The American Association of University Professors said Tuesday the University of Nebraska-Lincoln violated academic due process used by institutions across the country in ending the employment of lecturer Courtney Lawton on Nov. 17.
Hans-Joerg Tied, the national organization's associate secretary, wrote in a letter to UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green that conflicting accounts regarding the end of Lawton's employment indicate the university violated the graduate student's academic freedom.
Lawton has said she was removed from her teaching duties as a safety precaution after she was filmed referring to an undergraduate student recruiting for Turning Point USA as a "neo-fascist" and making an inappropriate gesture toward her at the Nebraska Union plaza in August.
After a November meeting between university administrators and three lawmakers at the Capitol, Lawton was informed her contract with the university would not be renewed at the end of the school year. Green told her she would no longer teach at UNL "because of this inappropriate behavior."
AAUP said "a suspension which is not followed by either reinstatement or the opportunity for a hearing is in effect a summary dismissal in violation of academic due process," a procedure it says is also outlined in NU Board of Regents' policy.
"In addition to the evident procedural issues, we remain concerned that Ms. Lawton was suspended in response to her speech as a citizen, raising questions whether the action infringed upon her academic freedom," the letter states. "These questions remain unresolved in the absence of affordance to Ms. Lawton of any academic due process."
Violating a faculty member's academic freedom could result in the AAUP convening an investigatory committee, the results of which could be published.
The AAUP maintains a "Censure List" of institutions where the "conditions for academic freedom, tenure, and due process have been found to be unsatisfactory."
"Placing the name of an institution on this list does not mean that censure is visited either upon the whole of the institution or upon the faculty, but specifically upon its present administration," the AAUP's website states.
University administrations can be placed on or removed from the list by a vote of the association's membership during an annual meeting.
The AAUP's Nebraska chapter, which published an open letter to the NU community on Monday signed by 127 faculty members citing concerns over external political pressure damaging the university, added a note to the document Tuesday.
"There has been very intense interest in signing this letter from all quarters of the University of Nebraska system," it says, adding that faculty have until Dec. 4 to sign the letter before it is presented to the Board of Regents on Dec. 5.