A math professor at the University of North Texas (UNT) was allegedly fired over his criticism of the concept of “microaggression,” according to a First Amendment lawsuit filed Thursday.
Represented by the conservative legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Nathaniel Hiers claims that the UNT violated his freedom of speech when he was removed from his position as a full-time math professor without notice in retaliation for criticizing flyers about “microaggressions.”
According to the lawsuit (pdf), someone anonymously left a stack of fliers warning about “microaggressions” in the mathematics department’s faculty lounge in November 2019. Hiers read through the leaflets and jokingly wrote on a nearby chalkboard, “Don’t leave garbage lying around,” with an arrow pointing to the fliers.
The fliers, according to the lawsuit, discouraged the use of certain seemingly innocuous phrases that are supposed “microaggressions.” A list of microaggressions on the flyer included statements like “America is a melting pot,” “I believe the most qualified person should get the job,” and “America is the land of opportunity” because they propagate the “myth of meritocracy” and promote “color blindness.”
Hiers said he was fired the week following the incident. When he asked the head of the UNT math department, to explain why they decided to end his contract, the official (who is also a defendant named in the lawsuit) said it was because his chalkboard message was “upsetting,” and could be “perceived as threatening,” and because Hiers did not express “honest regret” about his actions.
“In so doing, Defendant was expressing his own views on the topic of ‘microaggressions,’ disagreeing with Dr. Hiers’ views, and punishing Dr. Hiers for expressing his views,” the ADF lawsuit reads. “Defendant used his opinion to ignore reasonable views opposing the ‘microaggression’ fliers and ultimately to punish Dr. Hiers for expressing his own opinion.”
According to Hiers, he doesn’t endorse the concept of microaggressions because while “purporting” to reduce bias and prejudice, the concept “teaches people to see the worst in other people, promotes a culture of victimhood, and suppresses alternative viewpoints instead of encouraging growth and dialogue.”
“Today’s college students are our future legislators, judges, and voters. That’s why it’s so important that public universities model the First Amendment values they’re supposed to be teaching students,” said Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, in a press release. “The person who left the fliers was able to express his or her views; Dr. Hiers should have had the same freedom. That’s the message the university should be modeling.”