Last October, Angela McCaskill, chief diversity officer at Gallaudet University, the nation’s premier university for the deaf, was placed on administrative leave for signing a Maryland petition to protect marriage. We wrote to Gallaudet and expressed our serious concern about the many laws the university broke by punishing an employee for clearly protected speech. After three months on leave, and with her employment uncertain, Gallaudet announced this week that McCaskill is back on the job.
The university correctly reinstated McCaskill, but we are troubled that the university let this drag on so long. Several years ago, San Francisco State University conducted a seven-month investigation of several college students for sponsoring a speech event on campus. The university eventually dropped the investigation, but it had already chilled the students’ free speech. A federal court later enjoined the policy that allowed the university to investigate dubious charges. No doubt, Gallaudet has accomplished the same result by suspending McCaskill for three months after she engaged in a constitutionally protected activity. If Gallaudet had been a public university, McCaskill would have a strong First Amendment retaliation claim. But even though it’s not, Gallaudet was close to breaking several federal and state laws. We hope McCaskill won’t be dissuaded from expressing her personal beliefs in the future, and we caution that public universities should not follow Gallaudet’s speech-chilling example.
This post originally appeared here.