The Foundation for Individual Rights on Thursday demanded that Linfield University immediately terminate an investigation into Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt, a professor of English who posted quotes and comments about English and business scholars on social media.
“While some may have found Dutt-Ballerstadt’s posts to be objectionable, they are clearly protected by Linfield’s promises of freedom of expression,” Sabrina Conza, a program officer at FIRE, wrote to Miles K. Davis, Linfield’s president. “Any reasonable faculty member would conclude from Linfield’s investigation into Dutt-Ballerstadt’s speech that their personal expressive rights are similarly jeopardized. In order to comport with the promises it makes its faculty, Linfield must immediately cease investigating Dutt-Ballerstadt for her protected speech and publicly reaffirm that faculty enjoy robust expressive rights.”
According to a lengthy public Twitter thread by Dutt-Ballerstadt (who is also an Inside Higher Ed opinion contributor and the editor of Inside Higher Ed’s “Conditionally Accepted”), Linfield’s human resources director sent her an email saying, “It is reported that a series of events took place in TJ Day Hall and on social media that were unprofessional to colleagues in the building. You have been named as the party involved in these actions.” The email said Linfield is securing an outside investigator to look into the matter, and that Dutt-Ballerstadt must participate in the inquiry.
Dutt-Ballerstadt said that she assumed the letter could only be referring to social media posts about quotes that she found earlier this month written on whiteboards in TJ Day Hall on campus, where English and business professors both teach. The quotes were as follows: “I was actually an English major,” attributed to Henry Paulson, former chair and CEO of Goldman Sachs and U.S. secretary of the treasury, and “Literature is unbelievably helpful, because no matter what business you are in, you are dealing with interpersonal relationships,” attributed to Michael Eisner, former chair and CEO of the Walt Disney Company.
Dutt-Ballerstadt had taken photos of the quotes and posted them to her personal Instagram account, saying, “This made my day. Yep, English majors rule @linfieldenglish.”
On her private Facebook page, Dutt-Ballerstadt posted the photos of the quotes again, saying, “Our English dept is in a building that is being taken over by the business department. So today I saw this! It made my day,” and “I bet our rather subversive students have found a way to promote being an English major right in front of the office for ‘School of Business.’” She also commented on her Facebook page, “The fine print here for the first quote should be, ‘I was a good humanitarian when I was an English major. Then when I studied business, I lost my soul and became a crook and learned how to steal from the 99% and enrich the pockets of the 1.,’”
Asked about the case, Scott Nelson, university spokesperson, said via email, “A faculty member filed a complaint against another faculty member alleging an unprofessional pattern of behavior involving multiple incidents. As it is obligated to do, the university notified the parties that a complaint had been made and that it would look into the allegations. As it is also obligated to do, the university doesn’t discuss confidential human resources processes in public. It is inaccurate to suggest, however, that the investigation is related to isolated social media posts, as has been suggested. Unfortunately, FIRE did not ask for confirmation or comment before posting its letter publicly.”
Dutt-Ballerstadt is a frequent critic of Linfield’s administration, including for how it’s handled high-profile sexual harassment cases against trustees and for the firing of her English department colleague Daniel Pollack-Pelzner. The former Ronni Lacroute Chair in Shakespeare Studies at Linfield, Pollack-Pelzner was terminated in 2021 after he publicly accused university officials of mishandling the sexual misconduct cases involving trustees and of anti-Semitism (Pollack-Pelzner is Jewish). Linfield accused Pollack-Pelzner of breaching his “duty” to the university. He’s now suing Linfield, saying he was retaliated against for being a whistle-blower, and the American Association of University Professors is investigating the circumstances of his dismissal.
On Twitter, Dutt-Ballerstadt said that Linfield’s “culture of abuse by intimidation and silencing needs to be seriously addressed to protect both faculty and our students.”
In an interview Thursday, Dutt-Ballerstadt said that she had no idea what “multiple incidents” Nelson was referencing, and if there really were any.
“So you’re telling me there’s a formal investigation that’s going to be taking place without you telling me what the investigation is about or how I’m involved in this?” she said of Linfield’s vague notification that she’s being investigated. “I find this letter to be part of a pattern of harassment against me, not the other way around. It’s part of a pattern of harassment to intimidate me and bully me into silence.”