Laura Curry, a professor of film at the University of Buffalo, has been arrested after she confronted a pro-life demonstration using profane language. In the video below, Curry objects to being asked to stop because of her language. She insists that she has a first amendment right to swear. In my view, she is correct. I do not see how this is any cognizable crime. One can certainly disagree with the tenor or public conduct of the professor, but this would seem protected speech. This is the second such arrest of a professor in a month for denouncing a campus demonstration. There are really two legal issues presented in such cases: a criminal case (which is quite weak) and an academic case (which is likely to be more substantial) against the professor.
Curry is shown on the video below confronting the students on a picture shown in their pro-life displays, which she called “fucking profane.” Police tell her that she is being disruptive and to stop swearing. Curry asked “Where does it say I can’t use the fuck word in public . . I can swear because that’s part of my vocabulary. That’s part of my First Amendment rights.” She asks why she can be stopped for being profane but they can show a poster viewed as profane.
As she is arrested, Curry is heard asking a witness to tell her students that she will miss her class because she is being arrested.
Curry is an adjunct instructor of media study.
As with the earlier Oregon story, the arrest will raise a question over whether a professor should have to comply with a more restrictive standard of conduct than an ordinary citizen on campus. I personally believe that professors can protest but they have to be more measured in their conduct as part of maintaining a community where different views and values can be expressed. Moreover, this is not the type of dialogue that we try to encourage in campuses. You can strongly disagree without reducing such confrontations to swearing contests. This are tough questions for faculty that balance free speech of faculty with faculty codes imposing standards of conduct. The Emory Faculty Handbook bars faculty from “Inappropriate, disruptive, discourteous or irregular behavior adversely affecting students, employees, patients, or visitors.” There are similar prohibitions at other schools sites.
What is clear is that this should not be a criminal case and the arrest should not have occurred in my view. The matter should be left to the University of Buffalo faculty on whether this conduct meets the standard of a professor at the university.
Here is the handbook: 2013FacultyHandbookInt