A New Jersey college has ignored multiple open records requests about the firing of a local professor and is now in violation of the law, according to a recent lawsuit filed by nonprofit group the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
In a complaint filed Thursday, Jan. 4, the organization alleges that after 174 days and five extensions of its deadline, New Jersey’s Essex County College still hasn’t produced a single document in response to its open records request. FIRE requested the info under the state Open Public Records Act after the “questionable” firing of adjunct professor Lisa Durden in June, a press release stated.
” … This lawsuit isn’t just about a public institution ignoring its obligation under state law to release certain information to the public,” FIRE Staff Attorney Brynne Madway said in a statement. “This suit is also about Essex County College’s responsibility to be transparent about its termination of an adjunct professor who simply voiced her opinions publicly.”
Durden, a communications professor at the two-year community college, was suspended and ultimately fired after her comments on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” defending an “all-Black” Memorial Day event organized by Black Lives Matter. The two engaged in an on-air debate over whether it was appropriate for the social justice group to host an event that excluded white people from attending.
“Boo-hoo-hoo, you white people are just angry you couldn’t use your white privilege card to get invited into the Black Lives Matter all-Black Memorial Day celebration,” Durden told Carlson.
Supporters and activists pressed the school to re-hire the professor after her televised tiff with the conservative news host, but the college did not budge. At the time, Essex County College president Anthony E. Munroe said the school had been “inundated” with messages from concerned students and parents upset by Durden’s comments.
“The character of this institution mandates that we embrace diversity, inclusion and unity,” Munroe said in an emailed statement last year. “In consideration of [Essex’s] mission, and the impact that this matter has had on the College’s fulfillment of its mission — we cannot maintain an employment relationship with the adjunct.”
“The College affirms its right to select employees who represent the institution appropriately and are aligned with our mission,” he added.
The recent FIRE lawsuit claims that Essex ignored its initial records request, as well as a follow-up request for information about the harsh feedback the school allegedly received after Durden’s remarks. Essex finally responded to the organization in November, saying that it “anticipated” being able to give a response by Nov. 20.
FIRE said it hasn’t heard from the college since.
“Here is a New Year’s resolution for Essex: Follow state law,” Madway said. “The public deserves to know how Essex administrators handled reaction to a professor’s participation in a political debate.”
Their complaint seeks to force the college to hand over documents, including emails, sent between school administrators in the days leading to Durden’s termination, the Associated Pres reported, as well as records of the negative feedback Munroe mentioned.
Essex officials have yet to comment on the lawsuit.