Adjunct professor fired for on-air comments
Political commentator Lisa Durden was fired from her position as an adjunct professor at Essex County College in New Jersey after she shared controversial remarks on Fox News.
Lisa Durden is an African-American producer, filmmaker, and media commentator. From January 2017 until her firing five months later,, she taught classes on popular culture, mass communication, and speech at Essex County College in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey.
Tucker Carlson is the host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” a program that airs weeknights at 8 pm ET on Fox News, and which replaced “The O’Reilly Factor” in 2017 after veteran host Bill O’Reilly was accused of sexual misconduct. Carlson is known for challenging “political correctness” and liberal social media. Fox News calls his show “the sworn enemy of lying, pomposity, smugness and group think.”
On June 6, 2017, Lisa Durden appeared on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” to debate the host about an all-black Memorial Day celebration in the Bronx hosted by a chapter of Black Lives Matter. She defended the event and the group’s desire to exclude white people from it. The debate became heated, and at one point Durden said, “You white people are angry because you couldn’t use your ‘white privilege’ card to get invited” to the celebration. Carlson responded by calling her “hostile and separatist and crazy.” According to The Washington Post, he continued, “You’re demented actually. You’re sick and what you’re saying is disgusting and if you were a Nazi I would say the same thing to you.”
When Durden reported to campus on June 8 to teach her speech class, she discovered she had been suspended from the college until further notice. She cancelled her class that day and reported to the human resources department, where she learned that she would not be allowed to finish teaching her summer course. Two weeks later, Durden was fired despite already being scheduled to teach classes in the fall, reported the Post.
Essex County College President Anthony E. Monroe released a statement announcing the school’s decision to fire Durden, explaining that after her appearance on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the college was “immediately inundated with feedback from students, faculty and prospective students and their families expressing frustration, concern and even fear that the views expressed by a College employee (with influence over students) would negatively impact their experience on the campus.”
Munroe said the college “supports and affirms the right of free speech and independent views and expressions of those views for our faculty and staff.” However, it denounces “any conduct that implies that all students are not welcome to participate in, or benefit from, our programs or activities on the basis of their race, color, orientation or national origin.” Ultimately, the college concluded it could not “maintain an employment relationship with the adjunct.”
Durden told the Post she didn’t mean to imply on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” that all white people are racist, and wished she had been clearer with her remarks. But she also defended her comments, saying that she did not choose the topic of the debate for the show and that a debate is never meant to be an easy discussion. She said she knew there would be heated disagreement, and she does not understand why her appearance affected her standing at the school.
According to the Post, a representative from Essex’s human resources department told Durden she was fired partly because she associated herself with the college in the interview. However, Durden was not identified as an Essex employee on the show, only as a “political commentator.”
FIRE brings lawsuit against Essex County College
After Durden was fired, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) requested that Essex turn over evidence of the negative feedback with which they were supposedly “immediately inundated” after the adjunct professor’s appearance on Carlson’s show. When the community college reportedly ignored the open records requests, FIRE filed a lawsuit against Essex in the Superior Court of New Jersey on January 3, 2018. A few weeks later, more than six months after FIRE filed its initial records request on July 13, 2017, Essex turned over records relating to Durden’s termination. These documents contradict Munroe’s claims that the school was “immediately inundated” with complaints about Durden after she debated Carlson.
Durden: “Essex County College publicly lynched me in front of my students”
According to NJ.com, Durden said the school’s decision to cancel her classes and suspend her without warning was designed to humiliate her. She also said the school violated her First Amendment rights by firing her for her comments on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” Many of Durden’s Essex colleagues were upset about her termination, and started an online petition to have her reinstated. As of February 12, 2018, it had over 2,500 signatures.
Prepared by Bridget McElroy ‘18
February 23, 2018