We have been following the uproar over Suffolk Professor Michael Avery’s email criticizing the sending of care packages to troops abroad. Many of us joined in that criticism while supporting Avery’s right to raise his objections. Now, an adjunct professor, U.S. Army Reserve Major Robert Roughsedge, serving in Afghanistan has resigned over the controversy — a curious response that seems to suggest that Avery should not have been allowed to voice such positions.
First, to clarify some possible misconception from articles, Roughsedge is not a full-time faculty member but an adjunct faculty member. The latter are not subject to the same appointment process and do not have the same academic status as full-time faculty. Indeed, adjuncts are usually selected by deans and at most subject to a confirmatory vote of the faculty.
Second, Roughsedge seems to have a rather conflicted logic in taking this action. He calls the email “hate speech,” a view that is wildly out of step with the general definition of this term. Indeed, if obnoxious speech is hate speech, we could criminalize a significant portion of speech. Avery was voicing his view of role to U.S. military personnel in the current war. That may be wrong-headed but it is not hate speech. Otherwise, much of the anti-Vietnam protests were hate speech. Hate speech is an often controversial category of criminalized speech that has only passed constitutional muster because it is kept narrowly defined. Even with a narrow construction, it is an area that greatly concerns free speech advocates.
Roughsedge further stated that “It’s basically like a 5-year-old throwing a temper tantrum, that is not how we teach our students to rationally look at the issues . . . We want rationale adult discourse and that is not something I would tolerate in my class and it is not something the school should tolerate from one of its professors.” I am more shocked but the notion that Roughsedge would not tolerate such views in this class. If the class is discussing this subject, I cannot imagine a law professor prohibiting the utterance of such views. Moreover, I have not an inkling as to what Roughsedge means by “it is not something the school should tolerate from one of its professors.” What a law school cannot tolerate is the denial of academic freedom and free speech in an educational environment. Roughsedge appears to want a school that punishes faculty for stating views that he finds obnoxious. Such schools would be in violation of free speech principles and governing academic guidelines. Some schools – particularly religious schools — enforce orthodoxy but they are hardly the model for most academics. Roughsedge would have been better served but responding with a reasoned retort — joining many other at the school and outside the school.
Roughsedge teaches a course on Terrorism and the Law. A Suffolk graduate, he is a partner at Lawson & Weitzen where he lists “professional liability” as one of his areas of practice. While he has every right to disassociate himself from the school, I think he needs to seriously consider his commitment to the academic enterprise. I greatly respect his service in our armed forces. That service helps defend the values that distinguish us from our enemies, including the right to free speech.
Source: Fox Boston