UPDATE: University pays $165K in legal fees after firing professor for “microaggression”

By Alexa Schwerha

The University of North Texas (UNT) will pay $165K in legal fees after firing a professor who made a joke about microaggressions during the 2019-2020 academic year.

The Denton-based school settled on Sept. 22 after the Eastern District of Texas Sherman Division permitted professor Nathaniel Hiers’ lawsuit to proceed in March. The court ruled that the university could be liable for damages.

[RELATED: Students are demanding their university implement ‘microaggression workshops’]

Hier was represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), who commended the settlement as being a victory for free speech on college campuses.

“We are glad that the University of North Texas ultimately recognized that all professors have the right to express their beliefs,” Michael Ross, ADF legal counsel, told Campus Reform. “But, this should not have taken Dr. Hiers getting fired and years of litigation to protect this right. Universities are supposed to foster conversation and debate, not to just be an assembly line for one type of thought.”

In Dec. 2019, Hiers, who was an adjunct mathematics professor, left a crumbled flyer on a faculty lounge chalkboard, writing a message on the board stating not to “leave garbage lying around.”

The flyer detailed description of microaggressions with examples such as “America is a melting pot,” “America is the land of opportunity,” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

[RELATED: U of Kansas study admits microaggression training doesn’t work]

Heirs reportedly disagreed with the flyer’s context but intended the chalkboard’s warning to be interpreted as a joke.

Rald Schmidt, Mathematics Department Chair, sent a department-wide email in response asking the person responsible for writing the comment to “please stop being a coward and see [him] in the chair’s office immediately.”

Hiers owned up to the comment and was fired the following week, without notice.

“Public universities can’t fire a professor just because they disagree with the professor’s personal viewpoint,” Tyson Langhofer, ADF Senior Counsel, said in the press release. “As the court noted in its March ruling, simply because Dr. Hiers ‘jokingly referr[ed] to the flyer as ‘garbage’ does not deprive his speech of the First Amendment’s protection.’”

Langhofer stated that ADF hopes that “this is the first step in the university restoring its role as a marketplace of ideas rather than an echo chamber for one viewpoint.”

Campus Reform contacted ADF and UNT for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.

Follow @alexaschwerha1 on Twitter.

Source: Campus Reform

Alexa Schwerha is a reporter for Campus Reform. She was the Regional Field Coordinator at Leadership Institute for Texas and New Mexico. She graduated Kent State University with a degree in Communication Studies and Political Science. Prior to her work at the Leadership Institute, she worked for the Ohio Republican Party to help elect Republicans across the state during the 2020 election cycle.

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