Professor’s comments not funny — also not racist, Rutgers says
NEW BRUNSWICK — In an about-face, Rutgers University has decided that a tenured professor did not violate the school's anti-discrimination policy when he posted on Facebook that he was quitting the white race.
Professor James Livingston was represented in the matter by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). The group on Thursday announced the reversal in a news release, calling it a "vindication for the right of professors to speak as private citizens on issues of public concern."
Livingston has nearly 30 years of experience at the school and faced the possibility of discharge after an initial determination by the school said his comments "could be interpreted as impermissibly racist," and could cause "reputational damage to the university."
The post in question came after Livingston visited a Harlem restaurant in May, which he said was "overrun with little Caucasian a**holes who know their parents will approve anything they do." He added: "I hereby resign from my race."
On Wednesday, Lisa Grosskreutz, director of the school's office of employment equity, sent a letter to Executive Dean Peter March from the School of Arts and Sciences announcing the reversal. The letter notes that the investigation started in June, was appealed in August and remanded by University President Robart Barchi.
In a letter regarding the investigation, Barchi said Livingston's comments "showed exceptionally poor judgement, were offensive, and despite the professor's claims of satire, were not at all funny."
"At the same time, few values are as important to the University as the protection of our First Amendment rights — even when the speech we are protecting is insensitive and reckless," Barchi's letter said. "We always strive to balance our First Amendment rights against the University's mission to create an inclusive and tolerant community."
While not going into detail about why the reversal was made, Grosskreutz said Livingston "did not violate the Policy Prohibiting Discrimination and Harassment."
"FIRE is pleased that Rutgers did the right thing and reversed the charge of racial discrimination against Professor Livingston," Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, FIRE's director of litigation said. "Any other result would have undermined free speech and academic freedom rights of all Rutgers faculty members."
In the statement from FIRE, Livingston said he was "relieved that my right to free speech and my academic freedom have been validated by this retraction." He thanked FIRE and the professor's union for their support through the ordeal.
A spokesperson for Rutgers said the school does not comment on specific personnel matters.