Caveat Magister: Even Medical Professors Must Not Say Politically Incorrect Things

How far has the United States gone down the road of punishing people for uttering politically incorrect thoughts? Very far indeed, as an incident at the University of Louisville shows. Yes, we know that faculty in the “soft” fields of the social sciences endanger their careers if they happen to say something that upsets someone of “progressive” sensibilities, but the Louisville case involves a (formerly) esteemed medical school professor.

Evidently, no one is safe from the PC enforcers.

Dr. Allan Josephson has been in medical practice since 1976, specializing in childhood psychology.  In 2003, has was chosen to be the chief of the University of Louisville Medical School’s Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychology. Over the years, he greatly improved the reputation of the Division, enlarging its faculty, securing grants, expanding programs, and serving more patients. He published extensively and his annual reviews were flawless.

But in the autumn of 2017, the university’s previously cordial relationship with Josephson took a U-turn when medical school officials learned that he had spoken about gender dysphoria in youth at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation.

Josephson was one of three panelists. In his remarks, which are cited in the complaint he has filed against the university, he said that “Gender dysphoria is a socio-cultural, psychological phenomenon and cannot be fully addressed through medicine and surgery,” that the current treatment “neglects the developmental needs of children and relies on ideas that are not true,” that “the notion that gender identity should trump chromosomes, hormones, reproductive organs…when classifying individuals is counter to medical science,” and that “transgender ideology neglects the child’s need for developing coping and problem-solving skills necessary to meet developmental challenges.”

In sum, Josephson, along with the other two panelists, dissented from the idea that children expressing gender dysphoria should be accommodated (such as being allowed to use locker rooms of their preferred rather than their biological sex) and treated with puberty-blocking drugs.

Subsequently, Heritage published a record of the event and it came to the attention of two officials at Louisville’s LGBT Center. While not medical doctors, those individuals strenuously objected to Josephson’s remarks and contacted Christine Brady, an assistant professor in the Division. The two LGBT officials demanded to know what punitive action the Division would take against Josephson.

Now that he was the focus of attention, Josephson’s opponents dug and found that his “offenses” weren’t limited to his remarks at the Heritage event, but that he had also served as an expert witness in some legal cases, arguing against the prevailing ideology about gender dysphoria. That spurred Brady to meet with Josephson in November 2017.

At the meeting, Brady declared that Josephson was “hostile” to treating gender dysphoria and couldn’t be trusted with gender dysphoria patients—even though she had only three years of clinical experience, compared to Josephson’s 35. She further claimed that Josephson was guilty of “discrimination” against children claiming gender dysphoria because of his belief that young children lack the cognitive maturity to say that he or she is “really” a member of the opposite sex.

To the LGBT people, Brady, and several other university officials, Josephson was wrong.  They weren’t interested in understanding why he held the ideas he did and certainly not in respecting his expertise. They regarded him as persona non grata and set about punishing him for holding incorrect views about gender dysphoria. One professor demanded that he apologize to the university for his expert testimony and his Heritage remarks and that he hire a public relations firm to counter the “damage” he had done.

Supposedly erroneous views aren’t countered with reason but are crushed with power.

Late in November, two of the university officials decided to demote Josephson from division chief. A letter was sent to him instructing him to submit his resignation by December 4th. The grounds given for this demand was that “the majority of Division faculty disagrees with your approach to management of children and adolescents with gender dysphoria.”

Science and medicine have always advanced on the basis of evidence, not majority belief, but that has changed in our era of political correctness. Supposedly erroneous views aren’t countered with reason but are crushed with power.

Josephson did submit the forced resignation letter but stayed on to fulfill his contract. For the next year, he suffered repeated disparagement and humiliation at the hands of the defendants. His salary was reduced, his travel budget slashed, he was stripped of all leadership activities in the Division, and his workload increased to a level commensurate with junior faculty status.

Nevertheless, Josephson continued doggedly working in the division until February 25th of this year. On that date, he was summoned to the office of Jennifer Le, who had taken over as division chief. He thought the reason for the meeting was to discuss his 2018 evaluation but instead found that the meeting had a different purpose. He was informed that his contract would not be renewed after it expired on June 30th. When Josephson asked why, he was merely told that the Division had “decided to go in a different direction.”

Never once during Josephson’s career at Louisville had the school refused to renew the contract of a faculty member in the Division. But he had made enemies who were intent on getting rid of him. His medical judgment put him on the wrong side of an ideological divide and therefore his presence on the faculty was no longer tolerable.

In their zeal to punish Josephson, however, the university officials involved forgot to consider the possible legal consequences. A public institution, the University of Louisville is obliged to respect the constitutional rights of individuals. With the aid of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), Josephson has filed suit against the university, arguing that its treatment of him violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The First Amendment does not allow public officials to take retaliatory action against an employee just because those officials dislike the content of that employee’s speech. Also, by punishing Josephson under vague and overly broad standards, the university has violated his right to due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Josephson is asking for a renewal of his contract and reinstatement as division chief, that his personnel file be purged of references to his demotion and firing, for compensatory and punitive damages for the violation of his rights, and for his legal fees and costs. ADF has successfully brought many other suits against public universities for violating the rights of students and professors and eagerly took this one.

“Universities are supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, but the University of Louisville is turning itself into an assembly line of one thought,” ADF senior counsel Travis Barham said.

The complaint demands a jury trial, and if the case goes before one, there’s a strong likelihood that the “let’s get rid of this heretic” mentality of several university officials will cost the school a great deal of money.

Teachers shouldn’t have to be wary about what they say, but in America these days, they do.

George Leef is the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.