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A free speech organization is excoriating Bluefield State University’s president, who on his blog discussed possibly firing faculty members who complained to his university’s accrediting agency.

In a Feb. 7 post titled “Bullet Proof” on his “The Campus Maverick” blog, Robin Capehart wrote that “there is no problem with faculty questioning, challenging or disagreeing with proposed policies … However, when faculty members file an official complaint with a national accrediting body—an organization whose approval is necessary for our students to access federal funding in order to pursue an education—and the accusations are premised with no less than pure falsehoods, they have advanced the discussion beyond the point of tolerance of unprofessionalism to a point of academic dishonesty.”

“At our institutions as with most, academic dishonesty is grounds for dismissal,” Capehart wrote. “However, to do so will undoubtedly bring cries of ‘retaliation’ and the obligatory filing of grievances.”

“So, what is campus leadership to do?” he wrote. “On one hand, to pursue dismissal on the grounds of academic dishonesty may leave the issue in the hands of an administrative and judicial hearing system that has historically created a very low bar for the affirmation of claims of ‘retaliation.’ On the other hand, to just declare victory and move on would provide no disincentive for future baseless claims and would render such claimants as ‘bullet proof.’ If you are truly dedicated to maintaining the credibility of the institution, the imposition of some form of disciplinary action is necessary.”

On Wednesday, a week after Inside Higher Ed reported on the blog post, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) sent Capehart a letter saying he “must publicly retract” his statement. Bluefield State didn’t return requests for comment Thursday or Friday.

“Your recent statement that these professors’ expression constituted ‘academic dishonesty’ warranting ‘disciplinary action’ has no basis in law or Bluefield policy,” wrote Alex Morey, FIRE’s campus rights advocacy director. “Their speech is wholly protected by the First Amendment, which enshrines public university faculty’s right to speak broadly on matters of public concern and bars public university officials from using state power to infringe those rights.”

“While the university is free to respond to the faculty members’ commentary with criticisms of the college’s own, it cannot take adverse action against faculty members for their protected speech,” Morey wrote.

“We remind you that a public college administrator who violates clearly established law will not retain qualified immunity and can be held personally responsible for monetary damages for violating others’ First Amendment rights,” she wrote.

In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Morey said, “To have someone in this important role expressing near total ignorance of his legal obligations under the First Amendment is shocking. Here’s a public university president who’s repeatedly said he has no idea what academic freedom means, openly threatens to violate the Constitution to silence his faculty critics, and then the Board of Governors removes the tenure protections that might have protected some of those at-risk professors from this bad actor. It’s a worst-case scenario for faculty rights.”