University ordered to reinstate controversial professor in free speech battle

by mcardinal

Lauren Moye, FISM News


An arbitrator has ordered the University of Central Florida (UCF) to rehire and give back pay to Professor Charles Negy after he found that it had unfairly terminated the professor for controversial tweets. The decision has been hailed by many as a victory for free speech.

“Just Cause requires more consideration of Dr. Negy than what UCF offered,” the arbitrator Ben Falcigno stated as he ruled in favor of Charles Negy, a tenured UCF psychology professor. “It is not a matter of sufficiency of evidence to prove misconduct years after the fact after you have heaped accolades for the performance period now being reviled.”

UCF Assistant Vice President for Communications Chad Binette released a statement in response: “UCF stands by the actions taken following a thorough investigation that found repeated misconduct in Professor Negy’s classroom, including imposing his views about religion, sex, and race. However, we are obligated to follow the arbitrator’s ruling.”

Negy made two tweets in 2020 that promoted “black privilege” which garnered harsh public criticism. The timing of the tweets, made at the height of racial tension following the tragic death of George Floyd, in part led to the school administration’s decision to remove Negy from his position.

Now deleted, Negy’s first tweet asked: “If Afr. Americans as a group, had the same behavioral profile as Asian Americans (on average, performing the best academically, having the highest income, committing the lowest crime, etc.), would we still be proclaiming ‘systematic racism’ exists?”

In a follow-up, Negy then tweeted: “Black privilege is real: Besides affirm. action, special scholarships, and other set asides, being shielded from legitimate criticism is a privilege. But as a group, they’re missing out on much-needed feedback.”

In response, there were several protests at the university, as well as one at the professor’s house which resulted in police providing protection for the professor. A petition which called for Negy’s firing received nearly 35,000 signatures. The petition stated, “While [Professor Negy] has a right to free speech, he does not have a right to dehumanize students of color and other minority groups, which is a regular occurance [sic] in his classroom. By allowing him to continue in his position, UCF would simply be empowering another cog in the machine of systemic racism.”

Despite the uproar, the professor stood by his statements and adamantly defended his right to free speech.

Negy remained in position for roughly 8 months while UCF President Alexander Cartwright conducted an investigation into Negy. This investigation accepted complaints against Negy’s teaching going back 15 years, a backlog that was noted in the arbitrator’s ruling. Negy was also subjected to nine hours of interrogation, in what Negy’s legal representation characterized as an “inquisition.”

Following the investigation, the university fired the professor in January 2021 stating that Negy had fostered a “hostile learning environment” and participated in “discriminatory harassment,” despite having provided exemplary evaluations for years. They also accused Negy of not reporting a 2014 sexual harassment complaint from a student regarding a teacher’s aide.

UCF states that Negy’s firing had nothing to do with the professor’s first-amendment speech or tweets. The arbitrator disagreed, in large part due to the timing of the investigation, ordering for the professor to be reinstated and be given back pay.

The decision marks the second time this year that UCF has received a rebuttal for infringing on free speech rights.

UCF was also recently hit with an appellate panel ruling that found their discriminatory harassment and bias response team policies were too subjective. The ambiguity of the policies gave school administrators the ability to censor free speech among their students by discouraging the expression of controversial views.