School had fired professor after she debated Black Lives Matter with Tucker Carlson
A campus individual rights watchdog group is suing Essex County College after the school has refused to honor a public records request related to a faculty dismissal last year.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education filed suit against Essex after the school ignored a request under the New Jersey Public Records Act for information related to the firing of Lisa Durden last year, according to FIRE’s website.
Durden was dismissed after appearing on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program and debating Black Lives Matter with the host.
On that appearance, as The College Fix reported at the time, Durden defended a blacks-only Black Lives Matter event, jeering at Carlson: “[B]oo hoo hoo, you white people are angry because you couldn’t use your white privilege card to get invited” to the event.
According to Essex president Anthony Munroe, the school was immediately hit with “feedback … expressing frustration, concern and even fear.” The school terminated Durden’s employment two days after her appearance. FIRE requested public records related to her termination shortly thereafter.
For more than a month, Essex ignored FIRE’s initial request — as well as a subsequent request — for information about the feedback the college allegedly received. After receiving a letter from FIRE Director of Litigation Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, Essex finally responded, asking for the first of five eventual requests for extensions of time to respond to FIRE’s records requests. In November, Essex said it “anticipated” being able to provide a response by Nov. 20.
FIRE hasn’t heard from Essex since.
“Here’s a New Year’s resolution for Essex: Follow state law,” said Madway. “The public deserves to know how Essex administrators handled reaction to a professor’s participation in a political debate.”
Ari Cohn, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, analyzed the First Amendment issues involved in Durden’s firing and said that even if Essex was “inundated” with complaints, its administrators violated her constitutional rights by firing her.
“The law under the First Amendment is clear: A public college cannot terminate a professor simply because she engaged, in a personal capacity, in a debate about matters of public concern and some were offended by her perspective,” he said.
New Jersey’s public records law holds that “government records shall be readily accessible for inspection, copying, or examination by the citizens of this State, with certain exceptions, for the protection of the public interest, and any limitations on the right of access…shall be construed in favor of the public’s right of access.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The headline of this post has been updated to better reflect the details of the story.