MSUM “Free Speech” Email to Faculty: Protection or “Protection”?

In the last few days, I have gotten many emails from individuals very close to the situation at Moorhead State. Some have accused me of journalistic malfeasance, but the vast majority are outpourings of support, gratitude and confirmation of what I’ve written.

ICYMI because you were, you know, celebrating a holiday, I wrote this article in Slate, it went viral, and the university it called out for putting half of its departments on the chopping block–erm, sorry, it slated them for “re-rostering” for “efficiency”–and its shills have accused me of misrepresenting the situation. (By “misrepresenting” they mean, by the way, that I refuse to spin the unconscionable facts so that they make the administration look like the good guys.) 

Anyway, in the past few days I’ve gotten quite a few emails, despite the holiday, from faculty heroes who are writing me from their private email accounts, knowing that even that action puts them at risk for retaliatory dismissal. From what I can tell, the mood on the MSUM campus among faculty in the threatened departments is one of terror mingled with cynical resignation. My heart goes out to all of them, and to the students whose learning experiences and futures this is threatening. 

Speaking of threatening: one of the missives I’ve been copied on is the following, which is from the faculty association. I don’t want to editorialize about it (ha!), but I’ll say that it seems to be “protecting” the faculty the way that Tony Soprano’s gang “protects” you when you pay it off. “Nice faculty job you got there…it would be a shame if something happened to it.” Or maybe I’m just “misrepresenting the situation” again.

At any rate, I’m pasting it below with names redacted, and I’ll let you judge for yourself. In the meantime, in the spirit of Thanksgiving I want to express my deepest gratitude for the messages I have been getting from faculty and students that confirm the article, and thank me for fighting on behalf of the truth and what is right. Thank YOU all for reaching out. I feel 100% vindicated and will continue to stand by this article, no matter how hard the MSUM administration spin machine (a phrase given to me by an informant!) is working through the holiday weekend (HA!) to try to spin this motherfucker.






Subject: [Faculty-IFO] Please be advised: free speech in the workplace

Date: November 20, 2013 10:44:09 AM CST

To: facultyifo <>

To all faculty,

Emotions are raw today in the ranks of the faculty. Unfolding events are generating a great deal of pain and anger. (My own department is marked in the “red zone” of departments.)

PLEASE: THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. Keep the conversation civil.

I remind you that academic freedom is a limited protection, and applies only to your research and classroom teaching, and, in the case of the latter, to discussion of materials relevant to the course subject. 

Otherwise, faculty can be (and have been) punished for written and oral communication that is disruptive or uncivil.



Minnesota State University Moorhead

12 thoughts on “MSUM “Free Speech” Email to Faculty: Protection or “Protection”?

  1. 1) I can’t wait to see who gets to decide what is “disruptive” or “uncivil” speech… sigh; 2) Is freedom of speech here canceled out by “limited” academic freedoms? Heaven forbid that someone should raise a voice or write something controversial in the midst of trying to fight to save or “reorganize” a program.


  2. We need to keep in mind that a state university is a public institution, not a private employer. Rules are different here. Every citizen has the right to speak. The only question is what state guidelines are (or are not) in place for state employees discussing institutional operations.


  3. Wow. Just wow. Umm…sounds like Scientology or some other cult. Keep in line…or else. Except, well, it’s a tax payer funded, public institution. Thank god for Rebecca and the age of the internet.


  4. Yes, I believe you are misrepresenting the situation regarding faculty rights of free speech. Given the employer policies in place, the local association is doing the right thing by advising members to be careful about the venues they use to discuss the awful situation at MSU-Moorhead. The local association is trying to keep the people it represents from being fired for cause in an environment where the legal system – all the way up to the Supreme court – has taken a decidely anti-union and anti-employee turn. It’s real easy to second-guess the local when you don’t have to deal with the fallout from firings, I guess.


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