This Month in FIRE History: Dismissal of Professor for Criticizing Iraq War
January 29, 2010
In 2004, Forsyth Technical Community College (FTCC) writing instructor Elizabeth Ito was dismissed for briefly discussing the Iraq War in her class.
After Ito's 10 minute criticism of the war in Iraq, she encouraged her students to share their opinions about the war as part of an anonymous critical writing assignment (they were not required to agree with her). Afterwards, Ito was asked by her supervisor, Department Chair Susie Keener, and John Slade, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to promise that she would never discuss the war again in class. Ito agreed that she would not bring up the topic herself, but wouldn't promise to avoid the issue if it were raised. Dean Slade rejected this compromise and placed a disciplinary letter in her file accusing her of "insubordination." Ito did not discuss the war again in class, but as a result of the incident, administrators at the college decided not to renew her contract.
FIRE wrote FTCC President Gary Green, expressing concern about the college's treatment of Ito. FIRE also reminded the college that part of its stated mission is to "prepare globally competent citizens"—a difficult task if professors are not permitted to discuss global issues in their classes without punishment. FTCC never responded.
"Debate and candor will not long survive in the American classroom if instructors have reason to fear for their jobs if they express their opinions," FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said at the time. "FTCC's actions will chill the free speech of faculty members who must now worry if they make the slightest digression from what administrators believe is relevant in the classroom. If colleges and universities are to err, they should err on the side of free speech."
Six years later, FTCC remains unapologetic about its ill-advised decision.