In a case that drew national attention and accusations of "political correctness run amok," a federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a former LSU professor fired in 2015 for, among other things, using vulgar language in her classroom.
Teresa Buchanan, who was a tenured education professor, claimed LSU violated her First Amendment free speech rights and also alleged the university's sexual harassment policies are unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, who heard arguments from both sides in September, ruled against Buchanan on both points Wednesday.
In a lengthy decision, Dick said Buchanan's use of profanity and discussions regarding her own sex life and the sex lives of her students in the classroom "do not constitute First Amendment protected speech, are not matters of public concern, and are not, as claimed by Plaintiff, part of her overall pedagogical strategy for teaching preschool and elementary education to students as there is no ... evidence to support such a claim."
LSU President F. King Alexander said the judge's ruling demonstrates the university's actions were appropriate.
"As we have stated many times, we take our responsibility to protect students, faculty and staff and to ensure that they have a safe educational and harassment-free environment very seriously," Alexander said.
LSU's sexual harassment policies are unconstitutionally broad and were used in 2015 to fire a tenured education professor who used vulgar lang…
Alexander called academic freedom the cornerstone of university teaching and research but said Buchanan's case was not about such freedom or the rights of tenured professors. LSU presented documented evidence of a history of inappropriate behavior that included verbal abuse, intimidation and harassment of students, he said.
The advocacy group FIRE, or Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, sponsored Buchanan's suit and voiced displeasure with Dick's decision, saying the group is reviewing its options.
"FIRE is deeply disappointed by the district court's ruling and believe the case was wrongly decided," the group said in a statement.
The American Association of University Professors had come to Buchanan's defense, criticizing her firing and pledging money for her legal defense. A five-member faculty panel had recommended that Buchanan not be fired, but a unanimous LSU Board of Supervisors voted to terminate her employment.
Buchanan was seeking monetary damages and reinstatement to her former job, something Dick squelched in her ruling.
The judge noted that students complained about Buchanan and "avoided her class, avoided speaking up in class, and felt embarrassed and/or harassed" by her conduct.
Buchanan's controversial comments included saying "f*** no" repeatedly in the presence of students, using a slang term for vagina that implies cowardice, and joking that the quality of sex declines the longer a relationship lasts.
"There is no argument or jurisprudence before the court which support Plaintiff's claim that using the word 'pussy' and `f***', or discussing her own or students' sex lives and/or reproductive decisions, are relevant to educating students on becoming teachers of preschool through third grade students," the judge wrote.
Dick pointed out that the LSU Lab School as well as schools in Zachary, Port Allen and Iberville Parish had either banned Buchanan from their campuses or requested that LSU not allow her to mentor their student teachers due to her conduct and speech.
A former tenured LSU education professor fired last year for, among other things, using vulgar language in her classroom said Thursday she is …
Buchanan's behavior and speech "interfered with the educational opportunities of her students both in the classroom and in the student teacher or field setting," the judge added.
The argument that Buchanan used such language "because her students would encounter same by their future preschool through third grade students and parents is unsupported by any record of evidence and rejected by the Court as spurious," Dick said.
The judge further found that LSU's sexual harassment policies, "when read together, are not unconstitutionally broad or vague" as Buchanan claimed.
"While the LSU policies could arguably have been crafted better, the Court does not read the language in LSU's policies to be lacking an objective standard …" she stated. "The definitions and examples set forth in the policy emphasize that the offending conduct must be severe and pervasive as expressed by the words `unwelcome,' 'persistent,' 'unwanted,' 'deliberate,' 'repeated,' 'intimidating,' and 'demeaning.'"