Court Upholds Dismissal of Delaware State Professor

March 30, 2009

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld Delaware State University's firing of a professor, Wendell Gorum, after he was found to have changed grades and enrollment status in official university records for 48 students. Gorum claimed that he was fired in retaliation for certain statements he made in the context of his job duties -- statements that disagreed with administration positions. The court rejected Gorum's free speech claims, citing a Supreme Court ruling in 2006 that limited the free speech rights of public employees when they are speaking on job-related matters, not simply speaking as public citizens. That decision has concerned advocates for public college faculty members, fearing that they could be punished for criticizing administrators. In the Delaware State case, however, the appeals court found that Gorum's conduct changing grades would have led to his firing, for legitimate reasons, even if he had never spoken out in ways that may have offended the administration. Gorum's actions changing grades, the court found, showed "disregard for the academic integrity of DSU."

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