Commentary: Stop making illiberal calls for investigations; it’s confusing students.

FIRE Intern
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

Excerpt: This past June, an all too familiar controversy erupted on the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s campus. A professor made a statement that was offensive to many community members, posting “Blow up Republicans” on his personal Facebook page. Many made comparisons to previous controversial but protected comments of the late UNCW professor Mike Adams. Both incidents resulted in numerous campus calls for investigations and firings.

However, it was not just students urging the university to respond to (and even punish) the professor. Elected officials and political appointees who have a higher civic obligation made many of the initial calls on the university to investigate the professor. Investigations are not intrinsically illiberal, and they often serve as a necessary fact-finding process when there is unlawful action or unprotected speech at issue. But when universities conduct investigations into clearly protected speech, they promulgate an impermissible chilling effect.