More and more often, college and university officials are getting into pointless battles that have nothing to do with student education, but are simply driven by ideological fervor. Their investigations and punishments date back to the Spanish Inquisition. Disagree with us and you will suffer!
Take the University of Washington.
Stuart Reges is a computer science professor who has taught at the university since 2004. In 2011, he was one of seven faculty members to receive the Distinguished Teaching Award. It has consistently received excellent reviews from its students.
The problem is, Professor Reges has a mind of his own and won’t be bullied into saying things he doesn’t agree with.
In 2021, the university suggested faculty members include in their curriculum a “land acknowledgment” that the University of Washington is located on land rightfully owned by a local Indian tribe. Such statements have become widespread as “enlightened” teachers and administrators seek new ways to display their high moral virtue. Not that university officials intend to return the land or compensate the tribe – it’s just a ritual among leftist intellectuals indicating how much they oppose the United States. .
When Reges read the school’s ‘Recognition of the Lands’, he decided to give it his own perspective. On his program he wrote, “I recognize that by the working theory of ownership, the Coast Salish people can claim historic ownership of almost any of the land now occupied by the University of Washington. He distributed his course syllabus and then continued his teaching. The students paid no heed to the “recognition of the land”, but unfortunately this heresy caught the attention of Reges’ superiors in his department.
A few weeks later, he is informed by the director of the computer science department, Magdalena Balaszinska, that his statement is “inappropriate” and that it creates “a toxic environment” in his class. She asked Reges to immediately eliminate his “ground recognition”, but he refused to do so, noting that other professors had changed the university’s suggested language without being called to account. However, as theirs were in line with the university’s pro-Indian stance, it was singled out – a case of unlawful discrimination of views.
It didn’t matter to the directors, who were outraged that Reges dared to go against their beliefs. The head of the department organized a “fictitious” course identical to his own, but delivered through recorded lectures given by a sensible faculty member. About 30 percent of students have decided to change.
Once that semester was over, Professor Reges again disobeyed his schedule for the next, making the same intolerable statement. This led Nancy Allbritton, dean of the School of Engineering, to inform him that she was convening a committee to investigate his conduct. Under University Executive Order 31, faculty members are not permitted to hold “unacceptable or inappropriate” speech. At a meeting, Principal Balaszinska said Reges’ statement was “demeaning and dehumanizing to Indigenous people” and Dean Allbritton said her program had caused “teaching disruption”, but she did not could provide no evidence.
After this meeting, the commission of inquiry finally started its task, but has not yet taken any action. After 133 days of “investigation”, Professor Reges decided it was time to press charges. Aided by attorneys from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), he filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court, Kings c. Cause
His complaint is well founded in First Amendment law.
In Keyishian v. Board of Regents, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a New York law that prevented the employment of “subversives” in public schools. Government, Justice Brennan wrote in his opinion for the Court, is not authorized to cast a “veil of orthodoxy” over education. This is exactly what Washington State did. By requiring professors to show agreement with the university’s educationally irrelevant signal of virtue, the state government is trying to cast a veil of orthodoxy – those who disagree are not welcome.
In addition, the Court’s First Amendment case law also clarifies that public educational institutions may not engage in opinion discrimination, choosing to discriminate for or against individuals because of their opinions. In the 1995 case Rosenberger c. Rector, the Court ruled that if a public university chooses to fund non-religious groups, it cannot refuse to fund religious groups. The general point is that the government is not allowed to grant favors or punishments based on people’s beliefs. In this case, it seems obvious that the University of Washington singled out Stuart Reges for mistreatment not because of anything he had. do, but simply because he disapproves of his beliefs.
What does Professor Reges want in his costume?
One thing he wants is an injunction against the University’s senseless and harassing investigation. He also wants the court to rule that the school’s Executive Order 31 is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. How, after all, does a professor know what administrators might find “unacceptable”? He also wishes to be compensated for his legal costs.
Equally important, he seeks compensatory damages from the University for inflicting emotional distress and loss of reputation caused by its hostile treatment of him. And he is seeking damages from a number of officials personally. Its very important. If university administrators can simply pass on the cost of litigation to taxpayers, they will never respect the constitutional rights of professors who disagree with their ideology.
According to the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity”, public officials are generally immune from personal judgment, but some courts have recently moved back of this doctrine and concluded that public officials can be personally liable if they knew that their conduct violated individual rights. Before going on a crusade against Professor Reges for disagreeing with the university’s wasteful stance on land acquisition, they could have consulted lawyers familiar with First Amendment law and found out easily that their actions would be unjustified.
The University of Washington would be well advised to settle this case.