A group of prominent St. Joseph’s University alumni staged a small on-campus protest Friday, saying the university delivered a blow to academic freedom by choosing not to renew the contract of assistant professor Greg Manco. The protestors say that in addition to voicing their discontent, they plan to organize with other alumni to end donations, or plans to donate via their wills and estates, to the university.
After a small group of students complained in February that Manco authored Tweets they deemed to be racist, Manco was put under investigation by the university administration. In May, the months-long investigation concluded with “no determination” of wrongdoing. However, in July, the university dropped Manco’s year-to-year contract, which he had held continuously for 17 years, citing a re-evaluation of staffing needs.
“When they fire a professor who did nothing wrong, something’s really wrong with the university when that can happen,” said Chris Lehman, who organized the protest scheduled to coincide with a 50-year class reunion. “And, uh, I certainly hope that professor Manco will be rehired at a minimum. And if not, he ought to sue the pants off them.”
READ MORE — St. Joe’s drops contract for professor involved in free-speech controversy
Lehman served as a national security special assistant in the Reagan administration, and his brother, John, was secretary of the Navy. He said the number of protesters would have been bigger if not for COVID-related travel problems.
Those alumni who did descend on campus Friday say they’re contacting more like-minded graduates across the nation in hopes of convincing them to withhold donations to St. Joe’s.
So far, “there are at least six people I know of who have — not threatened — they’ve actually taken St Joe’s out of their will or their estate plan, and I know other people,” who are thinking of doing the same, Lehman said. “And I think when the school year starts and more students are around, hopefully some of the students will start paying attention because the fact is the teachers are, the professors are afraid to speak up because they’re afraid they’ll be doxed and accused of being a racist or, worse, getting fired.”
“Our alumni are welcome to direct their donations however and wherever they choose,” Gail Benner, a spokesperson for St. Joe’s said in response to a request for comment on the protest and threats to withhold donations.
The protesters supplied a letter from a Nevada alumus addressed to the university president saying he “will not be contributing the substantial six-figure amount I had in [my] estate plan to a university that allows and even participates actively in the take-down of a math professor who has done nothing wrong.”
Broad + Liberty is not naming that alumus or posting that letter because the individual’s identity and intent have not been verified.
A Nevada alumnus writes he ‘will not be contributing the substantial six-figure amount I had in [my] estate plan to a university that allows and even participates actively in the take-down of a math professor who has done nothing wrong.’
For years, Manco has anonymously operated the Twitter account @SouthJerzGiants.
A small number of students and former students flagged content on that account to the university as racist and revealed Manco as the author for Tweets published on Feb. 17th. The university removed Manco from his classroom duties two days later.
Manco has never deleted the Tweet or the account that ignited the issue.
Manco has continuously argued that the investigation was misguided, that removing him from the classroom for the duration of the investigation was against university policy, and that the entire ordeal was a death blow to his reputation.
On campus Friday, Lehman agreed with Manco and said that St. Joe’s has even misrepresented the findings of its investigation by publicly saying that they could come to “no determination.”
“I will tell you that the investigation report finds no evidence that he violated any university rule,” Lehman said. “I’ve seen the document. I know what’s in it…the fact is he was found innocent.”
Manco’s story has also caught the attention of Jonathan Turley, an attorney and frequent contributor on cable news.
“For other faculty members, the message could not be more clear: free speech rights will not protect you,” Turley wrote on his own website. “He will be viewed as damaged goods or a prohibitively high risk by any other school. The campaign to punish him for his opposing views will likely resume at any school considering him for a new position. Once tagged, you are shunned and sanctioned.”
‘For other faculty members, the message could not be more clear: free speech rights will not protect you…’
The spectre of a lawsuit by Manco is still hanging in the air, according to Lehman.
However, “Manco will face obvious challenges in any lawsuit,” Turley wrote.
“These are discretionary decisions and most courts do not want micromanage academic decision making. The university knows that. It wanted to avoid further controversy by terminating the academic. Problem solved. However, there remains a danger that a court could allow such a case to go to discovery and Manco could demand documents and depositions to expose any connection to his earlier investigation.”
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at tshepherd at broadandliberty.com, or use his encrypted email at shepherdreports at protonmail.com.