University of Idaho faculty voted in favor of changing the UI constitution to broaden the scope of academic freedom and include an explicit right of free speech on matters of faculty governance.
Patricia Hartzell, chair of faculty senate, said there were 173 faculty members who voted in favor of the policy change at Tuesday’s all-faculty meeting.
Pending approval from the UI Board of Regents, the passed language guarantees UI faculty members can exercise their right of free speech in regard to faculty governance, programs and university policies without fear of being reprimanded.
“It adds the phrase ‘faculty are entitled to speak or write freely without institutional discipline or restraint on matters pertaining to faculty governance and university programs or policies,'” Hartzell said.
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Nicholas Gier said he introduced the free speech issue to faculty affairs in November 2012.
Although Gier’s not a voting faculty member, he attended the all-faculty meeting to champion for the policy change and provide context for faculty members who weren’t familiar with state and national laws regarding the free speech of public employees.
“In 2006, the Supreme Court made a decision — the case was Garcetti v. Ceballos, a 5-4 decision — and they ruled that public employers can limit their employees’ constitutional right to free speech in the performance of their official duties,” Gier said.
He said two Justices — Anthony Kennedy and David Souter — mentioned university faculty might be exempt from the court decision due to academic freedom.
“Even with the qualification of two of the justices, Garcetti v. Ceballos was used in support of firing dozens (of faculty members) for speaking out in terms of faculty governance,” Gier said.
Gier said the freedom of speech issue hit close to home when an Idaho State University professor, Habib Sadid, was disciplined for speaking out against university policies and procedures.
“If ISU had the language that we are now proposing for the U of I in place in 2009 before he was fired for insubordination, he would still be teaching,” Gier said.
Universities across the nation — including the University of California and the University of Minnesota — have adopted similar free speech policies that pertain to faculty governance, Gier said.
He said the presence of a free speech policy in the UI constitution is essential for future conversations concerning university policies and their implementation.
“I know that many faculty are speaking out already about the possibility of weapons in their classrooms, and it’s essential that they know that they have constitutional free speech rights,” Gier said.
Unanimously, faculty members voted in agreement with Gier.
Hartzell said she was happy to have more than 170 faculty members vote on the issue when only 101 were needed for a quorum.
Amber Emery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org