Plumb Hall

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) sent a letter asking ESU administration for evidence that the Sept. 15 termination of Max McCoy, ESU’s director of journalism, Bulletin advisor and opinion columnist at The Kansas Reflector, had nothing to do with a Reflector opinion article he wrote days before his termination.

McCoy did not advise The Bulletin on this article; The Bulletin received outside advisement from alumna Sarah Spicer

McCoy’s opinion piece, published Sept. 13, began with the line “I may be fired for writing this” and discussed the university’s plan to restructure the school and suspend tenure. Two days later, McCoy was fired alongside the 32 other faculty members in a move that the university said would help the university’s finances in the face of declining enrollments and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

FIRE is a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to defending freedom of speech and has a yearly ranking of the worst colleges in America for free speech.

“Professor McCoy’s column is clearly protected speech and may not form the basis for termination or other punishment. ESU’s problematic policy all but guarantees he will not be the last faculty member dismissed under the specter of viewpoint discrimination,” the letter, dated October 31, said. 

The university provided McCoy with a list of nine points as to why an employee may be fired under the emergency policy but did not specify which of the nine points led to McCoy’s termination.  

Anne Marie Tamburro, FIRE’s program officer for campus rights advocacy, said in the letter that these reasons were too vague to provide faculty with sufficient reasoning for termination.

“Instead, ESU may now terminate a tenured faculty member for any number of reasons, such as being too outspoken, rigorous, or simply inconvenient to administrators and students, with such a dismissal justified by one of the policy’s vague reasons such as ‘realignment of resources’ or ‘restructuring,’” the letter said. 

Gwen Larson, director of media relations at ESU, said in a statement to The Bulletin that ESU does not agree with the allegations made by FIRE. 

“Because ESU equally respects and supports its employees’ lawful rights to privacy and constitutional rights to due process, ESU does not, and will not, comment on any specific personnel matter,” said Larson

McCoy told The Bulletin he is grateful for FIRE’s support and advocacy.

“Tamburro's letter is an impressive summary of concerns sparked by the termination of the Hornet 33 under an overly broad and ill-conceived policy by the Kansas Board of Regents and executed by an underqualified ideologue. Our firings represent a betrayal of the promise made to tenured and tenure-track professors under long established university policy,” said McCoy in a statement to The Bulletin

“When faculty can be fired without being given a specific reason, academic freedom is in jeopardy. Without academic freedom, no institution can legitimately claim to be a university.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.