In 2001, Civil Engineering Professor Habib Sadid published a letter to faculty and administrators criticizing Idaho State University's plan to merge two colleges, including the College of Engineering. Several years later, he spoke to a state newspaper about the plan. Sadid claimed that in retaliation for his comments, he did not receive faculty evaluations, was not appointed to a chair position, was defamed in an email, and received the lowest possible salary increase, and that his First Amendment rights were therefore violated. Invoking the decision in Hong v. Grant, the Idaho state trial court concluded that Sadid's letters related to his personal grievances rather than to a matter of public concern. In addition, relying primarily on cases that arose outside of the academic context, the court reasoned that "government employers need a significant degree of control over their employees' words and actions." The court therefore disagreed with Sadid's assertion that because his job description did not include writing letters to the newspaper critiquing the ISU administration, he was writing as a private citizen rather than as a public employee. The court decided that the "tone" of Sadid's letters "is that of an employee of ISU," and added that Sadid "should understand that he has limitations of his speech that he accepted when becoming a state employee." Finally, the court noted that Sadid had identified himself as an ISU employee in the published letters. The court concluded that "due to the tone and language of the letter," Sadid was speaking as an employee and not as a private citizen, and his comments were therefore not protected by the First Amendment.
Update: Professor Sadid has appealed the trial courtﾒs decision to the Supreme Court of Idaho, and the AAUP and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression have filed an amicus brief (.pdf) seeking to educate the court about the academic freedom and First Amendment issues implicated by the case.