Louisiana State University Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Alyssa Johnson is under fire this week for asking her colleagues to create a type of listing of students who have engaged in hate speech — a list to be used to bar them from her classes. Johnson appears to see no need for due process in the creation of such a list and her meting out punishment unilaterally.
Louisiana State University issued a statement that “we are subject to constitutional limitation on our ability to take action in response to free speech.” That set off Johnson who shared the tweeted statement from the university and added a call her colleagues to “keep a list of names” of students deemed “a threat to student safety” due to their speech. She then added that “if I see them enrolled in my course, I will drop them.”
At least one colleague, Associate William Doerrler reportedly agreed and responded to the now deleted tweet with “Thank you!! If he enrolls in my class I’ll drop him too!”
After Johnson’s tweet, the university issued a statement of apology that ‘We are sorry our earlier tweet did not effectively communicate our core message and consequently alienated our students and friends.”
The university was clearly correct in meeting with “Black student leaders to pledge again that LSU will investigate and take action against all acts of racism, hostility, harassment and intimidation by students under our code of conduct.” However, it should also make clear that professors are not empowered to create their own listing of suspected or known speech violators to be barred from classes on an ad hoc basis.
Consider the implications of such an approach. University adjudicative systems would become Potemkin villages that are meaningless if individual professors pass around lists of barred students and hand out their own punishments. No charge. No hearing.
This controversy reflects the diminishing commitment of many faculty to due process values. Nothing could be a better example of that decline when academics call for ad hoc lists and unilateral punishments.