Stern v. Auburn University

From May 2008 to November 2022
Auburn University (Public college or university)
Auburn, AL

Identity of Speakers

  • Michael Stern

    Professor at Auburn University

Additional Information

  • Incident Nature:
  • Incident Political Orientation:
    Not Clear
  • Incident Responses:
  • Incident Status:
    Held unconstitutional
  • Did not involve Speech Codes


A five-year-long lawsuit resolved when an Alabama jury found that an Auburn professor was unfairly targeted after he complained about the high concentration of athletes in the school’s public administration program.  An Alabama jury awarded Michael Stern $645,837 in damages, finding after a two-week trial that Stern’s former dean illegally punished him for speaking out. The jury did not agree with similar complaints against other university officials named as defendants.

The verdict may resolve Stern’s long-running issues with Auburn, which date back to 2008, when he began complaining about alleged donor meddling in the economics department.

Then, in 2014, Stern told officials he believed Auburn athletes were clustered in the school’s public administration major. Stern said he then began to face pressure from officials in his department, who he said were trying to protect the public administration program.
In 2015, The Wall Street Journal published an article that said that in 2013 about half of students majoring in public administration at Auburn played sports, including nearly all the top players on the football team, and quoted an email where an official wrote that “If the public administration program is eliminated, the [graduation success rate] numbers for our student-athletes will likely decline.”

Stern was removed as chair of the economic department in 2018, and filed a federal lawsuit claiming Auburn denied his First Amendment rights and unfairly retaliated against him.

Jurors awarded him monetary damages intended to make up for lost wages and benefits and compensate for a violation of his rights.