What Can Professors Say in Public? Extramural Speech and the First Amendment

39 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2022

See all articles by Keith E. Whittington

Keith E. Whittington

Princeton University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: October 18, 2022


Since the early twentieth century, academics have urged universities to recognize robust protections for the freedom of professors to speak in public on matters of political, social, and economic controversy, so-called “extramural speech.” The U.S. Supreme Court eventually recognized First Amendment protections for government employees, including state university professors, who express themselves about matters of public concern. The Court has indicated that the state should be especially solicitous of the speech of government employees in an academic context, but it has not adequately elaborated on the nature of those protections and how courts and government employers should assess the state’s interests relative to the extramural speech of professors employed at public universities.

This article describes the state of the existing principles and doctrine surrounding extramural speech and examines the factors that private and public universities can reasonably take into consideration when responding to such speech – and what rationales for suppressing such speech or sanctioning faculty for engaging in such speech are inappropriate. Controversies surrounding the public speech of university faculty have only become more common and more intense in recent years, and both public and private universities need to be more self-conscious about the risk of stifling the intellectual environment of universities and chilling unpopular speech when responding to such controversies. If First Amendment values are particularly weighty in the context of the marketplace of ideas on university campuses, then many of the rationales for disciplining government employees for controversial speech that may make sense in some governmental workplaces should be rejected if applied in the university context.

Keywords: government employee speech, academic freedom, First Amendment, Pickering, extramural speech

Suggested Citation

Whittington, Keith E., What Can Professors Say in Public? Extramural Speech and the First Amendment (October 18, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4251803 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4251803

Keith E. Whittington (Contact Author)

Princeton University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Corwin Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1012
United States
609-258-3453 (Phone)
609-258-1110 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.princeton.edu/~kewhitt/

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