Two Professors Face Discipline After Posting Flyers Denouncing a Conservative Colleague

There is an interesting and difficult free speech controversy brewing at Tennessee Tech University.  Two professors, Julia Gruber and Andrew Smith, circulated a flyer accusing another professor, Andrew Donadio, of being a racist and saying that he is “on our list.” They are now facing possible discipline.  It appears that this mess all started because Donadio applauded a bit too loudly at a meeting of the Putnam County School Board. Seriously.According to sites like Inside Higher Education, Gruber (as associate professor of German) was present at the meeting considering a demand to change the name of the Algood Middle School Redskins. The board rejected the proposal and Donadio, an assistant professor of nursing at Tennessee Tech as well as a local county commissioner, applauded loudly. What he did not know was that Gruber was sitting in front of him and found his applauding excessive and offensive.Gruber then contacted Smith, a professor of English at Tennessee Tech. Smith had a gripe with Donadio over his serving as the adviser for Turning Point U.S.A.  The conservative group is often the target of liberal professors and activists because it maintains a Professor Watchlist that tracks faculty who express “radical” or biased remarks in class.  The group insists that it is seeking to not only expose such bias but to allow students to avoid such classes.Smith and Gruber distributed a menacing-looking flyer of Donadio on a chair of knives (ala The Game of Thrones) that accused him of “hate speech” and being a racist. There is no evidence to support either claim.

The flyer stated in part:

“This racist college professor thought it would be a great idea to help start a Tennessee Tech chapter for this national hate group, where racist students can unite to harass, threaten, intimidate, and terrorize persons of color, feminists, liberals, and the like, especially [sic] their teachers. Their organization created a national “Professor Watchlist” to harass and intimidate progressive educators, including many women, African-American, and Muslim professors…

Professor Donadio and Turning Point USA. You are on our list. Your hate & hypocrisy are not welcome at Tennessee Tech. No Unity With Racists. Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech.”

After a complaint was filed by Donadio, campus police identified the professors from security footage. The flyer’s reference to being on a list was viewed as threatening and the professors were also found to be in violation of two express policies, First, they are required to “conduct themselves fairly, honestly, in good faith and in accordance with the highest ethical and professional standards.” Second, they are required  to create “an environment that promotes academic freedom, diversity, fair treatment and respect for all faculty, staff, students and the general public.”

It is hard to defend the conduct of Smith and Gruber, who clearly sought to harass a colleague for his political views.  They embody the intolerance for opposing views that is destroying higher education and free speech. Turning Point is a recognized student group on campus that Smith and Gruber were seeking to demonize and label a racist. The obvious intent is to make it more difficult for students and faculty to support the group.

However, this was also an act of free speech. They are entitled to speak out against a colleague and they insist that the flyer’s reference to the list was meant to model the listing by Turning Point.  I do not see the reference as a credible threat.

My second concern is that the faculty policies are so generally and ambiguously written that they can be used arbitrarily or capriciously.

That leaves us in a muddle.  The actions of Smith and Gruber were in my view reprehensible in labeling a colleague as a racist who engages in hate speech. It was unfair and unsupported. If it were true, Smith and Gruber could have filed a complaint with the university. They could also have written or spoken against his views rather than anonymously spread rumors or allegations. They lacked the integrity or the courage to do either.

Instead, they sought to trigger a campus backlash against a colleague.  It is difficult therefore to accept their effort to claim victim status after they sought to harass Donadio because he applauded too loudly and holds views that they oppose.

I believe that the conduct of Smith and Gruber are worthy of condemnation and a possible official reprimand.  I would not support termination or stripping them of tenure. Repeated conduct could warrant greater punishment. This is a close question for me frankly since there are free speech values at stake on both sides. The issue for me is the effort to harass and defame a colleague in this type of campaign.  They also sought to label a student group as racist without making any formal complaint or offer any evidence to support that charge.

One course could be for Donadio to seek civil liability for defamation but that avenue would present serious challenges.  Donadio is a public official and a public figure due to his county position and his public advocacy.

The standard for defamation for public figures and officials in the United States is the product of a decision over 50 years ago in New York Times v. Sullivan. Ironically, this is precisely the environment in which the opinion was written. The case came out of the highly divisive period of the civil rights movement. The New York Times had run an advertisement referring to abuses of civil rights marchers and the arrest of Martin Luther King Jr. seven times. The Montgomery Public Safety commissioner, L. B. Sullivan, sued for defamation and won under Alabama law. He was awarded $500,000 — a huge judgment for the time. Sullivan’s lawsuit was one of a number of civil actions brought under state laws that targeted Northern media covering the violence against freedom marchers. The judgments represented a viable threat to both media and average citizens in criticizing our politicians.

The Supreme Court ruled that tort law could not be used to overcome First Amendment protections for free speech or the free press. The Court sought to create “breathing space” for the media by articulating that standard that now applies to both public officials and public figures.

It would be difficult to sue Smith and Gruber over claims that Donadio is a racist since that can be viewed as opinion and thus protected speech. Tort liability for the statements in the flyer would contravene core free speech rights.

Of course, Smith and Gruber were clearly trying to harass and silence Donadio (as well as students who are members of this group) but they are not the measure of free speech principles.  They are the test of free speech principles. We often have to protect the speech of individuals like Smith and Gruber who little tolerance or respect for either the free speech or academic freedom rights of others.

According to the school newspaper The Oracle, Smith and Gruber were found guilty of violating university policies and are awaiting a decision on their punishment.

109 thoughts on “Two Professors Face Discipline After Posting Flyers Denouncing a Conservative Colleague”

  1. It sure seems like Turley’s paycheck is showing up on his blog. It won’t be to long now that Turley’s talking points and “FOXNEWS” talking points are the exact same thing 24-7.

    1. FW

      If you are unhappy, then leave.

      As a Lefty, you love to complain, but you rarely contribute any worthwhile comments.

      Expect to see you here years from now, still whining.

      1. Because I write things you don’t want to read or listen too doesn’t mean I don’t contribute. I’m not going to change what a fact is to suit your opinion.

  2. “They are not the measure of free speech principles. They are the test of free speech principles.”

    A well-turned phrase, Professor, and you convinced me on every point. I hope no one gets “cancelled” in this unfortunate episode.

    I often defer to the Professor on matters of law, but one thing I know without instruction is that the US Constitution still rules in Tennessee. Smith and Gruber are political idiots to try this cancel-culture crap there. As they say in the South, “That dog won’t hunt.”

    If Smith and Gruber are over the age of 40, this is who they are, and maybe they would be happier moving to Venezuela or Iran. Who knows? Maybe these spoiled babies might learn something in a less-indulgent environment.

  3. This is exactly the type of case that need protection. It is not the act itself that is important, but the very fact it is protected speech. It is the very speech that is hated most that needs the very protections we hold so dear. Yes, in my opinion they were trying to hurt this Professor. Yet, if they truly think he is a racist, do they not have the right to call him out? Those of you on this blog doing the very same thing to this two other Professors are performing the same type of behavior and your speech is protected. It is important to hold the scales in balance. That way we are all protected.

    1. Yet, if they truly think he is a racist, do they not have the right to call him out?

      No one said they didn’t have the right. They have the burden of proof.

    2. The Quiet Man:

      Does someone have the right to post flyers all over your place of work claiming that you are a child molester, with the only reason they think that your political affiliation with one of 2 major parties?

      This professor should sue for libel.

      Democrats have targeted for destruction political dissenters. They try to financial ruin, impoverish, drive out of business, cause someone to be fired, blacklist them in Hollywood so they’ll never work again…

      This is Brown Shirt behavior. We all have the free speech right to call it such. And he has the right to sue these two colleagues for libel.

      We on the blog are not doing the same thing. We are not coming to anyone’s place of business to try to get them fired because we politically disagree. Well, actually, the reason why we use avatars instead of our real name is because Democrats actually would try to financially ruin commenters they disagree with.

      Republicans have their share of crazy individuals. There is no mental capacity test to join any political party. But there is no denying the national trend in the Democrat hegemony targeting dissenters for destruction.

      Democrats are afraid to disagree with their own party. Democrat parents are afraid to publicly object to the racist underpinnings of Critical Race Theory and BLM rhetoric. They are afraid they could lose their job, be cancelled, or shunned.

  4. This incident is one of many these two RADICAL professors have been involved in individually and jointly. Many liberals in the community disagree with many of actions and believe they should be fired!

    1. Not all liberals are “illiberals.” Liberals have been some of the best defenders of speech during this sad time. I just hope they’re not in the minority on the left.

      1. Diogenes:

        You might like Dennis Prager’s take on the difference, as he sees it, between Liberal and Leftist. He still views Liberals as those who stand for personal liberty. He said there is a chasm of difference between a Liberal, who would support your right to voice an opinion they disagree with, and a Leftist, who would seek to silence you.

        Personally, I believe the definition of Liberal has evolved. What is now referred to as Classical Liberalism is the belief in personal freedom with limited government interference. That’s closer to Libertarianism and conservatism now. It’s pretty rare for someone who refers to themselves as a Liberal today to defend free speech and oppose government intrusion.

        If you are a Liberal who still believes in free speech, and is not threatened by disagreement, then I applaud you. Please make converts.

        1. “You might like Dennis Prager’s take on the difference, as he sees it, between Liberal and Leftist.”

          Thank you, Karen. I’ll look it up. 🙂

  5. Whatever happened to: “Professor X believes such and such. We disagree, and here are our counter-arguments.”

    Whatever happened to academia as the “life of the mind?”

  6. “You are on our list. “

    Such threats sound like the threats made by the Nazi’s.

    The similarities between the left, fascism and Nazism are drawing closer together. Soon there will be no difference.

    1. By the way, some on the blog are moving towards that line as well. They get angry when they find out what they actually are.

    2. “Such threats sound like the threats made by the Nazi’s.”

      Yes, It sounds just like the NAZI’s. It’s also starting to sound like the NBA. 🙁

  7. Could the aggrieved party file a civil complaint for assault, based on the common law definition of in fear or apprehension of bodily harm?

  8. “They could also have written or spoken against his views rather than anonymously spread rumors or allegations. They lacked the integrity or the courage to do either.”
    **************************
    These two professors are the epitome of stupid — not ignorance — but stupid. I applaud their getting everything wrong by design or otherwise. Bravo dimwits!

    Oh and the cowardice is a given for libs.

  9. These are the types of incidents that challenge the soul of free speech protectors. There is a harassment aspect of what these professors did, their actions to promote action from others that is distinct from simply stating an opinion. Great topic…

  10. I wish my compadres on the left would learn the way to mock the type of rightist/trumpist mutantsphere is to immediately not take them seriously and then mock their positions comedically as they are not serious postitions. They may seem like serious positions to them when they’re at home spanking the kid during Tucker’s nightly forays into self disrespect, but when interacting with the rest of the world that is demographically moving at ever increasing speed away from them, well, they and their positions are just pure freak show vibe.

    Hey Turley blog, I’m looking at most of you here. Have a great morning!

    1. Aninny:

      “Hey Turley blog, I’m looking at most of you here. Have a great morning!”
      ***************************
      And like Nietzsche said, we’re looking back 𝒕𝒉𝒓𝒐𝒖𝒈𝒉 you. Oh it’s a joy to be the void! You meet so many people of “ressentiment” (rə-säɴ″tē-mäɴ′, my favorite word) where all they see are “monsters.”

      You oughta read Nietzsche (he and Dostoyevski are the finest “psychiatrists” I’ve ever read) , he’d give a lot of insight into … well … you. Start with the part about projecting your own inadequacies and failure onto external scapegoats to feel better about yourself.

        1. And let’s just say that if you’re reading Nietzshe and Dostoevsky and also watching Tucker, well, something slipped up somewhere.

    2. A

      One of the benefits of following a blog for years is the recognition of certain posters.

      Occasionally you make a good comment, but more frequently, you are a horse’s ass.

      1. Thank you. Thank you very much. If I ever wrote something you’d like I’d consider myself in deep trouble.

  11. Turning Point is a white nationalist and racist organization. I have snuck into a few of their events and it is pretty bad.
    Let’s quickly summarize JT;s views: Being a racist is ok, nothing to see here, but denouncing racists is problematic. Sounds normal for JT.

    1. Turning Point is a white nationalist and racist organization.

      Awesome! Thanks for the tip. I hadn’t checked out their site until you promoted it. You see, your opinion of conservatives is already well documented. And if you’re denouncing this organization, then that’s as good as a recommendation for conservatives to check it out. I’m an now following it. I’ll keep you posted if my opinion of Turningpoint USA changes. Oh, and before you think conservatives will follow anything, we don’t just blindly follow any organizations. I encourage conservatives to follow Molly’s recommendation for this conservative site. Please keep the recommendations coming. 🙂

      Here is what this organization is about:

      The mission of Professor Watchlist is to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.

      The project is comprised of published news stories detailing instances of bias, propaganda, or speech infringement on college campuses. While we accept tips for new additions to the list, we only publish profiles on incidents that have been reported and published via a credible source.

      TPUSA will continue to fight for free speech and the right of professors to say whatever they believe; however students, parents, and alumni deserve to know the specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in our lecture halls.
      https://www.tpusa.com/

    2. In MollyG’s world, any organization that isn’t Marxist/leftish is “white nationalist and racist.” Her small-world view speaks volumes.

  12. The more the wokeists reveal their true nature the bigger the backlash we’ll see. As the French learned in 1789, do not push the middle class to the breaking point. I see more and more antipathy towards the wokeists. Maybe they need their own safe space, like prison, except they can have puppy visits every weekend.

    Now we have Bad Orange Man castigating LeBron James for being racist and inciting violence, and he’s correct. When Bad Orange Man can take you down on racism, you’ve hit the bottom.

    The ignorance and hypocrisy is coming into full view. In cases like the BLM real estate scandal they are alienating their supporters. They didn’t sign up to be ripped off by their own self-proclaimed Black leaders. That’s what White leaders were supposedly for.

    If this had been two conservatives attacking a leftist, they would have been fired.

    1. “Now we have Bad Orange Man”

      There. Edited your post down so it actually makes sense and doesn’t move so hard into craytown.

  13. What type of people distribute flyers attacking a coworker?

    For clapping too loudly!!!

    Those immune from suffering consequences

  14. Music:
    Tennessee! Tennessee!
    Ain’t no place I’d rather bee.
    Doctor won’t you carry me…
    Back to Tennessee!

  15. Very thankful I do not pay tuition at Tennessee Tech for anyone. What a clown show.

  16. Does not Donadio’s Free Speech Rights deserve protection…..after all that is exactly what the other two Jerks are attacking.

    Why are we reading of so many of these uproars within Academia to begin with?

    Isn’t Academia supposed the be place where healthy debate and discourse about conflicting views can take place with dignity and respect for the participants?

    The larger question is what is wrong with Academia today….and what is being done within and by Academia itself to cure its own ills?

    I bet the short answer is far too much of Academia are a bunch of Light in the Loafers Air Headed Leftists that are incapable of reasoned thought who are protected by a corrupt Tenure system with none being wise in a Worldly way.

  17. This issue is precisely why NYT v Sulllivan needs to be reviewed and rescinded. The world has changed since that decision. That Donadio supposedly cannot successfully sue for defamation – for an act that clearly WAS defamatory – because he is a minor public figure is entirely wrong. And as far as that goes, Donadio can certainly claim malice per se, which defeats the “public figure” standard, and which you don’t mention here.

    1. Canuck, I agree with you 100%. I also believe that the time is ripe for the Court to take another look at defamation law in general and Sullivan in particular.

    2. Good comment Canuck. Being a public figure shouldn’t be license for others to defame you. Sullivan effectively strips the public figure of the right of self-defense. A better law would be one where if a public figure is to be criticized and/or allegations are being made under the color of opinion, the evidence needs to exist to prove more than one’s feelings..

  18. What type of people distribute flyers attacking a coworker?

    For clapping too loudly!!!

    Seriously, we are talking derangement and psychotic levels of anger.

    And we trust these people to educate our kids.

    This sort of incident supports our fear that the country is under attack by loonies.

  19. Targeting someone, and thereby putting his life in danger, isn’t free speech. The threat may not have been imminent, but it was a threat to his live in todays irrational hate climate.

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