Washington, D.C. – Facing the threat of a lawsuit, the University of Oklahoma agreed today to cancel all disciplinary proceedings against a professor charged with sexual harassment for a letter to the school newspaper. Several students and professors filed harassment charges against Professor David Deming after claiming his open letter on gun control increased “the potential danger . . . of sexual harassment and rape” on campus. Deming’s attorneys were minutes away yesterday from asking a federal court to protect his right to speak out on issues of public concern, when the University indicated it wanted to avoid litigation. The University’s General Counsel now concedes that “the First Amendment . . . would allow but one conclusion: The charges against Dr. Deming would have to be dismissed” in light of “fundamental individual liberties that are guaranteed by the Constitution.”
Michael McDonald of the Center for Individual Rights, which represents Deming, is not surprised. “The complaints against Professor Deming do not come within shooting distance of satisfying the legal definition of sexual harassment,” said McDonald. “Simply put, the University was attempting to punish Deming for his speech, and that the First Amendment clearly forbids.” Lead counsel Andrew Lester explained that “we were set to ask the court to block today’s disciplinary proceeding, because it would have had a chilling effect on Professor Deming’s freedom of speech, while also violating the University’s own disciplinary policies.” Mr. Lester is a partner at Lester, Loving & Davies in Edmond, Oklahoma.
Deming’s letter to the Oklahoma Daily was written in response to a reprinted column by Yale student Joni Kletter, who wrote that “easy access to a handgun allows everyone in this country . . . to quickly and easily kill as many random people as they want.” Deming’s letter, which mentioned only Ms. Kletter, pointed out that her “easy access to a vagina enables her to quickly and easily have sex with as many random people as she wants.” Deming added his hope that “Kletter is as responsible with her equipment as most gun owners are with theirs.”