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Academic-Freedom Advocates Are Handed a Win in Ohio Ruling

Breaking ranks with several other federal judges who have recently considered the question, a U.S. magistrate judge held last week that the First Amendment protects job-related statements made by faculty members of public colleges. The case at hand involved a physician, Elton R. Kerr, who has accused his former boss at Wright State School of Medicine, William R. Hurd, of wrongly moving to discipline him in his capacity as a professor of obstetrics and gynecology for teaching certain techniques and procedures against Dr. Hurd’s wishes. In asking the judge to dismiss Dr. Kerr’s claim that his First Amendment rights had been violated, lawyers for Dr. Hurd argued that the Supreme Court’s 2006 Garcetti v. Ceballos decision left Dr. Kerr accountable to his employers for speech made in connection with his job. U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael R. Mertz rejected the idea that the Garcetti ruling, which upheld the disciplining of a deputy district attorney for job-related statements, should be applied to speech in an academic setting. The judge’s ruling said universities “should be the active trading floors in the marketplace of ideas.”

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