Professor sues school over forced ‘land acknowledgment’ statement

A professor at the University of Washington is suing the school, arguing that it violated his right to free speech after he challenged the university’s requirement for faculty to include the university’s “Indigenous Land Acknowledgment Statement” on course syllabi, acknowledging Native American ownership of university land.

Computer science and engineering professor Stuart Reges faced disciplinary action from the school after he included a dissenting statement on his syllabus that “challenged his students and fellow faculty to think about the utility and performative nature of land acknowledgment statements,” according to the court filing.

On Dec. 8, 2021, Reges criticized land acknowledgment statements in an email to faculty, and on Jan. 3, Reges wrote in his syllabus, “I acknowledge that by the labor theory of property the Coast Salish people can claim historical ownership of almost none of the land currently occupied by the University of Washington,” under John Locke’s theory of property.

On Jan. 4, the director of the department, Magdalena Balazinska, ordered Reges to remove his statement from his syllabus, calling it “inappropriate” and “offensive,” and proclaiming that it created “a toxic environment” and a “disruption to instruction.”

Reges refused, as other professors included their own land acknowledgments on their syllabi but the university did not investigate or punish them because those statements because they were consistent with the university’s viewpoint.

Regis told The Ari Hoffman Show on Talk Radio 570 KVI, “They went crazy. There were some graduate students, not even in our department, who complained on Twitter, and the director of my school said that this had to go. She deleted my syllabus first and then she put it back up with the land acknowledgment whited out.”

Regis added, “She apologized to my students and she said, ‘we’re creating an alternate section so that you don’t have to take a course from Stuart Regis’ and, ‘Here are ways to complain about him.'”

The university launched an official investigation into Reges for allegedly violating UW’s harassment policy, an investigation that has dragged on for over four months. Balazinska also created a “shadow” section of Reges’s course that featured pre-recorded lectures by another professor, so students wouldn’t have to take a computer science class from someone who didn’t hold the school’s preferred narrative.

According to court documents, a disciplinary committee was formed “to consider whether to further punish or even terminate Professor Reges because of the views he expressed in his dissenting statement.”

Hoffman asked, “Was it a thousand complaints on Twitter, or was it like three complaints on Twitter?”

Regis replied, “They freaked out because they didn’t want the bad PR. They won’t tell me, I asked them how many complaints they had and they won’t tell me.”

He continued, “I asked them whether it was my students. And they said they don’t know. I asked whether there were any American Indian students who complained and they said they don’t know, so basically they’ve given me no information about how many complaints.”

Regis called his case “a First Amendment violation.”

Hoffman asked, “You’re not an anthropology professor. Are you? Your syllabus is not anthropology. This is a totally unrelated subject… computer science they’re making you put this nonsense on.”

Regis replied, “Yeah, one of the things that they’ve told us, this is part of this diversity equity and inclusion push. They want us to incorporate social justice issues in all of our courses.”

“They say that I’m creating a toxic environment. They have this idea of inclusion,” Regis added, “but their sense of inclusion means that you have to exclude people like me if we say things that offend particular groups of people. So, they have this idea that somehow the undergraduates are these fragile creatures, that if they, ‘John Locke had an idea about land ownership’ they all fall apart.

“They can’t go to college anymore because they heard an idea that is different than what they’d heard before. And I just think this is a terrible thing… are we gonna have free speech on campus or not? I mean, are, are we a place where we wanna allow everybody to express their opinions or not?”

“I’ve been very isolated there,” Regis said about being on campus. “People don’t talk to me. I will walk by a faculty member and say hello to them and they won’t even look me in the eye. They just stare straight forward and walk past me, or they’ll try to avoid me altogether by walking the long way, so they don’t have to pass me in the hallway. It’s very uncomfortable.”

University Spokesperson Michelle Ma said in a statement, “The University of Washington is reviewing the complaint. The university continues to assert that it hasn’t violated Stuart Reges’ First Amendment rights and we look forward to making that case in court.”

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