Scholarship News

College Professor Canned for Cussing


January 16, 2018 3:55 PM
by Susan Dutca-Lovell
A federal judge dismissed a civil rights lawsuit by a former LSU professor fired in 2015 for using vulgar language in her classroom. The formerly-tenured education professor alleged that LSU violated her First Amendment free speech rights and that their sexual harassment policies are unconstitutional.

A federal judge dismissed a civil rights lawsuit by a former LSU professor fired in 2015 for using vulgar language in her classroom. The formerly-tenured education professor alleged that LSU violated her First Amendment free speech rights and that their sexual harassment policies are unconstitutional.

Teresa Buchanan, a 20-year veteran of LSU was fired after administrators found that she had "created a 'hostile learning environment" that amounted to sexual harassment," and there was "documented evidence of a history of inappropriate behavior that included verbal abuse, intimidation, and harassment of our students." Buchanan's suit contends that her "occasional use of profanity" was part of her teaching approach "and was not directed at - nor did it disparage - any student." Furthermore, the suit alleges that LSU's sexual harassment policy "unlawfully equates all speech of a 'sexual nature' with sexual harassment." Buchanan also sued Louisiana State for due process violations.

Buchanan was accused of using the slang term for vagina that implies cowardice during a visit to a local elementary school, belittling a student during an assessment meeting, and offering another student condoms while warning her that her grades would suffer if she became a mother. She also allegedly told a student (in front of their peers) to "enjoy sex...while sex is good" and to "just wait until you're married five years."

U.S. District Court Judge Shelly D. Dick threw out all three claims with prejudice. In her 79-page summary judgement, she wrote that Buchanan's "profanity and discussions regarding her own sex life and the sex lives of her students in the classroom do not constitute First Amendment protected speech, are not matters of public concern, and are not, as claimed by plaintiff, part of her overall pedagogical strategy for teaching preschool and elementary education to students." Furthermore, her "behavior and speech interfered with the educational opportunities of her students both in the classroom and in the student teacher or field setting." According to Dick, LSU's harassment policies, "read together, are not unconstitutionally broad or vague."

After her firing, Buchanan claimed that she does not regret anything she did and that she did her job well.

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LC  on  1/18/2018 10:31:25 AM commented:

One time I was in a history class and I was happily relating how Thanksgiving came to being and that it had to do with the slaughtering of Indians at Mystic River, Connecticutt. I quoted my sources, who complained to the King. The teacher told me to f... my primary sources. It shook me, but I just sat there paralyzed not knowing what to do. Believe it or not, besides the embarrasment, what I feared was my grade.

Nicolas B  on  1/17/2018 2:18:46 PM commented:

It’s a shame. It’s totally inappropriate but I believe the judge’s ruling in saying that speech about one’s sex life is not protected speech is wrong. The only form of speech that is not protected is speech that directly provokes an attack or violent reaction. Totally inappropriate however and if the stories about what the professor said, then the policies at the school stand. Otherwise, this judge needs to learn more about the First Amendment.

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