We previously reported on the targeting of University of Central Florida Professor Charles Negy over his tweets in early June 2020 questioning claims of ‘systemic racism’ and asserting ‘black privilege is real.’ That targeting by students, alumni, and other activists, was joined by the UCF administration, including newly-installed President Alexander Cartwright, who participated in the protests against Prof. Negy.

It was one of the most disgusting spectacles in a long summer of ‘cancel culture’ visited upon professors across the country. In early August 2020, we documented The administrative torment of UCF Prof. Charles Negy, and Negy’s lawyer, Samantha Harris, wrote in Quillette, The Floridian Inquisition.

Refer to those posts for details of the targeting, but understand there was one important distinguishing feature, the allegation by Negy that the UCF administration was actively soliciting complaints about his classroom conduct, since they couldn’t fire him for his constitutionally protected speech on Twitter. It was a tactic with which I was familiar, as I wrote in the early August post:

The active solicitation of complaints is something familiar to any employment lawyer.

A big piece of my practice before joining Cornell Law School was representing terminated or departed employees (“stockbrokers”) against stock brokerage firms. There was a familiar dance: After termination (whether voluntarily or not), the firm would immediately contact the departing employee’s clients, and ask about whether the clients had any problems with the departed employee. People who never thought to complain, or who didn’t understand the ulterior motive behind the question, might say things they considered innocent gripes. But those innocent gripes in many instances, became reportable customer complaints that were reported to regulators by the firm. The purpose of soliciting reportable complaints was to make it more difficult for the employee to find a new job, or if the employee found a job, to create regulatory red flags that slowed the employee’s license transfer. That would buy the firm timr to convince the clients not to follow the employee to a new firm, allowing the firm to retain the business.

So this tactic of soliciting complaints as an employment tactic is familiar to me. The new complaints, that no student ever reported before Negy became controversial, could form the basis for UCF firing Negy.

UCF launched a massive investigation into Negy’s 22-year history at UCF in order to find a pretext to fire him. Legal Insurrection Foundation joined with Judicial Watch to seek records, among other things, regarding the targeting and investigation of Negy, as detailed in Legal Insurrection and Judicial Watch investigate attacks on UCF Prof. Charles Negy.

We have received some documents, but not all to which we are entitled. We are prepared to litigate if necessary, and have been working with the premier public records attorneys in Florida.

That need for full disclosure of UCF records to which we are entitled under Florida law has become more urgent, with the release by UCF of a 240-page Investigative Report and call for Negy’s termination. UCF, pursuant to that report, issued a letter telling Negy he will be terminated on January 25, subject to his right to dispute the charges before that date. UCF designated Negy a threat to safety, and demanded he not enter campus unless accompanied by university police.

The Report is the result of what must have been an expensive and expansive investigation that involved, by its own account, interviewing over 300 witnesses, and reviewing almost every detail of Negy’s history at UCF pursuant to hundreds of complaints received after the university made a call for such complaints.

You can read the report here and notice of termination here (both already are posted in many locations on the internet and linked by news media) — it’s a disgusting example of overkill, in dumping on Negy and possibly defaming him in so many ways by characterizing him, among other things, as having engaged in criminal bribery (he disputes) and a danger to campus (he disputes), UCF seeks not just to fire him, but to destroy him.

The report proves the opposite of what UCF thinks — it proves that the investigation of Negy is the punishment for exercising his First Amendment rights. It’s all pretext, as demonstrated by the public record of UCF drumming up complaints because they wanted to fire him but needed something more than the tweets.

Negy has filed his administrative response. Here is an excerpt (bold in original):

This letter serves as my written response to your Notice of Intent to Terminate dated January 13, 2021.

In the response below, I will address each of the four major categories of allegation in the Notice of Termination. Before I do that, however, I want to clearly state the following:

This investigation was initiated – by a public message from top administrators openly soliciting complaints against me – in retaliation for my constitutionally protected speech on Twitter. Knowing that it could not fire me for those tweets, UCF has obviously gone to great lengths over the last seven months to try and find legitimate grounds for my termination. I challenge you to find any UCF employee, yourself included, whose entire life could withstand the type of scrutiny mine has been put through in UCF’s attempt to justify getting rid of me because I have become a political liability. And make no mistake, that is precisely what UCF has done: We have President Cartwright on video agreeing with a student protester that I should have been fired before I got tenure. We have on video the UCF Provost telling students through a megaphone that the way to avoid “this type of problem” is to let UCF know: “…you have to file a complaint about discriminatory behavior.” And we have on video the UCF Chief Diversity Officer telling students on UCF’s official Twitter account that “#UCFFireHim…I understand all of that, but the fact of the matter is it’s not going to happen overnight.”

The goal from the day #UCFFireHim began trending was to terminate my employment with UCF because of my unpopular views conveyed in my constitutionally protected speech. The investigation/inquisition that followed was nothing less than “show me the man, and I’ll show you the crime.” If this unlawful effort to terminate me stands, not only will it severely chill the speech of faculty and students at UCF who might wish to express controversial views, but I will have no choice but to pursue legal action.

With that said, I would like to address each of the four major issues raised in your Notice and explain why they do not constitute legitimate grounds for my termination. I would also like to state that I am more than happy to discuss in greater detail any of the individual findings in the OIE report that comprise these broader findings: while you stated in your Notice that they are “too numerous to fully document here,” I am prepared to defend against each and every one of those findings in detail and, to the extent your ultimate decision relies on one or more specific findings not covered in my response here, I would appreciate the opportunity to address those specific findings.

Negy goes on to address particularly inflammatory, and he claims false, accusations in the UCF Report, including that he bribed an official in a foreign country for a vaccination certificate, and that he failed to report a teaching assistant who allegedly had been sexually harrassed in 2014 by someone else. On that latter point, Negy asserts that he never was told that there was alleged inapproporiate touching of the assistant by another person, and that administrators raised the issue with him at the time but took no action.

We have not nearly gone through all the 13,000+ pages produced so far (with more owed to us), but seeing the report and Negy’s response, this internal email by a faculty Senator may pertain, wondering how they can now punish him for something previously investigated with no action taken:

We have barely scratched the surface of what has been produced so far, and we will not rest until we receive all the documents to which we are entitled under Florida law.

Negy concludes his internal opposition to his firing as follows:

The investigation and proposed termination of me sends a powerful message to anyone at UCF who holds unpopular or unorthodox views: speak your mind, and the university will devote all of its resources, for as long as it takes, to justify destroying your career. I urge you to please consider whether this is truly the path that UCF, as an institution that is bound by the First Amendment and that purports to be committed to the free exchange of ideas, wishes to take.

Thank you for this opportunity to express my positions on these charges. If you have questions that you’d like to ask me directly about any of these matters, please communicate with me or my primary attorney.

One of Negy’s attorneys told The Orlando Sentinel:

“It’s important to put out there this is far from being the clear-cut matter that the university is purporting it to be. This is really a case of First Amendment retaliation,” said Samantha Harris, an attorney with the Pennsylvania-based Mudrick & Zucker firm. “The university has been looking for a reason to fire him.” …

A UCF spokesman said Friday that the university stands by its previous statements on the matter, which emphasize that none of the findings of an investigation into Negy’s conduct were a result of his comments on social media.

But Harris said a June 4 post on UCF’s website, which went live a few days after the start of a public outcry about Negy’s tweets, amounts to “public solicitation” for complaints about him. That note, titled “Addressing Intolerance in our Community,” and signed by President Alexander Cartwright, interim provost Michael Johnson, and Interim Chief Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Officer Kent Butler, says the university condemns Negy’s comments “in the strongest terms” and that they “are not only wrong, but particularly painful.” …

Harris, who worked for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a non-profit group that focuses on protecting free speech rights on college campuses, for 15 years before entering private practice, said UCF demonstrated “one of the most egregious abuses of power I’ve seen by a university.”

I don’t know whether Negy has the resources and stamina to withstand years of litigation like the Gibson family did. And certainly there are a lot more documents to come out and UCF will be entitled to defend itself.

But I have the same sense now that I had very early on in the Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College lawsuit, that Oberlin College’s overly aggressive attacks on the bakery made no sense based on the public record and would backfire: “I can’t imagine, based on what is publicly available, this will work.”

I don’t think the pretextual investigation into Negy in order to find a reason to fire him will work. The case UCF laid out against Negy will not age well, it will rot the longer this goes on, if Negy is able to fight massive UCF.

Is there an adult in the room at UCF asking why it is spending state money to persecute a professor in retaliation for his constitutionally protected speech? Apparently not, at least not so far.

 

 
donate
Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.