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Smock v. Board of Regents of the University of Michigan

February 2018
University of Michigan (Public college or university)
Ann Arbor, MI, United States

Identity of Speakers

  • Pamela Smock
    Faculty/Staff
    Other

    Pamela Smock is Professor of Sociology and Research Professor at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan.

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
    Classroom
    Other course-related event
  • Incident Responses:
    University administration not protective of speech
    Litigation
  • Incident Status:
    In litigation Federal District Court
  • No protest Occured
  • Did not involve Speech Codes

Summary

Pamela Smock—a tenured Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan—worked closely with three graduate students. In April 2016, she questioned the integrity of one of those student’s work product. Soon after, all three students contacted university administrators with allegations of inappropriate misconduct perpetrated by Smock. The students claimed that Smock had made sexual jokes and held inappropriate conversations with them. At the conclusion of an eight-month-long investigation, the investigators concluded that Smock’s conduct, though inappropriate, did not create a “sexually hostile environment.” Despite this conclusion, the Executive Committee of Smock’s department at the university sanctioned Smock. Her salary was frozen; she no longer had any opportunity for sabbatical leave; and she was barred from meeting with students outside of professional settings. Several weeks later, Smock filed a grievance application with the school’s Grievance Hearing Board, appealing the sanctions. At these hearings, the university argued that Smock had violated the school’s “civility policy” and the Board upheld the sanctions. In response, Smock filed a Complaint in the Eastern District of Michigan alleging—among other things—two First Amendment claims: (1) a facial overbreadth and vagueness challenge to the university’s civility policy, and (2) a retaliation claim. On November 19, 2018, following a hearing, the Court dismissed both First Amendment claims. Specifically, the district court rejected Smock’s facial challenge against the school’s civility policy since “the First Amendment does not bar a public university from requiring that its faculty treat each other and their students with civility.” The court also pointed out that the policy wasn’t vague because university’s faculty “ha[d] ample notice as to the standards of professionalism expected from them.” The court also rejected Smock’s retaliation claim, holding that “[e]ven though it is not clear exactly what speech led to Plaintiff’s sanctioning, the Court has not found any speech in the record that would be protected as touching upon a matter of public or academic concern. Personal sexuality is not public concern, even for a Professor of Demography.” The court dismissed Smock’s other claims for damages on May 23, 2019 but did not dismiss claims for injunctive relief. From the docket, it appears that the suit for injunctive relief is ongoing with discovery dates scheduled out to 2020.