Report from Louisiana: Free Speech or Sexual Harassment?

By:  Pat Austin

BATON ROUGE – There’s a case out of Baton Rouge that might be interesting to watch: a former LSU professor has asked the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to review her case

Teresa Buchanan taught elementary education students with a specialization in early childhood education. She was terminated in 2015 for “using vulgarity, and talking about her sex life and the sex lives of students in her elementary education classes.”  She says it’s a free speech issue and that her language was not directed at any one student.

Her controversial comments included saying “f*** no” repeatedly in front of students, using a slang word for vagina that implies cowardice, and joking that the quality of sex declines the longer a relationship lasts.

A three judge panel from the 5th Circuit rejected the case in 2018 and now Buchanan is requesting a full-court review.

Buchanan says she never harassed anyone and that everything she ever said in the classroom was just straight, blunt talk and “appropriate to the context.”

Everything that they accused me of had to do with things that I had said as part of my teaching methods,” said Buchanan, noting that no student ever accused her of sexually harassing them. Rather, her approach was designed to enable new teachers cope with teaching in the real world, and doing so at some times involved the use of harsh language.

The university disagrees and says that Buchanan created a hostile learning environment in her classroom.

It comes down to a free-speech and a sexual-harassment issue. Buchanan’s team claims that because LSU’s sexual harassment policies are “too broad” that this is really about free speech while the 5th Circuit’s initial ruling claimed that “LSU did not violate Buchanan’s free speech rights by terminating her because Buchanan was not speaking on a matter of public concern.”

It might be important to remember that Buchanan was talking to adults, not early childhood students. Is this just another case of easily triggered snowflakes?   It is clear that free-speech has been threatened on college campuses for quite some time.

It could be a few weeks before the Court makes a determination whether to hear Buchanan’s case.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia.  Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.