When Colorado State University-Pueblo sociology professor Tim McGettigan likened school budget cuts to the Ludlow Massacre in a campus-wide message, administration was fast to shut his email down. Now, the school has reportedly settled a lawsuit McGettigan launched against them on the premise they violated his First Amendment rights.
McGettigan couldn’t disclose to Colorado Politics the terms of the settlement. But in a statement to the Pueblo Chieftain, current CSU-Pueblo President Timothy Mottet wrote:
“As stewards of the public trust, the University determined that the best use of resources was to resolve this matter without further litigation….The cost of litigation would far exceed the settlement amount in both dollars and employee time spent assisting in the litigation and attending the trial.”
In 2014 CSU-Pueblo was threatened with the possibility of 50 layoffs due to a $3.3 million budget deficit. McGettigan believed the budget crisis was fabricated by the CSU System. His response to the recommendation to cut staff was outlined in an email titled “Children of Ludlow,” alluding to the massacre where two dozen miners, women and children were killed during a coal mine strike in southern Colorado a century earlier.
He said then-CSU System Chancellor Michael Martin had a “hit list” and that he was “putting a gun to the head of those fifty hardworking people while he also throws a burning match on the hopes and dreams of their hopeless, defenseless families.”
McGettigan and some other faculty, staff and students were upset with Martin’s frustration regarding the lack of population growth, a contributing factor to the budget cuts.
Upon sending the email, McGettigan’s email access was revoked, a punishment he claimed hindered his job as a professor.
McGettigan told news website Inside Higher Ed after the incident, “the university’s action has made it impossible for him to do his job since the Blackboard account for his courses is based on his university email. And he said that it was absolutely untrue that he was doing anything but exercising his rights to criticize.”
But the university claimed they were in the right. A statement from former CSU-Pueblo President Lesley DiMare claimed the security of students was top priority and the budget crisis had “sparked impassioned criticism and debate across our campus community.”
“That’s entirely appropriate, and everyone on campus — no matter how you feel about the challenges at hand — should be able to engage in that activity in an environment that is free of intimidation, harassment, and threats,” the statement continued.
After the news of the settlement, McGettigan wrote in a blog post he was happy to report he had “foiled” the plans to cut 50 positions. Only 22, mostly vacant, positions were eventually eliminated.
“Let this be a warning to authors of sarcastic email messages: beware of temperamental administrators who summon SWAT Teams to drain the ink from your poison pens,” McGettigan’s blog says.
“It was a mighty long road, but, in an era when professors are being terminated for innocuous Facebook posts, it is desperately important for all citizens to fight and win First Amendment battles. Sure, it can be daunting to square off against well-resourced, malevolent organizations, but imagine the alternative. If we don’t want the Michael Martins of the world to terrorize our hard-working colleagues, then sometimes we have to honor the memory of The Children of Ludlow and fight the good fight.”