Last February NOW brought you the story of Professor Kenneth Hearlson of Orange Coast Community College. Professor Hearlson had come under fire, and been suspended from teaching, for remarks made in a political science class in the days after September 11.
At the same time Kenneth Hearlson was running into trouble with Islamic groups over his comments about Muslims, a professor in Florida was all over the news, labeled a supporter or terrorism. Both cases served as tests of the limits of free speech on American campuses.
Professor Kenneth Hearlson, Orange Coast College
In the aftermath of September 11th, Professor Kenneth Hearlson became a casualty of this politically sensitive time. Accused of calling a group of Muslim students "terrorists," Professor Hearlson was ordered off Orange Coast College by its President Margaret A. Gratton without formal charge or hearing. A subsequent tape recorded by one of Professor Hearlson's students clearly demonstrated the innocence of Professor Hearlson in the affair. Professor Hearlson was quickly reinstated in December 2001 after spending three months off campus.
In March, responding to the media backlash stemming from Professor Hearlson's unfair treatment, President of Orange Coast College, Margaret A. Gratton, stepped down from her post. The university under her stewardship was widely criticized for violating the fundamental tenants of free speech and due process.
Professor Sami Al-Arian, University of South Florida
The case of Professor Sami Al-Arian received notoriety from his appearances on FoxNews' popular show, THE O'REILLY FACTOR after the attacks of September 11th. Throughout the interview, THE O'REILLY FACTOR alleged Professor Al-Arian was not only a supporter of terrorism, but connected to it directly. A deluge of criticism, including death threats, hit the University of South Florida (USF) after the interview aired. In response, USF decided to terminate Professor Al-Arian.
On December 19, 2001, the USF Board of Trustees approved the decision of the University's president to terminate Professor Al-Arian. In starting the termination process, USF sent a letter of intent to fire Professor Al-Arian. USF's motion to terminate Professor Al-Arian has resulted in a storm of controversy testing the limits of free speech in a time of war. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to academic freedom, has described USF's conduct as "morally and legally repugnant."
On August 22, the University decided that it would go to court to terminate the Professor's position.
The issue freedom of speech after 9/11 will be debated in NOW's September 13th broadcast. Read about the participants.