Coastal Caroline University (CCU) is moving to terminate a theater professor who expressed the opinion that an extremely minor incident on campus did not merit a dramatic response from the department’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.
“Sorry but I don’t think it’s a big deal,” wrote the professor, Steven Earnest, in reference to the matter. “I’m just sad people get their feelings hurt so easily. And they are going into Theater?”
The remark has landed him in considerable trouble, according to the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education, which is calling on CCU to cease all punitive action.
What was the incident? On September 16, a visiting artist spoke with two students of color who explained that they were hoping to connect with other non-white students on campus. The three of them subsequently wrote down the names of other students of color who might wish to connect and discuss their shared struggles. They left this list of names on a classroom’s whiteboard; the next class saw it and thought that non-white students had been singled out for some nefarious purpose. A protest was planned.
The diversity committee investigated—and swiftly cleared up—the matter. “We believe it is important to inform the student body that the intent behind the list was as a resource for new students who are looking to be in community with other BIPOC students,” wrote the committee in an email to campus.
Nevertheless, the committee opined that students’ hurt feelings were completely valid.
“This in no way undermines the feelings that any of you feel about this incident,” the email continued. “It should have never happened and the DEI committee will be discussing with faculty and students the gravity of the situation and how to handle these requests in the future.”
Earnest rightly objected to the tone of this email. In response, students accused him of racial insensitivity and demanded he be fired. The university instructed him not to come to class and launched an investigation. According to Earnest, the university has initiated a “termination process,” despite FIRE’s protestation that punishing the professor is an obvious violation of his academic freedom rights.
“CCU has chosen a course denied to it by the First Amendment,” wrote FIRE. “We call upon CCU to abandon its current path.”
CCU declined a request for comment.
In general, universities should stop caving to students who are unreasonably upset about minor infractions—but this wasn’t an infraction at all. Campus administrators would be well-advised not to put themselves in the position of being responsible for every hurt feeling, no matter how ill-founded or slight. There’s little benefit to making diversity synonymous with absurdity.
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