FREDONIA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Two academic freedom non-profits are throwing their support behind the SUNY Fredonia philosophy professor facing calls for termination for his comments on adult-child sex.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Academic Freedom Alliance each sent a letter to SUNY Fredonia President Stephen H. Kolison Jr. acknowledging that Professor Stephen Kershnar’s comments may have been offensive, but they claim are protected under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Kershnar came under fire earlier this week after a video podcast circulated on social media, where he’s seen debating the morality of adult-child sex.
Fredonia President Kolison released a statement Thursday, calling the comments “absolutely abhorrent.”
Kolison also announced that Kershnar, named a “distinguished teaching professor” by the SUNY Board of Trustees in 2014, was reassigned to duties that do not “include his physical presence on campus,” and he will not have contact with students while an investigation is ongoing.
Kershnar’s comments have been widely condemned online and students News 4 spoke with also rebuked the comments. “I think the video honestly is one of the most disgusting things I’ve seen here on campus,” Robert Kryger, a SUNY Fredonia freshman told us.
SUNY Fredonia students are planning a protest rallying against Kershnar’s words this Sunday.
FIRE and AFA both took issue with Kershnar being removed from the classroom while the incident is under investigation and the fact an investigation is underway at all. Both urged SUNY Fredonia administration to return Kershnar to the classroom and issue a statement affirming academic freedom.
“Finally, because Kershnar’s speech is protected, we caution that the initiation of an investigation will impermissibly chill expression, as the First Amendment prohibits not only formal punishment, but any action that ‘would chill or silence a person of ordinary firmness from future First Amendment activities,’” FIRE said.
The letter continued, “Kershnar’s speech is doubtlessly offensive to some (especially those exposed to it shorn of context), and many have—exercising their own First Amendment rights—made their objections known to the university. However, whether speech is protected by the First Amendment is “a legal, not moral, analysis,” and no person—student, colleague, administrator, donor, or lawmaker—holds a veto over freedom of expression, least of all those who would answer objectionable speech with threats of violence. We urge you to avoid effectuating a heckler’s veto by returning Kershnar to the classroom and publicly committing to protect the First Amendment rights of your faculty.”
The AFA took a similar stance, “The Academic Freedom Alliance supports Professor Kerschnar’s right to hold and state his opinions and calls upon the university to live up to its contractual and constitutional requirements to protect Professor Kershnar’s ability to teach and research without interference. We call on the university to issue a public statement clearly reaffirming Professor Kershnar’s academic freedom.”
Read both letters below: