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Rutgers professor violates University discrimination policy following racially-charged Facebook posts

James Livingston, professor in the Department of History, has been found guilty of violating University harassment and discrimination policy following a series of banned Facebook posts. – Photo by Photo by Facebook | The Daily Targum

James Livingston, a professor in the Department of History, has been found guilty of violating the University’s policy that prohibits discrimination and harassment, according to a 10-page investigation report made public by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

The investigation, led by the Rutgers Office of Employment Equity (OEE), follows “numerous complaints about the purported racist content of the posts” Livingston posted to his Facebook page earlier this summer, according to the investigation report.

No statement has been made at the moment as to what punishment, if any, Livingston will receive.

His first post made on May 31 details his trip to “Harlem Shake,” a casual New York City restaurant. Livingston describes his experience with disdain for the restaurant's caucasian customers. 

Facebook removed his post the following day for violating its Community Standards on hate speech, according to the report. This prompted the following response. 

“Professor Livingston explained during his OEE interview that he meant the post to be satirical, as it is obvious he cannot 'resign' from being white,” according to the report. “He stated that he only wished to convey his dismay at the gentrification of his neighborhood.”

The report noted that the public response was the cause for the investigation and includes media coverage of the event along with complaints directed to the University's administration and made anonymously through the Rutgers Compliance Hotline.

“All the complainants generally described Professor Livingston’s statements as ‘racist’ and demanded action from the University,” according to the report. “For example, one individual wrote, ‘I have 2 kids and I would never send them to a university that employs someone that has such a one-way attitude towards race.’ Another complainant emailed: ‘Racism is evil in all forms even when applied to your own race. His Caucasian students and parents should all be concerned.’”

OEE looked at two rubrics in determining whether Livingston violated University policy: First Amendment speech protections and the University’s policy. Should his speech fall beyond protected speech, the question turns to whether the statements did rise to the level of harassment or discrimination, according to the report. 

The report found that Livingston’s comments fell outside of First Amendment protected speech because they inflicted damage to the University’s reputation.

While his statements satisfied two prongs of the OEE analysis — public concern and speech made outside of his job duties — his speech was not afforded blanket protection and was weighed against its impact on the University’s mission, according to the report.

“It is reasonable to predict that the University’s core function of educating a diverse student body may be disrupted by Professor Livingston’s public statements,” the report stated. “Indeed, the disruption has already been felt, as the University has received numerous complaints about Professor Livingston’s 'racism.' His views have likewise been publicized and criticized by prominent media outlets." 

The report then considered Livingston’s statements against the University’s policy and found him in violation of it.

"Given Professor Livingston’s insistence on making disparaging racial comments, a reasonable student may have concerns that he or she would be stigmatized in his classes because of his or her race. As such, Professor Livingston’s comments violated University Policy," the report stated.

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