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Freedom of Speech in Academia

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Engineering and Public Policy Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Engineering and Public Policy

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.797.1 - 26.797.10



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Paper Authors


Mike Ellis Idaho State University

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Dr. Mike Ellis is an Associate Professor in Electrical Engineering Program at Idaho State University. He is the past Vice-Chair of the Faculty Senate at Idaho State University. He has over 20 years of university teaching experience. He has held faculty positions at Weber State University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina A&T University and Idaho State University. He has a BSEE from Brigham Young University, a Master’s of Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a Ph.D. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

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Richard M. Wabrek P.E. Idaho State University

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Dr. Wabrek has been an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Idaho State University since 1989. In the past he served in the capacity of associate dean and interim dean at ISU. Prior to that time, he served as a faculty member and chairman at the University of Wisconsin--Platteville.

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Freedom of Speech in AcademiaRecently, there have been a number of landmark legal cases that deal with freedom of speech oncollege campuses. Engineering professors have played prominent roles in several of these court cases.It appears likely that the United States Supreme Court at some future date will be asked to weigh in onthis matter.This paper will highlight a number of recent significant court cases that attempt to define the limits on aprofessor’s speech. The Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment does not protect a publicemployee from retaliation when the employee speech is “pursuant to his official duties”. Theapplication of this definition to university professors that may have official service assignments (such asfaculty senate) is the open question.The paper cannot with absolute certainly define the limits on a professor’s speech, as that is a matter forthe courts to determine. All faculty should be cognizant of the basic legal standards presented in thispaper. For instance every faculty member should clearly understand the Supreme Court’s five-step testto determine if the speech is protected under the First Amendment.Several of the significant court cases occurred at the university where the author is currently employed.The author also has some personal experience with matters of protected speech in the classroom.

Ellis, M., & Wabrek, R. M. (2015, June), Freedom of Speech in Academia Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24134

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