A college in Iowa has agreed to pay $25,000 to an adjunct professor who resigned after media coverage of controversial social media posts in which he indicated support for the militant leftist movement Antifa and a desire for “revenge” against evangelical Christians.
Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids confirmed that it has agreed to a settlement with former English professor Jeff Klinzman to avoid a First Amendment lawsuit over his departure from the school last August after concerns were raised about his controversial Facebook comments.
“Kirkwood Community College has reached a settlement agreement with former adjunct professor Jeffrey Klinzman, who disputed the circumstances surrounding his own resignation last summer,” according to a statement published by The Gazette.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for free speech rights on campuses, provided legal representation for Klinzman following his departure.
The advocacy group reports that the agreement was finalized last Friday. According to FIRE, the $25,000 settlement equals the approximate amount the college would have paid Klinzman to continue teaching for over three and a half years. Klinzman has served as an adjunct English professor at Kirkwood since 2010.
He resigned following a report from KCRG highlighting concerns on campus with the professor’s online rhetoric about President Donald Trump, Christians and Antifa.
Antifa is a movement made up of leftwing anti-fascist groups who aggressively oppose what they view as authoritarian movements and groups. At times, Antifa groups and actors have turned violent and engaged in confrontations with far-right protesters.
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In response to a tweet from Donald Trump calling Antifa a group of “radical left wackjobs” who hit people with baseball bats, Klinzman wrote on the “Iowa Antifa” page: “Yeah, I know who I'd clock with a bat,” according to KCRG, an ABC affiliate.
KCRG researched previous comments that Klinzman wrote on Facebook over the years, such as one post expressing a desire to “stop evangelical Christians.”
Klinzman reportedly posted a poem that reads: “Kill them all and bury them deep in the ground.”
“It's not pretty, and I'm not proud, but seeing what evangelical Christians are doing to this county and its people fills me with rage, and a desire to exact revenge,” Klinzman reportedly wrote online.
When asked about his Antifa comments, he told the news outlet in an email that "I affirm that I am Antifa.’”
Days after initially declining to comment to KCRG about the professor’s comments, the college issued a statement explaining that the decision to remove Klinzman from the classroom was made not because of the “substance of [Klinzman’s] views.” The school claimed at the time that the decision was made as a safety precaution following threats made to the college.
FIRE and Klinzman claim in a press release that Kirkwood administrators asked the adjunct professor to resign or be removed from his position after receiving complaints about his posts as coverage spread in conservative media outlets. He resigned to avoid being fired, the press release explains.
“My struggle with Kirkwood was never about money, but about protecting my right as a college faculty member to exercise extramural free speech,” Klinzman said in a statement. “I served my colleagues and students at Kirkwood for over 16 years, and wish the college had agreed to reinstate me.”
The college contends that the settlement agreement that was reached by both parties via a mediator in early March “does not render a decision about the circumstances surrounding Mr. Klinzman’s resignation.”
“Rather, it calls for a modest monetary payment to Mr. Klinzman with the stipulation that he shall not seek future employment at Kirkwood,” Kirkwood noted.
In its statement to KCRG, Kirkwood officials claim he resigned on his own volition. Kirkwood contends that the legal settlement “avoids potentially lengthy and costly litigation to defend itself and can keep its attention focused on educating students.”
“Kirkwood is pleased to put this matter behind the institution as it moves forward with its continued commitment to creating a learning environment where free speech and academic freedom can thrive.”
Klinzman thanked FIRE for “making sure the college had to pay a price for trampling on my free speech rights.”
“Public colleges simply cannot fire professors because a small, vocal group of people online get upset,” FIRE staff attorney Greg Harold Greubel said in a statement. “We are grateful that we were able to work with Kirkwood to resolve this matter and secure a good result for Jeff.”
FIRE contends that Klinzman’s posts are protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. FIRE argues that public schools can’t punish professors for remarks made as public citizens nor can First Amendment rights be “sacrificed at the altar of public outrage.”
“Ultimately, this is a victory for Jeff,” Greubel added. “More broadly, we hope that Jeff’s story will remind colleges that all of their professors have the right to express their political opinions online, and FIRE will be ready to act if colleges violate those expressive rights.”
FIRE has represented clients with varying political views from fraternities to animal rights clubs. It has also represented Christian student groups denied official status on college campuses and voiced support for pro-life students who have been censored on campus.