Opinion: AU drops investigation of protected political speech, but questions remain about expressive freedom on campus

An open letter cosigned by AU faculty

Opinion: AU drops investigation of protected political speech, but questions remain about expressive freedom on campus

This article is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.  

As this letter was going to press in The Eagle, we received word that the investigation into one of the students involved in this case had been dropped. We are nonetheless publishing the letter, because the case raises important questions about how AU’s harassment policy and commitment to protecting free expression relate to each other. We hope the AU administration will clarify the underlying questions about AU’s policies on such matters and encourage members of the community to make their views known on these important issues.

- Lara Schwartz and Thomas Merrill

July 6, 2022

We, the undersigned faculty, write to express concern about an ongoing investigation of eight Washington College of Law students. 

Based on the publicly available information about the conversation and the notice the Office of Equity and Title IX sent to the students, the students are being investigated for political speech protected by American University’s policies on expression and dissent, and that would be protected First Amendment speech if AU was a public institution.

Investigating students for political arguments violates students’ rights under our policies and endangers the mission of a university. This is a matter of urgency; community members need reassurance that expressing political disagreement — which is their right under our policies and central to the mission of a university — will not expose them to an investigation.

If some unprotected conduct is not apparent in the public record or notice has taken place, American University should clarify that conduct is being investigated.

We ask that the University promptly conclude this investigation and reaffirm its commitment to protecting its community members’ expressive freedom.


Lara Schwartz SPA/Government

David Lublin, Department of Government

Richard Sha/Literature

Alan G. Isaac, Economics

Joe Young, School of Public Affairs and School of International Service

Robert A. Blecker, Economics/CAS

Gregg Ivers, Department of Government/SPA

Amos Golan Economics

Jon D. Wisman, Economics

Unice Lieberman Government/SPA

Robert Feinberg/Economics

Elizabeth Suhay, Department of Government/SPA

Gabriel Mathy, Department of Economics

Tony Ahrens, Department of Psychology

John Willoughby, Professor, Department of Economics

Scott Parker -- CAS/Psychology (Professor Emeritus)

Andrew Ballard, Assistant Professor, Department of Government

Adrienne LeBas, Department of Government, School of Public Affairs

G. Borden Flanagan, Department of Government

David Barker, Government

Andrew R. Flores / Government - SPA

Elizabeth Anderson Worden, Associate Professor, SOE

Christopher Utter, Department of Government, American University

Garret Martin, SIS

Thomas Merrill, Government/SPA

Steven Taylor/Government

Jeremy Janow, Department of Government

Kimberly Cowell-Meyers, Govt

Jane Palmer, SPA/JLC

Kiho Kim, CAS/Environmental Science

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to include a link to the letter. The signatures on this op-ed have been updated since publication.

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