Free speech on college campuses is already a heated topic of discussion, but what about freedom of speech for teachers and professors at all levels of education? Should they be limited from exercising their First Amendment freedoms because they might influence their students’ world views? Here are some factors to consider:
Public Versus Private Schools
One of the first considerations to make when it comes to teachers’ free speech in classrooms is whether the institution they teach at is public or private. Public schools and colleges have different regulations about freedom of speech (for students and instructors) compared with private schools, but should this make a difference? For instance, a privately funded religious university might object to one of their professors expressing anti-religious sentiments and subsequently fire them. This has happened several times over the last few decades, but the question still lingers: should the public/private status of a school or college dictate whether instructors are free to exercise their First Amendment rights?
Ideological Influence in Lectures
Free speech affects teachers of all academic subject areas. For instance, an adjunct science professor from San Jose City College lost her job in 2007 after students complained her lectures suggested that homosexuality results from nurture, rather than nature. When she sued the college, the judge stated in the ruling, “the precise contours of the First Amendment’s application in the context of a college professor’s instructional speech are ill-defined and are not easily determined.” The judge further argued that college professors could be punished if the college acted upon “legitimate pedagogical concerns.”
The issue of free speech for teachers and professors in the classroom remains highly contested in all levels of our nation’s legal system. Educators’ speech and expression has been limited by college policies and rejected in some cases, so we must ask ourselves: should instructors be prohibited from fully expressing their First Amendment freedoms to prevent their students from being ideologically influenced in the classroom?
Teachers’ Speech Outside of the Classroom
What if a teacher/professor utilizes their freedom of speech outside of the classroom (e.g., on social media) in a way that brings negative publicity to the educational institution they teach at? In 2017, several adjunct professors were fired for anti-Trump social media posts, which they had posted from their own personal profiles. Adjunct professors are in a particularly vulnerable position because they have no job stability (they can be offered 5 classes one semester and 0 the next semester, with no justification from the college required).
Other teachers with contracted jobs have also been fired for comments or social posts made outside of the classroom, but the question remains: Were they acting within their First Amendment rights, or did they overstep their ethical positions as educators by posting controversial material online?