Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Creating, Promoting, and Enforcing" Opinions in the Marketplace of Ideas

Crystal Dixon
I was disappointed to read that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District has upheld the firing of Crystal Dixon from her position as interim vice president for human resources at the University of Toledo. Dixon, as I noted some time ago, was fired for publishing an opinion essay in the Toledo Free Press in which she argued that homosexuality should not be considered a civil rights issue.  Although Dixon wrote this as a private citizen and did not claim to represent the views of the university or even identify herself as a university official, the federal appeals court affirmed a lower court’s decision permitting her firing on the grounds that the opinions she expressed “contradicted the very policies she was charged with creating, promoting and enforcing.”
I find these very grounds for upholding the decision objectionable. Essentially, the court has not only ruled that a public university may declare some set of political and social opinions official doctrine, but that the university can charge administrators with promoting and enforcing the accepted way of thinking and require that those individuals conform in all public statements to the ideological program. Note that this is entirely different from saying that administrative employees should uphold policies by obeying laws or conducting themselves according to the rules of an institution, regardless of whether they agree with those laws or rules. This is saying that a university can designate someone as an enforcer of institutionally approved ideas and dictate what that person is and is not allowed to think (at least openly).

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