A Purdue University Calumet (PUC) professor who was reprimanded for a series of Facebook comments critical of Muslims, drawing harsh criticism from students and faculty members, has filed a free-speech lawsuit against the university.
Maurice Eisenstein, an associate professor of political science at PUC, posted a picture of Facebook last November of “Christians killed by a radical Muslim group.” Eisenstein criticized “moderate Muslims” for failing to condemn the alleged attack.
He added that Muslims are “still looking at the earth as flat according to the idiot Mohammad [sic], may his name be cursed.” Eisenstein was accused of engaging in a heated exchange with a PUC student on Facebook.
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Shortly after the photo was posted to Eisenstein’s personal Facebook account, the PUC Muslim Student Association, faculty members, and students filed nine complaints against the professor. All of those formal complaints were dismissed after a two-month investigation by university administrators.
PUC Chancellor Thomas Keon found Eisenstein guilty of two incidents described as “retaliation” against people who had filed the formal complaints after his Facebook rant. In one of those retaliatory incidents, Eisenstein allegedly said to a complainant, “Now I know why your son committed suicide.”
Eisenstein, who appealed the retaliation charges, denied saying this. He filed the free-speech lawsuit May 10.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a free-speech advocacy group, sent a series of letters to Keon during the school’s investigation, defending the professor’s right to express political opinions—no matter how polarizing—on Facebook.
“Eisenstein’s colleagues ganged up on him to punish him for his protected expression,” said Adam Kissel, FIRE’s president of programs. “The best remedy for ‘bad’ speech is more speech, not this pattern of wild prosecution.”
The student and faculty complaints about Eisenstein’s Facebook activity, Kissel said, weren’t warranted because the professor didn’t target a student or fellow faculty member with his scathing criticism of Muslims.
“A single off-campus comment on a personal Facebook page, directed at no one in particular, and on a matter of opinion about current events, does not come within a light-year of harassment of a student,” he said. The university was unavailable for comment.
FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said Eisenstein’s predicament should serve as a cautionary tale for colleges and universities that receive complaints about an employees’ postings on social media sites.