The Children of Ludlow: Fighting for Free Speech on Campus

BY TIM McGETTIGAN

Tim McGettigan is Professor of Sociology at Colorado State University, Pueblo. 

It has required nearly four years and humongous legal costs, but I can finally say that I have won my First Amendment battle against Colorado State University. Four years ago, the CSU Board of Governors, former CSU Chancellor Michael Martin and former President Lesley DiMare fabricated a $3.3 million budget crisis at CSU-Pueblo. CSUP is the university where I am employed as a tenured professor of sociology. According to Martin, the only way to solve his fraudulent budget crisis was to fire 50 of CSU-Pueblo’s faculty and staff.

I can state without equivocation that Martin’s budget crisis was a fraud because an audit later revealed staggering fiscal mismanagement at CSU-Pueblo:

CSU-P recorded seventeen entries after fiscal year closing of the financial statements totaling $20,000,000…Of the $20,000,000 in entries recorded after the original closing, $6,800,000 of the adjustments were proposed as a result of the audit (Colorado State University – Pueblo Financial Audit Year Ended June 30, 2014).

If there was a crisis at CSU-Pueblo in 2013 it was not a fiscal crisis. It was a crisis of criminal administrative incompetence.

Former Chancellor Martin revealed his bogus budget crisis during finals week of the fall 2013 semester. Martin liked to brag about being an old hand at mass university firings, and he hoped to demoralize CSU-Pueblo faculty by announcing mass terminations on the eve of Christmas. Faculty are particularly vulnerable to administrative sneak attacks when they disengage from university business during the winter holidays. Martin hoped that faculty would worry themselves into spineless pools of jelly during that long, miserable Christmas break, but it was not to be.

Martin’s Achilles Heel is that he is an old school mass terminator. Martin did not factor electronic communications into his half-baked mass termination scheme, and that was his undoing. It caused Martin and his co-conspirators considerable consternation when I responded to his mass termination threat with a campus-wide email message titled, “A Grinchy Christmas Present from Chancellor Martin.” The goal of my email was to humorously ridicule the illogic of Martin’s farcical budget crisis. Whether or not it was as humorous as I hoped, I can state with certainty that “A Grinchy Christmas Present” did get under Chancellor Martin’s skin. Pre-trial discovery revealed (astoundingly!) a SWAT Team operational plan that quoted “A Grinchy Christmas Present” in its entirety.

Let this be a warning to authors of sarcastic email messages: beware of temperamental administrators who summon SWAT Teams to drain the ink from your poison pens.

To put it mildly, the numbers of former Chancellor Martin’s budget crisis did not add up. It took no more than a passing glance at Martin’s budget crisis spreadsheet to see that, in reality, CSU-Pueblo had a budget surplus rather than a deficit. As one might guess, Martin was not happy when I blasted that particular tidbit to the entire campus community.

Martin and his co-conspirators finally lost it when I circulated a campus-wide email under the subject line, “The Children of Ludlow.” For those unacquainted with southern Colorado labor history, “The Children of Ludlow” references the Ludlow Massacre, one of the bloodiest attacks on labor activists in American history. In the email, I drew comparisons between the thugs who murdered Ludlow strikers in 1914 and the thugs 100 years hence who were terrorizing CSU-Pueblo’s faculty and staff.

Moments after I circulated “The Children of Ludlow,” my office computer became unresponsive. Apparently, after glancing at “The Children of Ludlow,” Johnna Doyle, CSU-Pueblo’s flunkie university attorney–who, by the way, has zero knowledge of First Amendment law–instructed IT staff to deactivate my campus computer account. The fact that Johnna Doyle’s decision to deactivate my computer violated the letter and spirit of university policy was irrelevant to Doyle. From Johnna Doyle’s perspective, the metaphors that I employed in “The Children of Ludlow” established sufficient grounds to terminate my campus computer account.

Realizing that they may have overstepped, 72 hours after deactivating my computer account, Johnna Doyle and Lesley DiMare reactivated my account so that I could access essential teaching materials. Doyle and DiMare, however, refused to reactivate my ability to circulate campus-wide email messages. From their perspective, I had employed mass email to spread a little too much truth about former Chancellor Martin’s bogus budget crisis. Even though they lacked any legal justification to do so, Doyle, DiMare and Martin decided to flex their administrative muscles by silencing the most effective means to critique their diabolical plans.

The good news is that I and my colleagues foiled former Chancellor Martin’s mass termination plan. Indeed, CSU-Pueblo’s financial outlook improved remarkably immediately after the Board of Governors terminated Chancellor Martin.

The Colorado State University System did its best to bog down my First Amendment suit. For those who file lawsuits against large, well-resourced organizations, the wheels of justice can turn very slowly. Ponderous as the legal process may be, after nearly 4 years of obfuscation and delay, my attorneys finally managed to establish a firm trial date. As the prospect of airing the CSU System’s dirty laundry became a reality, the CSU System buckled and agreed to settle my lawsuit on terms dictated by me and my attorneys.

It was a mighty long road, but, in an era when professors are being terminated for innocuous Facebook posts, it is desperately important for all citizens to fight and win First Amendment battles. Sure, it can be daunting to square off against well-resourced, malevolent organizations, but imagine the alternative. If we don’t want the Michael Martins of the world to terrorize our hard-working colleagues, then sometimes we have to honor the memory of The Children of Ludlow and fight the good fight.

 

 


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