University of Colorado Boulder leaders deny retaliating against visiting Professor John Eastman, according to letters sent in response to a college free speech and liberty group asking the campus to restore Eastman’s job duties.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education contacted CU Boulder on Wednesday, claiming that the university’s actions regarding Eastman violated his constitutionally protected right to free speech.
Eastman spoke at former President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 rally in Washington, D.C., and made unproven claims of widespread election fraud. A mob later stormed the Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral college victory, resulting in the deaths of five people.
Eastman’s comments were condemned by Chancellor Phil DiStefano and criticized by Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization Director Daniel Jacobson, both of whom were cited in FIRE’s letter of CU Boulder.
Eastman’s classes were canceled the Monday after the Jan. 6 rally, reportedly due to low enrollment, and Provost Russell Moore later revoked his speaking and representation duties as the Benson Center’s visiting scholar in conservative thought and policy.
FIRE cited emails sent by Jacobson and Moore in claiming that Eastman was retaliated against for his speech.
In letters sent over the weekend, Jacobson and DiStefano denied retaliating against Eastman, stating that the decisions about Eastman’s job duties were made separately from his comments at the rally.
The emails cited by FIRE were not presented in the proper context, Jacobson wrote to Adam Steinbaugh, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program.
Eastman’s contract as a visiting professor lasts one academic year, and the decision to not renew his contract was made unanimously by a search committee on Dec. 23, Jacobson wrote.
“There is no expectation of a renewal for a second year, although such renewal is possible,” Jacobson wrote. “Indeed, only one of nine previous scholars has been offered a second year.”
The Benson Center did not cancel Eastman’s classes, Jacobson wrote, but converted them to independent studies, “as per university policy for significantly under-enrolled courses.”
“I will let those at CU who made these decisions speak for themselves,” he wrote.
Jacobson also cited previous statements he has made defending Eastman’s free speech.
“I did not believe, and do not believe today, that Eastman has ever taken seriously enough the interests of the Center,” Jacobson wrote.
DiStefano’s letter responding to FIRE’s claims similarly denied retaliating against Eastman and stated that “each of our actions is completely consistent with University of Colorado policy and the standards for public employers.”
Moore’s decision to revoke Eastman’s representational and outreach duties was made after determining they would likely hurt the Benson Center’s interests, DiStefano wrote.
“Relieving an employee of particular duties when the employer reasonably believes he cannot perform them without injuring the employer’s interests (is) not an adverse employment action,” DiStefano wrote.
Jacobson and DiStefano did not respond to an interview request Monday, and spokesperson Andrew Sorensen responded that “These letters speak for themselves.”
CU Boulder’s response to FIRE is a positive step, Steinbaugh said.
“We appreciate the response from the university and appreciate they are taking it seriously,” Steinbaugh said. “This is a step forward. That said, we’re still reviewing it and we still have some concerns.”
It’s “hard to square” Jacobson’s response to FIRE regarding the decision not to renew Eastman’s contract with his previous email to the professor, Steinbaugh said.
“They need to prove that they would have taken this action even without the speech at issue, and I think they’ve taken a step forward, but they need to do more,” he said.
The group also is still concerned about CU Boulder enforcing the policy to cancel Eastman’s classes for low enrollment but not enforcing it on other classes with low enrollment, Steinbaugh said.
“Our job is to be consistent civil liberties advocates and hold government officials to account,” he said.
Eastman described DiStefano and Jacobson’s explanations for their actions as pretext.
“The notion that they’re not retaliating against me by prohibiting me from hosting the speaker series that I organized defies credulity,” Eastman said. “They play off of my national reputation to get a first-rate speakers series and then act like I have nothing to do with it, or to quote DiStefano, ‘have provided nothing of value to the university.’”