IssuesUniversity of North Texas Professor Fired for Criticizing “Microaggressions” Flyer

A math professor filed a federal lawsuit against his former employer after he was fired for making a joke about flyers warning of "microaggressions."
April 22, 2020
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A math professor, Dr. Nathaniel Hiers, at the University of North Texas (UNT) filed a federal lawsuit against the university last week claiming his First Amendment rights had been violated when he criticized flyers about “microaggressions.” 

Hiers is represented by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a nonprofit existing to advocate for “religious freedom, sanctity of life, and marriage and family” issues.

Hiers was hired to teach mathematics at UNT last fall. While in the faculty lounge last November, he noticed a stack of flyers warning about “microaggressions.” 

Examples of  “microaggressions” listed in the flyer were “America is a land of opportunity” and “[b]eing forced to choose Male or Female when completing basic forms.”

As was common among the faculty, Hiers jokingly left an anonymous note about the flyer on the whiteboard stating, “Don’t leave garbage lying around.”

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Hiers asserts that professors banter about all manner of topics and issues within the faculty lounge on a regular basis.

The department head, Ralf Schmidt, criticized Hiers for comments Schmidt called “stupid” and “cowardly” and for not expressing “honest regret” for them. 

Schmidt fired Hiers the next week by canceling his contract to teach in the spring semester without notice.

Among the reasons Schmidt gave Hiers when asked about his dismissal, Schmidt cited Hiers’ refusal to attend diversity training and that “[his] actions and response are not compatible with the values of this department.”

He later said Hiers was being fired for leaving an “anonymous” upsetting message in the faculty lounge. ADF points out that Schmidt seemed to ignore the fact that the flyer containing a message about “microaggressions” that some might find upsetting was left anonymously in the lounge.

Schmidt has never disciplined any other professor for making anonymous comments on the whiteboard in the faculty lounge, the plaintiff argues.

“Public universities can’t fire professors just because they don’t endorse every message someone communicates in the faculty lounge. By firing Dr. Hiers, the university sent an explicit message: ‘Agree with us or else,’” ADF Legal Counsel Michael Ross said.

UNT’s Misconduct Policy provides a process for disciplinary action, but the plaintiff claims the university did not follow it in his case. Hiers was not given notice of specific university policies he violated, nor was he given the right to respond orally or in writing, the right to present evidence, nor the ability to seek assistance from a faculty associate.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.