Scholar Who Claimed He Was Fired for Speaking Out Settles With U. of Mississippi

A University of Mississippi faculty member whose unexpected firing caused a free-speech firestorm last year has reached a settlement with his former institution, according to a news release from his lawyers.

Garrett Felber, whose contract as an assistant professor of history was terminated in December, announced through the Mississippi Center for Justice that he and the university had settled for a confidential amount. He is now a visiting fellow at Yale University’s Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration.

“We are pleased to have this matter resolved, and are pleased with the resolution,” Rod Guajardo, a University of Mississippi representative, wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “The university stands by the process it followed, the ruling of the faculty committee that reviewed this case and the decisions made. We wish Dr. Felber well as he pursues his future opportunities.”

Felber and his supporters claimed he’d been targeted as a result of his scholarship and activism, which focuses on the carceral state, and his criticism of the University of Mississippi’s administration.

“I was terminated because of my public statements, including legitimate criticisms of the University,” Felber said in a statement from the Mississippi Center for Justice. “Rather than go to court and seek reinstatement, I have chosen to move on and continue my work from a position outside this University.”

Felber’s lawyers said in the statement that their client’s termination had violated the First Amendment and that the rationale for his firing — that Felber had failed to properly communicate with his department chair and had refused to meet with her by phone or Zoom — was unjustified.

The chair, Noell Howell Wilson, wrote to Felber in December that she was recommending his contract not be renewed. “In the letter, Dr. Wilson described multiple instances where Dr. Felber refused to speak to her, and how that refusal made it impossible to maintain a productive working relationship necessary to supervise his faculty responsibilities,” Noel E. Wilkin, Mississippi’s provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, told The Chronicle in December. “Dr. Wilson’s recommendations for a 12-month notice of nonrenewal is consistent with AAUP standards and university policy for untenured faculty.”

Felber’s case points to larger questions, said Naomi R. Shatz, one of Felber’s lawyers. “We are concerned by recent instances of universities across the country ignoring and violating their faculty members’ rights to free speech and academic freedom,” Shatz, a partner at the Boston firm Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein LLP, said in a statement . “Professors like Dr. Felber have a constitutional right to speak out about injustices they see in their institutions.”

Anne Twitty, an associate professor of history at Mississippi and an advocate of Felber’s, wrote on Twitter that her former colleague’s settlement was “joyful, but also bittersweet news.”

Felber’s termination, Twitty wrote, “has done irrevocable damage — to him, to me, to many of our colleagues, to our students, to our department” and to the university. “One doesn’t ‘get over’ this. I’m not, and I won’t.”

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