One might think that the University of Virginia, after one of its staff was libeled in a 2014 Rolling Stone article about a bogus rape allegation on campus, might be a little more sensitive to the First Amendment.
But the case of Kieran Bhattacharya demonstrates that some lessons are outside the purview of educators. And, based on a judge’s recent ruling, UVA may now have to search for its checkbook.
Bhattacharya was a second-year UVA medical school student in 2018 when he attended a forum hosted by some medical school faculty on “microaggressions” in the practice of medicine.
According to Breitbart News, he raised questions about supposed microaggressions, which are subtle or even unintentional comments or actions that demonstrated discrimination or animus. He wondered to the professors how a microaggression could occur if it was solely dependent on how the recipient took the comment or action, and whether it was a “requirement” for such an alleged “victim” to be a member of a “marginalized” group.
What happened next was something out of “The Twilight Zone.”
According to Breitbart, the faculty members claimed Bhattacharya became angry and frustrated in the exchange with them. They then issued him a “professionalism concern card” over his demeanor, suggesting he could not be professional in his dealings with patients.
A second professor then sought to learn Bhattacharya’s opinions on issues such as sexual assault, affirmative action, and President Donald Trump’s election.
The “concern” over Bhattacharya’s “professionalism” snowballed.
As a judge noted, UVA suspended him from its medical school, mandated counseling and that he obtain a “medical clearance” in order to remain enrolled as a student, and then blocked him from appealing his suspension or seeking readmission by handing down and refusing to retract a “no trespass” order that had been issued by the campus police.
One day he was informed by his academic adviser that he must undergo psychological counseling and received a letter from the faculty detailing his sins, which included a lack of self-awareness, an inability to control his emotions, and not demonstrating that he could establish “working relationships” with others.
Showing the faculty’s own lack of self-awareness, inability to have a working relationship with Bhattacharya, and no sense of irony, the letter cited that he was incapable of “communicating in a non-judgmental way with persons whose beliefs and understandings differ from one’s own.”
Yet the judge cleared the way for Bhattacharya’s lawsuit, which asserted that UVA violated his rights to free speech and due process, could go forward.
“The First Amendment protects not only the affirmative right to speak but also the ‘right to be free from retaliation by a public official for the exercise of that right,’” the judge observed in his ruling.
“Bhattacharya sufficiently alleges that Defendants retaliated against him,” the judge continued.
“Because a student would be reluctant to express his views if he knew that his school would reprimand, suspend, or ban him from campus for doing so, the Court concludes that Bhattacharya has adequately alleged adverse action.”
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