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Clay Calvert Comments on the First Amendment and Academic Expression

Clay Calvert, director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, was quoted in “OU Professor’s Use of Racial Slur May Not Be Protected, First Amendment Expert Says” publishing in the Oklahoma University Daily on Feb. 14.

Calvert comments on why First Amendment and academic freedom may not protect an Oklahoma University professor when he compared the n-word to the phrase “OK, boomer.”

Clay_Calvert
Clay Calvert

Calvert references a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court case, Garcetti v. Ceballos, which may put First Amendment protection into question. He says that the concern of academic freedom is more relevant to how professors teach their classes and may not protect the professor in this situation.

Calvert said the Ceballos case confirmed that if a government employee is speaking pursuant to their official capacity – like the professor speaking in class – they don’t have First Amendment rights of free speech.

“In this case, because it’s set inside the classroom … that comes down to an argument (of), how relevant really was the usage of that term?” Calvert said. “Was it really germane to what he was discussing, number one. But the second principle, then, is that if you’re a government employee speaking as part of your official duties, you really don’t have any First Amendment rights.”

“The courts have made it clear that if what the professor says is germane to the subject matter, then it is generally going to be protected,” Calvert said.

Calvert adds that the professor could be disciplined — and even fired — if the university considered his use of the slur irrelevant to the subject matter.

“It’s a much closer call whether or not the First Amendment was protective (in this case),” Calvert said. “And it depends upon whether or not it really was germane to what he was trying to teach. No matter how much they can say permissibly under the First Amendment, professors certainly do have to be cognizant of the mores of the time, the customs and the values.”

Calvert comments were also included in “Expert Says Prof’s In-Class ‘N-Word’ Comparison May Not Be Protected Speech” published in The College Fix on Feb. 16.

Posted: February 18, 2020
Category: College News, First Amendment Project
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