A former LSU professor was rightfully fired in 2015 for using profanity in her classroom and discussing her sex life and the sex lives of students in her elementary education classes, a federal appellate court has ruled.
Teresa Buchanan, a tenured professor who specialized in early childhood education and trained elementary school teachers, had appealed U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick’s January 2018 dismissal of her civil rights lawsuit.
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The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Friday with Dick that LSU did not violate Buchanan's free speech rights by firing her because she was not speaking on a matter of public concern.
"We agree with the district court here that Dr. Buchanan's use of profanity and discussion of her sex life and the sex lives of her students was not related to the subject matter or purpose of training Pre-K-Third grade teachers," Circuit Judge Jacques Wiener Jr. wrote for a three-judge panel of the New Orleans-based court.
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.
Buchanan, who worked for LSU for nearly two decades, claimed the salty language was part of her teaching approach and was not directed at — nor did it disparage — any student.
When asked for comment on the 5th Circuit ruling and whether the U.S. Supreme Court will be asked to look at the case, Robert Corn-Revere, who represents Buchanan, said Monday, “We are reviewing the decision and weighing options.”
The American Association of University Professors had come to Buchanan's defense, criticizing her termination and pledging money for her legal defense. The advocacy group FIRE, or Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, sponsored Buchanan’s suit.
Buchanan’s attorneys, in filings at the federal district court level, called her situation a “case of political correctness run amok.” They argued that LSU fired her “for `sexual harassment’ based on speech having nothing to do with either `sex’ or `harassment.’” Her lawyers also said the First Amendment “does not permit university officials to equate offendedness with harassment.”
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LSU, however, maintained that Buchanan’s firing was appropriate and necessary to protect students from her verbally abusive behavior.
“This case is not about salty language; students and others observed aggressive and bullying behavior by (Buchanan) in the classroom,” the university’s attorneys stated in court documents. They added that Buchanan “cannot hide behind the shield of academic freedom while creating a hostile learning environment for the students she was hired to teach.”
Dick pointed out in her ruling that the LSU Lab School and 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.
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The judge said 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 LSU Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to fire her after a five-member faculty committee recommended she not be terminated.
The 5th Circuit panel also included Circuit Judges Leslie Southwick and Gregg Costa.
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