Prof Sues U. of Washington After He Was Punished for ‘Offensive’ Opinion on Woke Land Acknowledgements
A professor is suing the University of Washington (UW) after administrators punished him for refusing to echo the school’s woke leftist claim that the campus sits on “occupied land” that once belonged to indians, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE). According to professor Stuart Reges, “Land acknowledgments are performative acts of conformity that should be resisted, even if it lands you in court.”
University of Washington administrators launched an investigation into professor Stuart Reges and created a “shadow course” to shield students from his opinion after the professor did not parrot UW’s statement acknowledging the university’s woke beliefs about the land it sits on, FIRE announced on Wednesday.
On a list of syllabus “best practices,” UW’s computer science department encourages professors to include a statement “to acknowledge that our campus sits on occupied land,” the organization explained.
But after Reges wrote a statement that was a nod to philosopher John Locke’s theory that property rights are established by labor, administrators were apparently not pleased.
“I acknowledge that by the labor theory of property the Coast Salish people can claim historical ownership of almost none of the land currently occupied by the University of Washington,” the professor wrote in his modified version of the land acknowledgment statement.
FIRE explained what happened next:
On Jan. 4, the director of the computer science department, Magdalena Balazinska, ordered Reges to immediately remove his modified statement from his syllabus, labeling it “inappropriate” and “offensive,” and declaring that it created “a toxic environment” in the course. Reges refused because Balazinska’s demand was viewpoint discriminatory — other computer science professors included their own land acknowledgments on their syllabi. But UW did not investigate or punish them because those statements, unlike Reges’s, were consistent with the university’s viewpoint.
The university launched an official investigation into Reges for allegedly violating UW’s unconstitutionally overbroad harassment policy. This investigation has now dragged on for over four months. Balazinska also created a competing section of Reges’s course (featuring pre-recorded lectures by another professor) so students wouldn’t have to take a computer science class from someone who didn’t parrot the university’s preferred opinions.
“University administrators turned me into a pariah on campus because I included a land acknowledgment that wasn’t sufficiently progressive for them,” Reges said. “Land acknowledgments are performative acts of conformity that should be resisted, even if it lands you in court.”
FIRE attorney Katlyn Patton said that “if UW encourages professors to take a political stance on their syllabi, it cannot punish those professors who diverge from the school’s pre-approved stance.”
“At UW, the message to faculty is clear: Toe the party line or say goodbye to your students,” Patton added.
The organization affirmed that as a public institution bound by the First Amendment, UW must uphold its professors’ right to free speech, and cannot discriminate against them based on viewpoint.
“UW accused Reges of creating a ‘toxic environment,’ but the university is poisoning the free exchange of ideas,” FIRE attorney Josh Bleisch said. “We’re taking UW to court so that Reges and other faculty can share their views on important issues without fear of reprisal.”
Reges added, “I am pleased that FIRE joined with me to fight back against University of Washington’s illegal viewpoint discrimination.”