The Corner

A Good Day for Academic Freedom

Within 24 hours, courts from both coasts handed down important rulings in two academic freedom cases, both times rejecting university efforts to dismiss cases brought by conservative academic critics.  

The first decision denied the core of the defendants’ motion to dismiss a case brought by Dr. James Enstrom, a case I’ve written about before.   Dr. Enstrom not only blew the whistle on junk science driving recent proposed California diesel emissions restrictions, he discovered the state’s lead “scientist” had purchased his degree from a fictitious “Thornhill University” and that many members of the state’s Scientific Review Panel had overstayed term limits by decades.  While the fake scientist received only a short suspension after Dr. Enstrom discovered his fraud, UCLA not only fired Dr. Enstrom, it also looted his research account of tens of thousands of dollars and failed to pay him any salary for more than a year.

Dr. Enstrom sued, the defendants moved to dismiss the case, and yesterday the Court allowed the case to go forward on all claims and against most of the defendants.  

In the second case, Dr. Mike Adams, a professor at UNC-Wilmington and a columnist filed suit after he was denied a promotion in a process that was rife with irregularities and evidence of political bias.  Here’s how I described the case in a previous post:

The university denied Adams’s promotion to full professor despite the fact that he was an award-winning teacher (often receiving the highest marks in the department), had more scholarly publications than the vast majority of his colleagues and more publications than his current and previous department chair at equivalent stages in their careers (indeed, no one with a similar publication record had ever been rejected for promotion), and had rendered service to the university sufficient to win one of the university’s most-coveted service awards.  

As part of his promotion application, Adams submitted his peer-reviewed publications to satisfy the “research” component of the promotion, also submitted a book that was a compilation of his essays, and noted that he performed “service” to the university and community through his public speeches and columns. In response, his colleagues unleashed a torrent of bile (in writing) regarding the viewpoints in his columns while considering his promotion application. Additionally, the chancellor of the university herself had initiated a secret investigation of Adams for his alleged “transphobia.” When explaining the promotion denial to Adams, his department chair indicated that one reason for the denial was that his colleagues found his “service” had undefined “negative effects” on members of the department.

The trial court dismissed the case in 2009, holding that Dr. Adams’ speeches and columns were work-related and thus not constitutionally protected.  The Fourth Circuit reversed, and today the trial court rejected the defendants’ renewed motion for summary judgment.  The case is likely to go to trial later this year.

(Full disclosure: I’m lead attorney working with my ACLJ colleagues in both cases and also work with my good friends at the Alliance Defending Freedom in Dr. Adams’ case.  Also, my friends at FIRE have done invaluable work publicly exposing university misconduct in both cases.)

In an academic community that allegedly prizes dissent and free speech, intolerance for conservatives and conservative speech is often the rule, not the exception.  Though I will note that Dr. Enstrom’s treatment was so egregious that UCLA’s Academic Freedom Committee — hardly a bastion of conservatism — expressed unanimous concern about his treatment, and the First Amendment’s defenders are certainly not confined to the right side of the ideological aisle. The defense of free speech should (and, fortunately, often does) transcend ideological boundaries.

I’ve pasted below an excellent short piece that Reason TV did on Dr. Enstrom’s case:


David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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