EducationJudicialUniversity of North Texas Reaches Legal Settlement over Firing of Math Professor for Joke About Microaggressions

In 2019, a math professor at the University of North Texas was fired for calling flyers left in the faculty lounge “garbage.”
September 23, 2022
Dr. Nathaniel Hiers, a former math professor at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, has reached a legal settlement with the institution for $165,000.

Hiers, who was represented by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative legal defense organization, was fired in November 2019 for a joke he wrote on a whiteboard in the faculty lounge.

After discovering some flyers with information about microaggressions in the lounge, Hiers placed one at the base of the whiteboard and wrote, “Please don’t leave garbage lying around.”

He was notified by the head of the math department a week later that his contract to teach the following spring had been canceled due to the remark.

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

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“It was a joke, but there are good points to be discussed and the university should have those conversations,” ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer told The Texan.

The settlement did not include any re-employment of Hiers by UNT. Hiers is teaching, but not at the university level, Langhofer said.

“This petty disagreement has impacted his career. It is competitive to get these positions and his track was cut off.”

In March, U.S. District Court Judge Sean Jordan allowed the case to proceed in ruling on UNT’s motion to dismiss. “Hiers has plausibly alleged that the university officials violated his First Amendment rights by engaging in viewpoint discrimination,” he wrote.

Langhofer believes the March decision was important in reaching the settlement because it demonstrated the allegations by Dr. Hiers had a substantial likelihood of prevailing. “There was no dispute about the facts,” he pointed out.

The settlement agreement did not include any requirements that UNT conduct training to prevent violations of the faculty members’ First Amendment rights, but Langhofer would love to see such training at UNT and around the country. 

“I hope it sends a message to UNT and universities across the country. Maybe it will be a wake-up call, but I think it will take a lot more of these incidents because this is all too common.” Langhofer expressed.

“We hope this is the first step in the university restoring its role as a marketplace of ideas rather than an echo chamber for one viewpoint,” he added.

“The right to free speech is for everyone. We need as a society to continue to hold those in power accountable for upholding the First Amendment,” Langhofer emphasized.

UNT did not respond to a request for comment before the time of publication.


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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a regional 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.