LSU professor fired for vulgar language attempts to revive lawsuit

By Carrie Bradon | May 3, 2019

A Louisiana State University professor who was fired in 2015 for vulgar language is seeking the revival of her lawsuit against the university, claiming that she was fired for language that qualified as constitutionally protected speech.

According to USNews.com, Teresa Buchanan was fired in 2015 after she discussed her and her students’ sex lives in elementary education classes she was teaching. Buchanan filed an appeal in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, asking that the lawsuit be allowed to proceed, as she alleges that the language she chose to use was part of her teaching approach.

“Speech on public and private campuses and the extent of First Amendment protection for controversial speech on campus has been the subject of heated national conversation," Isabel Medina, a constitutional law and employment law expert at Loyola University in New Orleans, told the Louisiana Record. “The Fifth Circuit’s opinion in Buchanan versus Alexander places the federal circuit court of appeal in a curious posture: inconsistent with robust First Amendment protection against content based restrictions in the University setting and with the court’s previous approach to what constitutes actionable sexual harassment.”

Medina said that while First Amendment speech on university campuses allows for “vigorous intellectual speech” it also extends only so far as it is not causing injury to the students.

“Whether the Buchanan case reflects the appropriate balancing of both interests is open to question and deserving of rigorous scrutiny,” Medina said.

The case is a significant one, Medina believes, as the plaintiff used speech both inside and outside of the classroom that created a hostile learning environment. 

“Treating university professors as public employees with regards to speech in higher education ignores the essence of academic freedom and tenure, designed to protect that freedom, and provides less protection to university professors than is available to persons in the United States,” Medina said. 

Even so, Medina finds a number of aspects of this case to be particularly interesting, such as the fact that Buchanan was a female employee. 

“It’s curious that the case involves the University’s termination of a woman professor for using speech normally used by men to denigrate women generally considered crude and vulgar, which she contended she did to help students understand sensibilities around language use by populations they might serve in future,” Medina said. 

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Louisiana State University Loyola University New Orleans

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