FAU Threatens to Make Jobless Anyone Inquiring about Sandy Hook, Destroying a Professor’s Academic Career in the Process
In January 2016, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) wrongfully terminated Professor James Tracy, a fully tenured professor as a retaliatory measure for questioning details of the Sandy Hook shooting event. FAU breached their contract and conspired against a man for merely exercising his constitutionally protected right to free speech on his personal blog. Their acts effectively destroyed his academic career. This article was written using the text of the lawsuit filed by Professor Tracy’s counsel as the primary source. A link to the complaint is provided above.
Before Sandy Hook, no faculty member had even been disciplined let alone terminated for blogging by FAU. Something about Sandy Hook inspired FAU to curtail academic freedom and compromise its principles. They made efforts to silence a faculty member whom they eventually fired without just cause. For God’s sake, they claim the firing was over a paperwork snafu! Tenure and reputation be damned.
Professor James F. Tracy has a Ph.D. in mass communications and, beginning in 2002 taught at Florida Atlantic University’s School of Communications and Multimedia Studies. The school awarded him tenure in 2008. Professor Tracy taught media studies courses such as “Culture of Conspiracy.” He was understood to be a media critic with a duty to teach about media propaganda and even media hoaxes.
Through a drawn‐out process involving breaking protocol, back‐room deals, misdirection and deception Professor Tracy was terminated. The reason cited was his failure as an employee to submit “Outside Activities” forms detailing the activities on his personal blog.
One of the most key points to consider is that, the university’s policies specify thekinds of activities that must be reported. It does NOT list any form of uncompensated or personal expression. Speech and expression are constitutionally protected in America, meaning not subject to evaluation,
monitoring or restriction.
Further on, we’ll learn how FAU, United Faculty of Florida (UFF) and Florida Education Association (FEA) kept moving the goal‐posts right to the very end, preventing compliance, guaranteeing the termination and preventing any appeal.
Questioning Sandy Hook Struck a Nerve
The University’s actions look to be part of a coordinated effort. What Professor James Tracy was presenting on his blog must have struck a nerve. It began when the media and the purported Sandy Hook victims’ family members stirred up a dubious controversy. Through misquoting, derogatory phrasing and false statements a monster was made of Tracy, one that didn’t care about murdered children and liked to harass grieving families.
Professional Internet trolls and establishment media pundits worked together to build a false controversy that didn’t exist. They manipulated the general public into thinking it was wrong for a professor of media studies to question the media’s reporting. They promoted the idea that a university professor shouldn’t share unpopular views on a personal blog. Most ridiculous of all, many objected to a professor of media studies being allowed to teach what they deemed “conspiracies” at a tax‐payer funded school.
Even Anderson Cooper brutally condemned Professor Tracy on CNN. That provided FAU with enough cover to make demands that weren’t just unreasonable, but unconstitutional. Some would even say, impossible. At an FAU Senate Faculty meeting in September 2015, a constitutional law professor stated to the assembly,
…if you read the language in our collective bargaining [agreement] about outside activity, it says that…we have to report all professional‐related activity paid or unpaid if it’s not part of our assignments. No one knows what that means. The deans don’t know what this means. Faculty supervisors don’t know what this means.
It’s possible that the plotters didn’t consider all the procedural and legal aspects of the plot. But their short term goal may only have been to denigrate Professor Tracy and discourage people from questioning Sandy Hook. A review of their actions in a trial setting would very likely reveal numerous contract and rights violations. But without any media attention directed to it, that would be a small price to pay.
Parties to the Conspiracy
Technically, the person most responsible for the violation of rights and wrongful termination of Professor Tracy is John W. Kelly, President and CEO of FAU. As President, Kelly’s duties include overseeing implementation of policies, the disciplining of and termination of faculty members. It’s unlikely that Kelly was unaware of the conspiracy to retaliate against Professor Tracy when so much of the activity took place under his leadership.
Former university President, Mary Jane Saunders is certainly no angel either. Consider her instructions for handling communications regarding the conspiracy against Professor Tracy. Heather Coltman, the Dean of FAU took notes during a meeting of the administration in 2013. Those notes show Saunders instructing that everything should be “centrally handled” and “no email on this.”
“No email” would ensure that the contents of their communications wouldn’t be accessible through a Freedom of Information Act request. Does that seem like the behavior of an administration confident that their actions are within policy guidelines, and lawful? It seems more likely they anticipated breaking the rules and possibly the law in handling the matter.
Under the heading, “1st Amendment” in Coltman’s notes it reads, “find winning metaphors.” So the intent to violate Professor Tracy’s free speech rights was shown right from the start. That is, if the “metaphors” being sought were of scenarios justifying suppression of unpopular speech.
Dean of FAU, Heather Coltman again displayed a disregard for free speech rights in a January 2013 meeting with Professor Tracy. In it, she and Associate Provost of FAU, Diane Alperin strongly discouraged Professor Tracy from communicating publicly about the Sandy Hook event.
That marked the first time that “Outside Activities” forms were introduced relative to the story as well. Professor Tracy was instructed by Coltman and Alperin to complete the forms to account for his personal blogging activity.
Professor Tracy was supported by a representative from the United Faculty of Florida and Florida Education Association during that meeting. When the “Outside Activities” forms directive was given, the representative rejected it stating that Tracy’s personal blogging was protected free speech and not a reportable outside activity. As such, it couldn’t be evaluated, monitored or restricted by the University.
As straight forward as that seems, the firing of Professor Tracy years later was absolutely attributed to his failing (or refusal) to submit those forms. At no time did it matter to FAU that Professor Tracy wasn’t even required to submit them, based on their own policies.
With Friends Like These…
The United Faculty of Florida and Florida Education Association purport to represent faculty and provide counsel when a faculty member has a dispute with the university. Professor Tracy was provided counsel by Michael Moats, Service Unit Director of United Faculty of Florida. He also sought advice from Robert
Zoeller Jr., President of United Faculty of Florida.
The assumption one makes in considering the counsel offered by union reps is that it is beneficial. It might cross the mind that it could possibly be detrimental, but most would think that unlikely. Who could even imagine that union reps might be conspiring with the employer against the employee?! That is likely what took place in this case and what makes the whole affair that much more egregious.
The UFF had previously advised Professor Tracy not to submit any “Outside Activities” forms in relation to his personal blog activity. His own department head said the forms should “…only be completed in situations where ‘outside employment income’ is being received by the employee.”
In November 2015, Zoeller advised Professor Tracy to comply with the University’s instructions to submit the forms, assuring him that both UFF and FEA would file grievances on his behalf afterward. The next day he emailed, adding, “I’ve always been advised [by] those more experienced in these matters to sign
now and fight after.”
The 2015 Notice of Discipline
Later the same day, FAU issued Professor Tracy a Notice of Discipline with further instructions to submit “Outside Activities” forms for years 2013‐2016. Tracy then wrote to Zoeller, requesting counsel and representation. Zoeller responded that Tracy should submit the forms under duress and they will fight the discipline notice later.
Professor Tracy responded to FAU by objecting to unconstitutional threats of disciplinary action and by requesting the reprimand be removed from his file. His response was also sent to Zoeller and others at UFF and FEA. Two days later Professor Tracy contacted Zoeller at UFF and FEA staff requesting that they file a grievance for the Notice of Discipline.
In December 2015, Professor Tracy learned that all the relevant parties from UFF, FEA and FAU had met at length only days earlier without his knowledge. Zoeller responded with, “It was our collective decision that your situation is not grievable.”
It is asserted in the lawsuit filed by Professor Tracy that by December of 2015 Robert Zoeller Jr., Michael Moats, representatives and agents of UFF and FEA entered into an understanding with FAU officials that he would be disciplined and terminated for his personal blogging. So, all that talk of filing a grievance was either total incompetency or simply a trap.
On December 11, 2015, Heather Coltman notified Professor Tracy again that he should submit the forms to account for his blogging for the prior 4 years or face further disciplining, up to and including termination. In response, Tracy finally acquiesced and submitted the forms requested, under duress. Coltman forwarded the forms to Diane Alperin and lawyers at FAU.
Notice of Intent to Terminate
The next day, FAU issued a Notice of Intent to Terminate Professor Tracy. They cited failure to submit timely “Outside Activity” forms for his personal blogging. Assuming that I have the correct chronology, it seems a bitter irony that the University only expressed their interest in firing Professor Tracy the day after he complied with their demand.
Right away Professor Tracy contacted Zoeller requesting that a grievance be filed on his behalf. Zoeller responded in part, “We need to start on the grievance process ASAP.” Here’s the rub. A grievance had to be filed before January 6th in order to stay the termination and begin grievance proceedings.
The next day, ‘Benedict Arnold’ Zoeller met with General Counsel at FAU and agreed that UFF and FEA would help FAU secure Tracy’s termination, or resignation.
It seems this was the point at which the facade was dropped and the two‐faced nature of Zoeller and Moats was open for all to see. While Zoeller was making the deal with FAU, Moats was on the phone with Tracy condemning him for not submitting those darn forms earlier. He pressured Tracy to resign to avoid termination and said only to speak with his “defense” team.
The following day, Moats emailed Tracy a notice that another representative had been retained for his case in a county 200 miles from FAU. But Moats also assured him that UFF and FEA would be responding to the Intent to Terminate before the deadline, which would delay or even reverse the termination.
Moats then sends a devastating email that makes clear his representation may have been counter‐productive all along. It read in part, “More importantly, you know that the university is not terminating you over free speech issues. Your refusal to properly complete required documents gave them another – likely valid – reason to terminate.”
It’s a little like your wife of ten years saying, “You know damn well that our marriage was just my key to citizenship!” It indicated that he had flip‐flopped on his earlier expressed view that personal blogging wasn’t a reportable activity. It was also written in a way that seemed scripted. It was certainly a convenient change of heart for FAU, and by extension the Sandy Hook myth.
In response, Professor Tracy forwarded to Moats a February 2013 response to FAU’s demand that he submit the “Outside Activity” forms which Moats had helped him to prepare! Moats cited freedom of speech as the defense against their demands.
Ultimately, UFF and FEA both failed to respond to the Notice of Intent to Terminate before the deadline, as promised. Professor Tracy was terminated by default on January 6th, 2016. Through the new representative retained for Tracy, UFF and FEA gave the following reason for not responding to the termination notice…
“Nothing we could have said would have satisfied them, so there was no reason to put anything on the record to use against us later.”
That excuse is plainly unprofessional and dismissive. First of all, a man’s very career was at stake. But apparently that wasn’t “…reason…” enough “…to put anything on the record…” Their claim to have acted to protect “…us…” is insulting and doesn’t even make sense.
The Media Chose to Support the University. Why?
Mentioned earlier as being the start of this plot, a dubious controversy was first manufactured. The controversy was multifaceted. First and foremost was the need to demonize Professor Tracy. Secondly, the right to free speech had to be shaved down just a little. The public had to ideally feel free to call for censorship of people sharing their doubts about Sandy Hook.
Thirdly, the institution of tenure had to be disregarded somewhat. That would reduce the chance that their firing of a tenured professor might trigger principled opposition.
Last, and most importantly, anyone with a disposition similar to that of James Tracy had to be discouraged from questioning Sandy Hook, as Tracy did. The establishment fear men like Tracy. Ironically, the media’s recent uncontrollable giggling and snickering at him was most likely to misdirect the public. It’s about as unsophisticated as the old, “look over there!” ploy. The media’s eagerness to ruin Tracy’s reputation indicates that there was a reputation there to ruin.
But let’s return to the plot details. The intent was likely to fire Tracy as punishment for, what are essentially thought crimes and positing undesirable theories about Sandy Hook. This would stop Tracy’s momentum, prevent his ideas from flourishing in an academic setting and discourage any further criticism of the Sandy Hook event.
The Pending Lawsuit
Some might argue the damage has been done. I agree that some of the damage is irreparable, especially damage to reputation. Nonetheless, there are many unresolved matters and injustices that demand resolution and rectification.
Dr. James Tracy and his counsel filed an amended complaint with the US District Court, Southern District of Florida on 12/28/2016. The lawsuit demands a jury trial and outlines a very clear case of conspiracy to deny the rights of a university faculty member. Despite having many doubts in the US justice system, I think the case presented is extremely thorough and compelling. Presenting a defense against these clearly outlined offenses is difficult to imagine.
The defendants may simply concede to all or most of the courts judgments rather than mount a difficult defense. After all, the minimal reputational damage from losing this trial will be reduced further by a total media black‐out. The news will get tough with FAU sometimes, just not when Sandy Hook is involved. Even to reinstate Professor Tracy wouldn’t require eating even one crow.
What remains uncertain is how and when the media will be held liable for their far more prominent role in the conspiracy.
Shame On Us
Shame on us for not grasping the significance of the conspiracy against Professor Tracy and doing more to address it when the story was making headlines. I don’t mean to disparage anyone in particular and don’t want to lay a guilt trip on anyone. I’m simply saying that, given the hindsight we now have it would have made good sense to tackle the issue head on. It would have likely advanced the cause of Sandy Hook investigation. At minimum it might have saved Professor Tracy’s job.
The upside of the story is that, James Tracy is likely the ideal person to face the challenges posed by all of this. He has shown patience and reason throughout, and will likely stand firm despite the dirty tricks the opposition is so inclined to engage in.
Even after all the damage done so far, it’s not too late to provide some assistance or support for James Tracy’s legal battle and greater cause. I’m sure your financial donations to the legal fund are no less appreciated. And I’m sure that contributing your expertise, useful service, inside information or even armchair suggestions would be appreciated as well. The relevant contact information and links for making a contribution are provided at the top of this article.
Make the time to check in on the progress of this ongoing conflict and pending lawsuit. On the basis of protecting free speech, resolving Sandy Hook, protecting tenure status, fixing the media among many other reasons, Professor Tracy’s fight is our fight.