The University of Central Florida has begrudgingly rehired a tenured professor the college fired after he claimed on Twitter that “black privilege is real.”
An arbitrator who heard the wrongful termination case psychology professor Charles Negy brought against UCF ruled that in addition to getting his job back, Negy was entitled to have his tenure reinstated and owed back pay.
The controversy began in 2020, shortly after the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd in police custody.
As protests, peaceful and violent, erupted, Negy issued a pair of tweets from his personal account.
The first said, “If Afr. Americans as a group, had the same behavioral profile as Asian Americans (on average, performing the best academically, having the highest income, committing the lowest crime, etc.), would we still be proclaiming ‘systematic racism’ exists?”
He followed that with one that added, “Black privilege is real: Besides affirm. action, special scholarships and other set asides, being shielded from legitimate criticism is a privilege. But as a group, they’re missing out on much-needed feedback.”
Subsequently, critics – students, other faculty, and racially motivated activists – demanded that Negy be fired. And the administration of UCF President Alexander Cartwright went hunting for a reason.
As the arbitrator noted in the ruling, UCF could not dump Negy for the tweets themselves because they were protected speech under the First Amendment.
But after eight months of looking, the university found a reason. It arrived there after what his attorney called an “inquisition,” in which Cartwright opened the door to mob rule by accepting claims about Negy’s teaching style and classroom statements going back 15 years, which he was forced to try to defend, including under nine hours of interrogation about the complaints.
In its January 2021 termination letter, UCF accused Negy in part of creating “a hostile learning environment for your students through discriminatory harassment” and for not reporting a 2014 incident in which a student claimed she told Negy a teaching assistant had sexually assaulted her.
Yet as noted by the website Legal Insurrection, which took up Negy’s cause, no student had complained about Negy until Cartwright solicited such gripes in the wake of Floyd’s death and the demand that Negy be fired.
But UCF had another problem. As the arbitrator noted, Negy was tenured for 18 years and had received “consistently outstanding annual evaluations,” awards, and even a “special pay adjustment” that was “designed to persuade him not to leave UCF.”
“There is no evidence that UCF gave him reason to believe he was anything but as highly esteemed as his evaluations and treatment, with no reason to perform differently.”
Yet, as Legal Insurrection claimed, UCF worked “to find a pretext to fire Negy without having to admit it was the tweets and the online mob at issue.”
The arbitrator, Ben Falcigno, seemed to recognize that. He ruled that UCF fired Negy without just cause.
“UCF made the basic mistake of acting as if management bore no responsibility. Nor did it give consideration to the messages in the form of evaluations and rewards sent year after year to validate Dr. Negy’s teaching, and now it wants to blame only him – with capital punishment – for what it retroactively sees as serious misconduct,” he wrote. “It does no justice to claim it made enormous evaluations errors for 20-plus years and then castigate the employee with termination.”
“Just Cause requires more consideration of Dr. Negy than what UCF offered. It is not a matter of sufficiency of evidence to prove misconduct years after the fact after you have heaped accolades for the performance period now being reviled.”
In response, Negy told Legal Insurrection that UCF’s behavior was “pretty disgusting,” and that he likely would file a lawsuit. His lawyer added that UCF offered an example of the ‘Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime’ treatment” professors like Negy receive for expressing opinions “out of step with today’s sacred campus orthodoxies.” She also called the outcome “a victory for accountability.”
Yet UCF was not persuaded that it was wrong or tyrannical.
In a statement, UCF Assistant Vice President for Communications Chad Binette said, “UCF stands by the actions taken following a thorough investigation that found repeated misconduct in Professor Negy’s classroom, including imposing his views about religion, sex and race. However, we are obligated to follow the arbitrator’s ruling.”