Jewish groups are optimistic that this week’s Supreme Court decision requiring an appeals court to reconsider the case of City College of New York Professor Leonard Jeffries will result in his being stripped once again of the chairmanship of the Black Studies Department.
Jeffries, an outspoken black nationalist, has made public remarks denigrating Jews and Italians. He sued City College after he was demoted from his chairmanship following a controversial speech in 1991.
A federal appeals court in April upheld a lower court ruling which reinstated Jeffries on the grounds that the university had violated Jeffries’ First Amendment right to free speech.
In a two-sentence order issued Monday, the Supreme Court ordered the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of appeals to reconsider its decision in light of a decision by the high court last May that may allow public employers more latitude in firing employees whose speech disrupts the workplace.
City College, which is part of the City University of New York, is a public college.
“The board of the City University of New York had the right to strip Jeffries of his departmental chairmanship because of his outspoken racism and anti- Semitism,” said the American Jewish Committee, in a statement following the supreme Court decision.
The AJ Committee filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the City University of New York.
“In his role as departmental chair, Jeffries was a representative of the university. A university has the right not to be represented by a bigot. Today’s ruling is a positive step for the battle to combat bigotry on campus,” said the AJCommittee.
The controversy erupted in July 1991, after Jeffries gave a speech at the Empire State Black Arts and Cultural Festival in which he said that “rich Jews” financed the slave trade and that Jews in the film industry had conspired with Mafia figures to “put together a system of destruction of black people.”
City College then demoted him, although he remained a tenured professor.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Conboy ordered his reinstated as chairman, despite the school’s argument that Jeffries was demoted because of his poor administrative record and not because of the speech.
The jury in the case also awarded Jeffries $360,000 in damages.
The appeals court upheld his reinstatement, although it ordered a new trial on the amount of damages. The issue of damages was not before the Supreme Court.
Among the other groups which filed an amicus brief in the case was the Anti- Defamation League.
“We are optimistic that the final outcome of this case will be a court determination that Professor Jeffries does not have an unrestricted right, as a department chair at a public university, to deliver a message of bigotry and hate directly contrary to his employer’s mission,” said a statement issued by Robert Machleder, chairman of the ADL New York regional board, and Anita Sher, director of the ADL’s New York regional office.]