Rutgers Revisits Finding on Professor

Rutgers University ruled that a professor's supposedly satirical comments on white gentrification violated university policy. In response to public backlash, the university is reviewing its initial decision.

September 4, 2018
 
James Livingston

Rutgers University is walking back its finding that James Livingston, a professor who posted antiwhite comments about gentrification in his neighborhood on Facebook last spring, violated Rutgers's discrimination and harassment policy.

In a letter to Peter March, executive dean at Rutgers's School of Arts and Sciences, Robert Barchi, university president, said that the report “was released to [March] and Professor Livingston before I had been made aware of its content” and that he planned to take action to review the findings of the report.

“Like many in our community, I found that Professor Livingston’s comments showed especially poor judgment, were offensive, and, despite the professor’s claims of satire, were not at all funny,” he wrote. “At the same time, few values are as important to the university as the protection of First Amendment rights -- even when the speech we are protecting in insensitive and reckless.”

Barchi asked the Office of Employment Equity (OEE) to “more rigorously analyze the facts and the assumptions underlying its conclusions” that Livingston violated university policy and asked that the review be completed as quickly as possible. He also had the Office of the General Counsel convene an advisory group, consisting of First Amendment and academic freedom scholars and attorneys and Rutgers faculty to provide guidance to the OEE for its second review.

Since the OEE's initial decision was publicized, outside parties have weighed in. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has vigorously opposed the decision and argued for Livingston's protection under the First Amendment. Representatives at FIRE have been coordinating with Livingston and said they would help Livingston with legal action if he chose to pursue it. At this time, the university has yet to act on the OEE's original findings.

The American Association of University Professors has also spoken out against Rutgers's initial decision. In an advisory letter to the Rutgers University AAUP chapter, Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary, dissected the OEE's report in light of AAUP and Rutgers policies on freedom of speech.

“The review of Professor Livingston’s Facebook posts by the Office of Employment Equity analyzed the institution’s obligations toward Professor Livingston only from the perspective of the First Amendment,” Tiede wrote. “As a result, it entirely ignored Professor Livingston’s freedom of extramural utterance under principles of academic freedom -- principles to which Rutgers University has had a historical commitment, both through action by its Board of Governors and through ‘recognition’ of that action in the collective bargaining agreement between the institution and AAUP-AFT Rutgers.”

In an update about Barchi's recent letter, FIRE wrote that it hopes Rutgers's initial decision will be reversed.

"We hope to soon be able to report that Professor Livingston has been cleared of charges and that Rutgers stands firmly behind its faculty’s rights to free expression and academic freedom," the article read.

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