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MSU Settles Academic Freedom Lawsuit By: Steve Koehler
News-Leader.com | Monday, November 13, 2006

Missouri State University has settled a lawsuit brought by a former student who accused a faculty member and the school of violating her First Amendment rights.

Emily Brooker, who graduated from MSU last spring, will have her academic record cleared, be paid cash for her attorneys' fees and have her tuition fees waived for graduate school as part of the settlement.

In addition, her instructor, Frank G. Kauffman, will give up his administrative duties and be put on nonclassroom duties for the rest of the semester. 

He has not lost his job, MSU President Mike Nietzel said. "I expect him to be teaching in the spring," he said.

Kauffman could not be reached for comment at his home or office.

"We acted quickly on these allegations as soon as we became aware of them. It was a priority for this office," Nietzel said Wednesday after the settlement was announced.

In the complaint, Brooker alleges she faced a college ethics committee for allegedly violating the School of Social Works' "Standards of Essential Functioning in Social Work Education." She had refused to sign a letter supporting homosexual adoption.

Brooker, who has referred all questions to her attorneys, said in the suit that she faced a 2-1/2-hour interrogation by faculty members, who, according to the complaint, asked her personally invasive questions such as: "Do you think gays and lesbians are sinners?" and "Do you think I am a sinner?"

David French, director of the Alliance Defense Fund's Center for Academic Freedom, which filed the suit, could not be reached for comment but said last week that there is a growing trend of Christian students speaking out against ideological teachings in college classrooms.

"The university is supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, and professors should be tolerant of the opinions of Christian students as well as those of non-Christian students," French said.

The university responded last week with a statement that the school "has been and is committed to protecting the rights of its students, as well as its faculty and staff, including free speech and expression, and freedom of religion."

For the past week, Nietzel and Provost Belinda McCarthy have been interviewing people connected to the program.

"Although our investigation did not support all of the allegations made in the lawsuit, we were concerned about some of the actions that we did learn about," Nietzel said.

The investigation did confirm that the social work department has an ethics committee that conducts hearings like the one Brooker mentioned in her suit.

Nietzel said he was not aware of such a committee and as a result of that and other findings, he will commission an evaluation of the social work program by outside experts.

"It's important for current and prospective students, for potential employers and for the faculty and staff in the program to have confidence that the policies, procedures, leadership and delivery of the programs are up to par," he said.

The program's review could start in the spring, Nietzel said.

The president will also appoint an ad hoc committee to recommend ways for the university to better publicize and implement policies regarding freedom of speech and expression on campus.

"We have strong and effective grievance policies in place. We need to make sure that all members of the campus community are familiar with (them)."

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