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Professors can be punished for calling peer ‘racist,’ court rules

Federal court upholds punishment against two professors

Tennessee Technological University operated within its rights when it punished two professors who circulated flyers calling a fellow academic a racist, a federal court ruled.

A three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the now expired sanctions against professors Julia Gruber and Andrew Smith.

“The complaint alleged claims of First Amendment retaliation and the denial of procedural due process based on discipline that [Provost Lori Bruce] imposed on Gruber and Smith after they distributed flyers on campus,” the decision stated.

The judges wrote further:

The flyers included a photograph of another professor, Dr. Andrew Donadio, and stated that (1) Donadio is a racist who was helping start a chapter of Turning Point USA at TTU, (2) Turning Point USA is a national hate group that allows racist students to unite to harass, threaten, intimidate, and terrorize minorities and other groups, and (3) Donadio and Turning Point USA are not welcome at TTU.

A federal judge upheld the sanctions in 2022, as previously reported by The College Fix.

The Fix reported:

Smith and Gruber were “not permitted to serve as a faculty advisor to any student organizations” nor “allowed to participate in study abroad activities,” according to Judge Crenshaw’s summary of the punishments. Both were also “ineligible for non-instructional faculty assignments” and “ineligible for salary increases for a year.”

The judges sided with Provost Bruce that the school has an interest in protecting “harmony among coworkers.”

Both Donadio (pictured) and TPUSA members were harmed by the racism accusations, according to the latest ruling.

“For example, one Turning Point USA member, having been deemed a racist, missed class because of the fallout,” the decision stated.

“In addition, the accusations affected the plaintiffs’ effectiveness in the classroom,” the decision stated. “Students in the club, or those considering joining the club, who were taking courses with Gruber and Smith might reasonably fear the potential treatment they would receive in class due to differing political views.”

“The flyers, which attacked a professor and student organization and stated that they were not welcome on campus, created a reasonable threat of disrupting TTU’s academic mission and is the type of speech that a learning institution has a strong interest in preventing.”

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