Following a Board of Trustees meeting this afternoon, Temple University President Richard Englert released a statement on behalf of the board, announcing that professor Marc Lamont Hill will not be punished or investigated for his Nov. 28 speech during an event organized with the United Nations. In that speech, Hill called for "a free Palestine from the river to the sea." Englert, in delivering the statement, affirmed that Hill "spoke as a private citizen and his right to do so is protected by the constitution."
The announcement finds Temple returning to its initial statement, which recognized that Hill's speech was protected by the First Amendment.
While Englert initially defended Hill's First Amendment rights on Nov. 30, that well-founded position was upended when Board of Trustees Chairman Patrick O'Connor declared that he had directed Temple's legal staff to explore "remedies" for Hill's "hate speech," as members of the administration and board of trustees wanted to "fire him right away." Today's statement concluding that Hill spoke as a private citizen was made after consultation with legal counsel, experts, the provost, and the Klein College Dean, according to a Temple News editor.
FIRE wrote to Englert on Dec. 3 to remind him that, as a public university, Temple cannot punish or investigate Hill for engaging in protected political speech.
Temple's "Statement Condemning the Remarks of Professor Marc Lamont Hill" explains that Hill "was not speaking on behalf of or representing the University," and that "his speech as a private individual is entitled to the same Constitutional protection of any other citizen, and that he has through subsequent statements expressly rejected anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence." The Board of Trustees then issued a condemnation of Hill's remarks:
According to Trustee Steve Charles, Temple is reportedly working on "a university-wide crisis response system" in the event that Temple experiences similar controversies in the future.
The members of the Board of Trustees of Temple University – Of The Commonwealth System of Higher Education, in exercise of their own Constitutionally-protected right as citizens to express their views, hereby state their disappointment, displeasure, and disagreement with Professor Hill's comments, and reaffirm in the strongest possible terms the President's condemnation of all anti-Semitic, racist or incendiary language, hate speech, calls to violence, or the disparagement of any person or person based on religion, nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation or identity.
In light of O'Connor's incorrect claim that Hill could be fired for "hate speech," FIRE is pleased to see Temple University publicly confirm that Hill will not be punished.
This dispute was unnecessarily extended when Temple's board leadership departed from the university's initial, and correct, announcement that Hill had First Amendment rights. While it should not have abandoned that posture, its return to its initial position is welcome. In the future, universities facing similar controversies should reach the same outcome — but should ensure that they do not threaten faculty rights in the process, as Temple did in Hill's case.