of North Texas for daring to express a political opinion, has won a $165K settlement from the university.

This story is a follow-up on a previous column from March, when a judge had ruled that Hiers’ lawsuit could go forward. The judge also dismissed the university’s claim of qualified immunity for its officials, thus leaving them personally liable under any settlement.

The background: Hiers’ was fired when, having found flyers in math department’s lounge warning faculty against triggering “microaggessions” in their conversations, responded as shown in the picture to the right, placing one flyer on the chalk rack of the blackboard and wrote his own opinion of it above.

It appears that though the settlement was a victory for Hiers, paying him for damages and his attorneys’ fees, it does not get him his job back. Nor does it appear the officials who fired him wrongly will pay any of the settlement. Instead, the University of North Texas is picking up the tab.

Thus, this victory is not the triumph Hiers’ legal team, the Alliance Defending Freedom, claims it is. For a relatively small fee, North Texas University has successfully blacklisted Hiers’ from their faculty. It still remains a haven for censorship, blacklisting, and oppression, having repeatedly been the subject of blacklisting stories in the past few years.

In February 2021 for example the university fired Professor Timothy Jackson from the journal he founded, because he thought he had the right to criticize in print the racist, anti-white, and (most important) inaccurate rhetoric of another professor. And though Jackson has filed a lawsuit and has so far won some initial victories, he still no longer edits that journal, and likely never will again.

Then, in June 2022 the university student government passed a resolution [pdf] demanding that the school blacklist any club that expresses any dissenting opinion about the queer agenda.

THEREFORE, LET IT BE RESOLVED THAT, any UNT Student Organization that engages in harassment, discrimination, hate crimes, and/or violation of UNT policy through transphobic posts, statements, and actions be immediately suspended to protect the mental, emotional, and physical health of transgender students at UNT. [emphasis mine]

Note that the student government didn’t just condemn actual physical crimes or harassment, it demanded the ban of speech it didn’t like. And in commenting on this resolution, the university president, Neal Smatresk, apparently had no problem with such censorship, stating that “It is unacceptable when people are hateful, or groups go out of their way to bully or demean marginalized populations. There is no place for this behavior on our campus.”

Hiers’ victory merely reduces some of the harm he has experienced, but it leaves North Texas University still free to blacklist and censor. Everyone that works there had better toe the line, or they will lose their job. Worse, they could find themselves subject to ostracization and blacklisting, simply because they exercised their first amendment right to free speech.

Texas legislators should also take note. North Texas is a public college, with substantial funding from the state. It seems to me that a review of its funding is in order. If it wants to be a Stalinist university, that’s its prerogative. Texas taxpayers however should not have to pay for this.

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  • GaryMike

    I’m retired now, but having been a successful small business owner, I wouldn’t hire a non-STEM college graduate. I might not hire one of them either.

    I would need attitudes I can manage.

  • Col Beausabre

    One thing I have been saying for years is that the Left has no sense of humor. Everything is deadly serious – because of the crisis de jour and, anyway, “think of the children”. Now was this a joke? I’d say yes, the same way editorial cartoons strive to be humorous.

  • Milt

    “Texas legislators should also take note. North Texas is a public college, with substantial funding from the state. It seems to me that a review of its funding is in order. If it wants to be a Stalinist university, that’s its prerogative. Texas taxpayers however should not have to pay for this.”

    No, they should not. The problem is – unless someone in authority in Texas HAS actually said something about this and has gotten no publicity — that Governor Abbott and the Republicans in the Texas Legislature are essentially too complacent / cowardly to stand up and say, “No, we will NOT tolerate this kind of behavior by those in authority at a public university.” Instead, crickets. They say / do nothing, leaving people like Prof. Heirs to dangle in the wind.

    All that it takes for evil to triumph, etc.

    The real takeaway from this is that an alarming number of college students today — perhaps even a majority? — do not see any value in free speech, believing instead that society is better served if no one is allowed to say anything that might disturb or offend anyone else. And, likewise, they see little value in many of the other provisions of the Constitution. In short, they live in what is essentially (for themselves and their professors, at any rate) a post-Constitutional world where feelings, group-think, and political expediency have effectively obviated the Social Contract and the Rule of Law.

    As Prof. Akhil Reed Amar has observed in his book, America’s Unwritten Constitution, even our foundational national document rests on deeply rooted cultural precedents and ways of understanding such concepts of fairness, equity, and justice (a kind of synthesis of both our Judeo-Christian heritage and the Enlightenment), and when these understandings change — as they seem to be changing, now — there is a clamor to throw the old orthodoxies out and begin again*. Thus wokeness, “building back better,” and the new Davos conception of what a “good society” (and even being human) might look like.

    *The Jacobins tried this in 1789, the Bolsheviks in 1917, and the Nazis in 1934. Today, the Biden-Ho Administration is attempting the same kind of cultural coup, only this time, apparently. with far more public and media support.

    But, again, Governor Abbott and the Texas Legislature seem blissfully unaware of such things, believing, perhaps, that the Constitution is self-enforcing and that there need be no public — or even legislative / administrative — consensus behind its application and the Rule of Law. There is a phrase, “speaking sanely of serious things,” that one wishes would be associated with our elected leaders at all levels, but just the opposite seems to apply. Even less so their willingness to oppose the horde of Gramscian critical theorists who have taken over our universities and now our public schools.

    Fools, cowards, spoiled children; pick whatever name for them that best fits. We are reaping the results of their inaction and ineptitude.
    At least at the local school board level, many parents seem to be getting some inkling of what needs to be done.

  • Edward_2

    Simpsons – Think of the children compilation

  • BLSinSC

    The next R Administration needs to put an END to this insanity! Just pass a LAW : No funding will be available to any institution that does not allow FULL ACCESS and FULL ADHERENCE to the US CONSTITUTION! Free Speech is simply that! It has been shown that the education system has gone fully communist in their rhetoric and actions and therefore are UNCONSTITUTIONAL and will not be funded in any way. Also they have forfeited their tax exempt status. Going forward there will be no funding for Student Loans nor Pell Grants! They ABUSE of these by the institutions have harmed too many children. Also, there will be a tax assessed against all institutions’ trust funds – FULLY TAXABLE!
    The LEFT has POISONED the pond – now DRAIN it!

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