Russomanno, Joseph. (Ed.). Speech Freedom on Campus: Past, Present, and Future. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2021. Pp., ix, 295. ISBN 9781793623607 (cloth) $125; ISBN 978-1-7936-23621 (paper) $42.99; ISBN 978-1-7936-2361-4 (ebook) $40.50.
On September 24, 1964, an outraged high school science teacher in Illinois fumed in a letter to his local newspaper that his school district was putting sports before education. "To sod football fields on borrowed money," wrote Marvin L. Pickering, "and then not be able to pay teachers' salaries is getting the cart before the horse." Pickering linked recurrent failed bond issues to "totalitarian" administrators deceptively pushing "tax-supported athletics down our throats." The school board, he wrote, had no money to install running water in a first aid room or to repair the collapsed sidewalks in front of classrooms lacking doors and blinds, but held its annual $200,000 sports budget sacrosanct. Pickering closed his 1,000-word letter with:I must sign this letter as a citizen, taxpayer, and voter, not as a teacher, since that freedom has been taken from the teachers by the administration. Do you really know what goes on behind those stone walls at the high school?
Pickering's expose presaged today's widespread and routine use of deficit spending to keep sports vibrant while suffocating academic programs. But more important, his letter established the legal precedent for free speech in the workplace--campuses, businesses, municipal departments--when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor in 1968, Pickering v. Board of Education, (see 391 U.S. 563 for full letter).
Claiming his letter contained falsehoods, the school board fired Pickering. He couldn't get another teaching job in Illinois. As his case wended through the courts, Pickering was forced to work in a soup factory, he told law professor David L. Hudson, Jr., whose piece on free speech in universities is one of the 10 essays (by a wide range of legal scholars) that constitute Speech Freedom on Campus. This collection is notable for its free speech advocacy, heterogeneity of opinion, and its historical depth, which is essential in understanding today's landscape and why free speech is under threat in colleges.
Throughout most of America's history, public employees never possessed free speech rights in the workplace, which the Supreme Court affirmed in 1892 in a case involving a police officer who engaged in political canvassing on the job. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote: "'Petitioner may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be a policeman'" (p. 190). In other words, once a person accepts public employment, they give up their free-speech rights and agree to play by the employer's rules.
However, that changed with Pickering, when the Court set a precedent based on a balance between an employee's freedom of speech and matters of public interest. As...