Professor Ordered to Take Down Cartoons

A tenured, conservative professor has been ordered to take cartoons off his door because they offended someone.

They Blow Up So Fast Cartoon Getting one’s own office can be a rite of passage right up there with defending a dissertation or receiving tenure — and many professors’ lairs are reflections of their own attitudes and beliefs. Usually, it takes just a quick glance at the door, as anyone who’s taken a stroll down the hall of an academic building can attest: What a professor finds amusing, outrageous or just plain interesting is there for all to see.

At a public university, such common displays of individual preference would presumably fall under the protections of the First Amendment. But not when such displays are offensive to others, according to officials at Lake Superior State University, which threatened to reprimand a tenured professor whose door boasted cartoons and other images of a conservative political bent. In a March 26 letter to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which had been monitoring the case and publicized it on Wednesday, an outside lawyer representing the university reiterated its argument that because the professor “acted in an unprofessional and insubordinate manner, his actions cannot be considered protected speech.”

The first complaints date back to 2005, and the professor, Richard Crandall, was ordered to remove the materials from his door in 2007 (he eventually complied). Items included a photo of Ronald Reagan, pictures mocking Hillary Clinton, a sign posting a “Notice of the Weekly Meeting of the White, Male, Heterosexual Faculty and Staff Association (WMHFSA),” and various cartoons about abortion, Islamic terrorism and other topics. One depicts two hooded women looking over a photo album. One says, “And that’s my youngest son, Hakim. He’ll be martyring in the fall.” The other replies, “They blow up so fast.”

The university argues that the postings contribute to a hostile environment and therefore do not fall under First Amendment protections, although such arguments have not fared well historically in the courts.

No joke. No abridgment of free speech — unless it’s controversial.

Story shared by Chris Lawrence via Google Reader. Cartoon via Political Humor.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. capital L says:

    I don’t suppose the university should try to understand the root causes of what makes the professor express himself in this way–that’s the sort of privilege reserved for people who are actually creating a hostile environment.

  2. DL says:

    Let’s see now -Nazis marching in Skokie Illinos aren’t a hostile environment but cartoons based upon some solid truth is. Offense is not protected by the Constitution – if it was, every darned liberal in America would have to leave, because I find them terribly offensive.

  3. Grewgills says:

    There were quite a few things on his door and about a third of them were deliberately insulting to a particular religion. Most of the rest were typical Rush style right wing wind-baggery. It seems that the school is within its rights to have him remove cartoons or other material that demonize a particular religion or ethnicity. The picture of Reagan and the other nonsense should be allowed to stay. The statement from the school seems to indicate that it was the anti-Muslim cartoons that they wanted removed after receiving student complaints. The university would not allow cartoons mocking Christians or Jews to be posted on professors’ doors either.

    FIRE made a point of showing other professors doors with political sentiments, none of them demeaned any religious or ethnic group. The only one that could be even characterized as a political attack was one that commented on Bush and Cheney’s ties to the petroleum industry.

  4. James Joyner says:

    It seems that the school is within its rights to have him remove cartoons or other material that demonize a particular religion or ethnicity. The picture of Reagan and the other nonsense should be allowed to stay. The statement from the school seems to indicate that it was the anti-Muslim cartoons that they wanted removed after receiving student complaints. The university would not allow cartoons mocking Christians or Jews to be posted on professors’ doors either.

    The United States, unlike Western Europe and Canada, does not restrict freedom of speech on the basis that some ethnic group or religion might get offended.

    I’m guessing that, if you walk down the halls at Lake Superior State University, you’ll find plenty of cartoons making fun of Christians. Certainly, that was the case at every university I ever attended or taught at.

  5. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Thank you James Joyner.

  6. Grewgills says:

    I’m guessing that, if you walk down the halls at Lake Superior State University, you’ll find plenty of cartoons making fun of Christians.

    Well, Crandall and FIRE apparently could not find any of them. They posted pictures of doors that they felt were comparable and none of them included any insulting Christians (or mentioning them). The university was clear that the policy was to not allow “posting of materials that contain derogatory remarks based on religion or national origin.”
    Posting materials designed to deliberately insult the religion or ethnicity of a group of your students is unprofessional at the very least.

  7. James Joyner says:

    I remember seeing professors publishing cartoons making fun of Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Creationists, etc. on a regular basis.

    Making fun of terrorists isn’t the same as making fun of Islam, anyway.

  8. M1EK says:

    Making fun of Islam, or any other religion, should be OK. Period.

  9. Grewgills says:

    Making fun of Islam, or any other religion, should be OK. Period.

    Anywhere, at anytime?
    Should it be OK for your child’s kindergarten teacher to mock his/her religion or lack thereof?
    grammar school teacher?
    high school teacher?
    college professor?