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Document Type

Essay

Abstract

This Essay asks: is every tweet from a professor protected as a form of academic freedom by the First Amendment? Professor Salaita’s watershed case poses sharply conflicting positions on academic freedom for faculty members. In support of Professor Salaita, a faculty committee at the University of Illinois asserts: “Regardless of the tweets’ tone and content, they are political speech—part of the robust free play of ideas in the political realm that the [University] Statutes insulate from institutional sanction, even in the case of ideas we may detest.”

To answer my research question, I explore how courts rule on First Amendment claims by faculty members who have been disciplined or lost their jobs for speech that their school considered to be disruptive to its mission or operations. These cases are a small but important part of First Amendment jurisprudence. Two Supreme Courts opinions—Waters v. Churchill and Garcetti v. Ceballos—provide colleges and universities a clear legal advantage. My conclusion, based on more than forty cases involving disruptive faculty speech, applies to different verbal controversies. No case, however, involves a professor’s tweets. I explore how Twitter relates to academic expression, and I conclude that courts are unlikely to grant First Amendment protection to faculty tweets that direct physical intimidation to specific individuals or groups.

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