The University of Central Florida (UCF) announced on Friday that it has fired Charles Negy, a tenured professor of psychology. This is the latest episode in a nearly eight-month saga surrounding Negy’s controversial presence on campus, which led to a university investigation that appears to be pretextual in nature.
Professor Negy first came under fire in June after posting several Tweets perceived as racist. One such Tweet read as follows:
Here’s a suggestion to those who think they are being “screwed” and oppressed in the U.S.: Stay in school. Be the best student possible. Avoid crime. Avoid gangs. Avoid unwanted pregnancy. Avoid drugs and alcohol. Amazing what a little common sense can do you for your destiny.
In another Tweet, Negy used the phrase “black privilege.” These posts and more provoked the ire of many of his UCF colleagues and students, as well as the broader academic community, who then disseminated the viral Twitter hashtag #UCFfirehim. UCF did indeed #firehim, but the school claims that this decision has nothing to do with his Tweets—a dubious assertion at best, given that UCF’s Office of Institutional Equity launched an investigation of Negy the day after the hashtag began to trend. The coincidence astonishes.
UCF’s probe lasted over seven months and culminated in a nearly 250-page report, which details interviews with more than 300 people about incidents since the early 2000s. UCF’s justification for firing Negy centers on alleged “misconduct” taking place over several years, including his “discriminatory harassment” of students and his failing to report a sexual assault claim brought to him in 2014.
The proverbial man from Mars would think from the evidence that UCF dug deep to find dirt on Negy that would give them an excuse to fire him. Negy himself claims this in a letter he wrote to the interim dean of the university’s College of Sciences.
Knowing that it could not fire me for those tweets, UCF has obviously gone to great lengths over the last seven months to try and find legitimate grounds for my termination … I challenge you to find any UCF employee, yourself included, whose entire life could withstand the type of scrutiny mine has been put through in UCF’s attempt to justify getting rid of me because I have become a political liability.
Attorney Samantha Harris and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) came to Negy’s defense and will be representing him in his court challenge of the firing. Harris told Fox35 Orlando,
This pretextual, defamatory investigative report is the latest chapter in UCF’s effort to ruin Dr. Negy -- a man with a distinguished 22-year teaching career -- because he has become politically inconvenient. UCF, along with those who solicited and investigated false complaints against him, have violated his rights and defamed him, and will be held accountable in court.
The National Association of Scholars must withhold judgement on the veracity of the university’s claims and points readers to UCF’s report and Negy’s response in order to draw their own conclusions. Yet we may judge that UCF’s investigation was clearly pretextual, ginned up to punish Negy for speaking his mind. College professors, as all Americans, must be at liberty to exercise their free speech rights, both at their jobs and online, without fear of facing career-ending investigations from their employers. Negy’s case is but one of more than 100 NAS is currently tracking, and many involve just such a pretextual investigation that illustrates the maxim, “Show me the man and I’ll show you the crime.”
NAS also notes that UCF inflicted immediate and severe financial hardship on Negy by firing him—and that censoring universities secure acquiescence precisely because professors are afraid of the financial consequences of being fired. Negy sought financial support by setting up a GoFundMe page—and the platform removed it within 24 hours because their policy is not to allow people to raise money for legal expenses to defend against such “discriminatory harassment” claims. It is part of the Kafka-esque horror of Negy’s predicament that the nature of the charge against him precludes him from using GoFundMe to provide him the resources to rebut the charge—much less to pay the rent.
NAS notes the existence of Charles Negy’s PayPal account, through which contributions can be made to support him. Should PayPal suspend transfers to that account, that too will be part of the story of the persecution of a professor who spoke his mind.
David Acevedo is Communications & Research Associate at the National Association of Scholars.