More than 155 authors, academics, and free speech advocates, including authors Joyce Carol Oates, Salman Rushdie, and actress Molly Ringwald, are pushing a Massachusetts college to reinstate a professor who was abruptly fired over a Facebook post.
In response to President Trump's tweet threatening to bomb Iran's cultural heritage sites Jan. 4, Asheen Phansey, who was an adjunct professor and administrator at Babson, joked on Facebook that Iran should make a list of cultural heritage sites in the U.S. to bomb, including the Kardashians' home and the Mall of America.
While he apologized for his "sloppy humor" in the now-deleted post, Babson fired him after it "conducted a prompt and thorough investigation" because it “condemns any type of threatening words and/or actions condoning violence and/or hate.”
PEN America, a nonprofit that defends free expression through literature and human rights, sent a letter Wednesday signed by the more than 155 supporters of Phansey after his termination, calling the case "deeply disturbing" for free speech in America.
“Against a national backdrop in which punishments for speech are chilling open discourse, this draconian outcome risks compounding the constrictions on our public discourse,” the letter reads. “As an institution of higher learning, Babson should be on the side of defending free thought rather than punishing it.”
Phansey's call for Iran to bomb the Mall of America and the Kardashians was clearly a satirical commentary on foreign policy with no hint of harassment, incitement or imminent violence, or any other unprotected category of speech, the letter says.
The PEN letter said the school failed but has a chance to right the wrong.
“This is a straightforward case. Babson officials made the wrong decision,” said Jonathan Friedman, PEN America’s campus free speech project director. “That’s why such a diverse coalition has come together from across the political spectrum and across disciplines to speak out against this injustice. Babson officials should know that their misguided reaction has not gone unnoticed."
More than 80 faculty from 50 institutions nationwide, joined in support by the teachers' union, American Federation of Teachers, and nonprofits the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), ACLU of Massachusetts, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“We call on Babson to immediately reverse course and reinstate Phansey to his positions at the college,” the PEN America letter says. “Any other outcome risks permanently tarnishing the reputation of Babson and jeopardizing the climate for speech on campuses across the country.”