For professors, speaking engagements outside of the classroom are a common occurrence. Lectures, conferences, and panel discussions are excellent opportunities to share ideas and engage with others on important issues.
And after all, isn’t the discussion of ideas what academia is all about?
Unfortunately, the answer to that question is sometimes no: not all professional views are always welcome. And Dr. Allan Josephson, a distinguished professor at the University of Louisville, found out the hard way that his professional views were not welcome at his school. Read more about his case below.
Who is Dr. Allan Josephson?
Dr. Josephson was the Division Chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Louisville for nearly 15 years. When he arrived at the school in 2003, he took over a struggling program. But after many years of careful research and hard work, he helped it become nationally renowned, and the university greatly benefited from his work.
But sadly, Dr. Josephson’s amazing career at the University of Louisville came to an unexpected end.
In October 2017, Dr. Josephson contributed to a panel discussion on gender dysphoria at the Heritage Foundation, a well-known think tank in Washington, D.C. There, Dr. Josephson expressed his professional view on treatments for childhood gender dysphoria.
What Dr. Josephson said on this panel led to his firing from the university. What could he have possibly said to elicit such a reaction?
Dr. Josephson expressed his view that medical professionals should seek to understand and treat the psychological issues that often cause this confusion, rather than rushing children into more radical, aggressive treatments like puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones.
Speaking as a psychiatrist with over 35 years of experience, Dr. Josephson argued that children are not mature enough to make permanent, life-altering decisions of any kind, let alone medical ones such as this. And as other professionals in the field have pointed out, 80 to 95 percent of children who say they experience gender dysphoria naturally come to accept their biological sex over time.
This made some university faculty and staff members very unhappy with Dr. Josephson.
It did not matter that his statements at the Heritage Foundation were backed with science. Nor did it matter that Dr. Josephson was expressing his personal views as an experienced professional at an off-campus event.
Just a few weeks after the panel discussion, Dr. Josephson was demoted to the role of a junior faculty member. For the next year he was subjected to a hostile environment and belittling assignments. Then in February 2019, the university informed him that it would not renew his contract.
Dr. Josephson was fired for what he said.
As Dr. Josephson points out, some in the scientific community are silencing professionals like himself on this topic in a way that would not occur in other fields.
Children who experience gender dysphoria need help. But as the medical community debates how best to treat these children, silencing professionals like Dr. Josephson helps no one. Dr. Josephson’s colleagues have a right to disagree with his professional views. But Dr. Josephson has a right to express those views.
“Universities should welcome differing viewpoints and encourage civil discourse in their academic communities,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “Speaking with conservative groups—or holding conservative views—should not be disqualifying for academic service. Unfortunately, the University of Louisville’s attempts to silence Dr. Josephson shut down debate and do a disservice to students and faculty alike.”
That’s why ADF filed a complaint in federal court to defend the rights of Dr. Josephson and other professors like him. Dr. Josephson is an expert in his field. He was simply contributing to the public discussion on an important issue and trying to help people in doing so. Publicly funded universities aren’t required to praise Dr. Josephson for his views, but they should be prohibited from punishing him.
What's at stake?
The First Amendment guarantees to every American the fundamental right to speak freely. And government entities, including public universities like the University of Louisville, cannot violate that right.
Dr. Josephson was effectively fired for what he said. The university even admitted that he was an excellent employee who was being removed simply because his colleagues disagreed with his viewpoints on treating children with gender dysphoria. That is both wrong and unconstitutional.
- October 2017: Dr. Josephson participated in a panel discussion on gender dysphoria, speaking in his personal capacity.
- February 2019: The University of Louisville informed Dr. Josephson that it would not renew his contract.
- March 2019: ADF attorneys filed a federal lawsuit against University of Louisville officials on behalf of Dr. Josephson.
The bottom line
Public universities cannot punish or fire professors simply for expressing views with which their colleagues disagree.
Learn more about Dr. Allan Josephson's case:
Dr. Josephson, his ADF attorney, and others speak about the importance of the case:
Dr. Josephson discusses the issue of gender dysphoria: