ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has reaffirmed a lower court’s decision to side with the University of New Mexico and two of its professors in a student’s free speech lawsuit.
In the Spring of 2012, UNM student Monica Pompeo wrote a paper on the 1985 movie “Desert Hearts” for a film class. The movie is a lesbian romance flick.
In the paper, Pompeo compared the lesbians to pigs, called the characters’ attraction to the opposite sex “perverse” and their wombs “barren.”
The following turn of events ended with Pompeo being removed from the class. In response, she sued UNM and the professors, saying her free speech rights were violated.
In the five years since, the suit has gone all the way to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and KRQE News 13 has learned those judges have sided with UNM and professors to dismiss the suit.
“Obviously, we were disappointed,” Louren Oliveros, Pompeo’s attorney, said.
The decision by the court of appeals is no easy read, citing a handful of previous court cases. However, the main idea is that the courts believe professors have the right to limit speech, not only when it’s grammatically incorrect or poorly written, but when it’s prejudiced, biased, inadequately researched, profane or unsuitable for immature audiences.
In addition, the judges believe teaching students to avoid inflammatory language is a legitimate academic goal.
Yet, Oliveros argues the professors simply didn’t agree with Pompeo’s opinion, and restricted her speech for that reason.
“Educators need to educate and they have to have some boundaries, but the First Amendment should be alive and well, especially on a college campus,” Oliveros said.
Oliveros said she is still reviewing the lengthy decision, but does plan to appeal it. This case could ultimately go before the Supreme Court.
UNM sent this statement to KRQE News 13 in response to the court of appeals’ decision:
We at UNM are concerned for the rights of our students and faculty and have an obligation to avoid any perception of interference with pending litigation. We are cautious in responding inquiries when a dispute goes to court. But on behalf of the faculty involved in this case, we are pleased that the Tenth Circuit’s opinion provides a more complete perspective on the facts and affirms there was insufficient evidence that the student’s free speech rights were violated.
UNM says one of the professors has since left the university. The other is on a sabbatical and is expected to return in the fall.