University of Pittsburgh Violates First Amendment
Pittsburgh, PA December 17, 2020 – The Center for Individual Rights filed a lawsuit on December 15 on behalf of Dr. Norman Wang, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who was removed from his administrative position and teaching duties at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in response to a research paper that he wrote on race-conscious selection policies in the medical field.
Wang is an accomplished physician and scholar working in electrophysiology. Since 2008, he has been a faculty member at the Pitt School of Medicine. Beginning in 2017, he served as program director of the Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology Fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), a closely affiliated corporation. As a scholar, he has written and contributed to dozens of articles for peer-reviewed scientific and academic journals.
In March, Wang published an article in the Journal of the American Heart Association (JAHA) that analyzed the history and development of the use of racial preferences in medical education. The paper documented a recent push to expand the use of racial preferences in ways that likely violate the Constitution and federal anti-discrimination law. It further argued that the use of racial preferences has not succeeded in producing desired diversity goals for certain racial and ethnic minorities and that preferences often harm the people they are designed to help.
Months went by without any substantive reaction to the article from leaders at Pitt. But in late July and early August, as the article began attracting attention from Pitt faculty and Twitter activists, leadership took disciplinary action against Wang. On July 31, Samir Saba, the Chief of the Cardiology Division in the School of Medicine, met with him to discuss his article and his views on racial preferences. Wang stood by the views he expressed in his paper.
Saba removed Wang from his program director position, explaining in an email to Wang that “the views expressed in [his] paper are incompatible with [his] ability to function in a leadership position within [the Heart and Vascular Institute].” Wang was later prohibited from having contacts with any Pitt medical students, residents, or fellows. He was told that his beliefs make any educational environment in which he participates “inherently unsafe.”
Faculty and administrators began to publicly attack Wang’s scholarship, accusing him of being racist and of academic dishonesty. Administrators sent a series of emails to the University of Pittsburgh community condemning Wang’s article. The school’s Dean of Medicine, Anantha Shekhar, described the article as “against equity and inclusivity.” The Chairman of the Department of Medicine, Mark Gladwin, wrote to faculty that Wang’s article was “antithetical to [Pitt’s] values.”
Around the same time, Wang’s article was targeted for censorship by social media activists, including Pitt faculty. Users called upon the JAHA to remove Wang’s article under the hashtags #RetractRacists and #MedRacism. These hashtags have been used by activists to target academic journals that publish content perceived to be inconsistent with what is sometimes called “woke” sensibilities with the aim of having the articles retracted.
Currently unidentified faculty at University of Pittsburgh and the UPMC also contacted the JAHA and demanded that the journal retract Wang’s article. The authors raised unsupported allegations that Wang’s article contained “misconceptions and misquotes.” The JAHA promptly withdrew the article and committed to publishing a detailed rebuttal in its place. It subsequently published an editorial by University of Pittsburgh colleague, Marc Simon, that accused Wang of misrepresenting sources.
CIR has brought suit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, challenging the employment actions taken against Wang under the First Amendment. The University of Pittsburgh is a public institution and may not take adverse employment actions against professors merely for the political views that they express.
CIR is also suing the university, several administrators, and the American Heart Association for libeling Wang, alleging that his article misquoted and misrepresented sources. These false claims have tarnished Wang’s reputation as a scholar in a large and influential academic community.
More about this case: