Dr. Nathaniel Hiers never thought that engaging in some friendly banter with his colleagues would get him fired.
Dr. Hiers was a graduate student at the University of North Texas (UNT) from 2013 until he obtained his doctorate in mathematics in the spring 2019. He then joined UNT as a faculty member in the fall of 2019.
But his career came to an abrupt end.
Why? Because Dr. Hiers held a viewpoint that his superiors didn’t like.
Public universities should be a “marketplace of ideas,” where a variety of viewpoints can flourish. That marketplace depends on open debate among professors on any number of topics, including academic, social, and political issues.
Unfortunately, Dr. Hiers soon found out that the “marketplace of ideas” at UNT is limited to only certain ideas. The University disagreed with his criticism of “microaggressions,” so it fired him.
These actions are unconstitutional, and that’s why Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit against officials at the University of North Texas on Dr. Hiers’ behalf.
It all began in November 2019, when someone anonymously left a stack of fliers warning about “microaggressions” in the mathematics department’s faculty lounge. The flier identified different types of “microaggressions,” calling on others not to minimize their harms. The flier condemns 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.”
While Dr. Hiers agrees no one should be the victim of bias or prejudice, he believes the concept of “microaggressions” actually hurts diversity. This mode of thinking teaches people to see the worst in other people, promotes a culture of victimhood, and suppresses alternative viewpoints instead of encouraging growth and dialogue.
So, after reading the flier, he expressed his disagreement in a joking manner. He wrote on the chalkboard, “Please don’t leave garbage lying around,” with an arrow pointing to the stack of fliers.
Instead of allowing the faculty members to engage in friendly discussion over this topic, Ralf Schmidt, the head of the mathematics department, scolded Dr. Hiers—calling the criticism of the fliers “stupid” and “cowardly.”
That’s not all.
The very next week, he fired Dr. Hiers without notice. The University already contracted with Dr. Hiers to teach in the spring, but it refused to honor that promise. When Dr. Hiers asked for a reason, Schmidt gave him three—all of which were tied to his critique of “microaggressions.”
Schmidt explained that Dr. Hiers was being punished because:
- His opinion on microaggressions conflicted with Schmidt’s opinion on microaggressions;
- His chalkboard message was “upsetting” and could be “perceived as threatening”; and
- He did not express “honest regret” about his actions.
But what is the truly threatening action? Writing a joking message on a chalkboard, or being fired for expressing that message?
By firing Dr. Hiers, UNT is declaring: “Don’t you dare disagree with us on microaggressions, or else.”
Before the University fired Dr. Hiers, the mathematics department’s faculty lounge was a place of open debate where faculty could freely express their opinions. UNT should be promoting this kind of freedom of thought here and all over campus. After all, healthy debate helps us to understand one another and to find the best solutions for pressing issues.
Instead, UNT officials made it clear that they would rather control the conversation by firing a professor whose viewpoint they don’t like. Does that sound like a “marketplace of ideas” to you?
A public university has no business punishing people simply because they hold different views than the administration. It seems UNT needs to be reminded of that.