UMD professors appeal case once again

by Andrew Tellijohn

For the second time, two University of Minnesota — Duluth professors are taking their First Amendment lawsuit to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, hoping to overturn a ruling which they maintain denies their freedom of speech.
The appeal stems from a 1992 incident where two UMD history professors posed for photographs which displayed their academic interests in a less-than-serious light. The photos were removed from a display case by campus police after UMD administrators expressed concern over potential promotion of violence.
Arguments for the new appeal occurred on Tuesday.
Scott Johnson, attorney for the professors, appealed the initial 1995 ruling of the U.S. District Court, which said the professors’ First Amendment rights were not violated. Johnson asked that the case be heard by all 12 judges, because he said he felt the ruling incorrectly determined that the University did not infringe upon the professors’ rights to free speech.
“(The case) raised an issue of extreme importance,” Johnson said.
Because of the appeals court caseload, panels of three judges are assigned to hear most cases. However, lawyers can request that the entire bench review their suits.
As a full board, appeals court judges only hear about six to 10 cases per year.
In order to illustrate their areas of specialization, former UMD professor Albert Burnham, who is interested in American military history, posed with a .45 caliber pistol and coonskin cap. Current UMD professor Ronald Marchese, whose expertise is ancient Greece and Rome, posed wearing a cardboard laurel wreath on his head while brandishing a Roman short sword.
Former Duluth Chancellor, Lawrence Ianni ordered the removal of the photos in the wake of campus tensions regarding threats of violence against faculty members. At about the same time that the photos were on display, two female professors involved in a diversity and equality program had received anonymous life-threatening letters signed under the names “The Deer Hunters.”
Judges took 10 months to make their decision in the first appeal. Johnson said judges can take as much time as necessary to make their rulings, but he said he thinks it will be faster this time.
University General Counsel Mark Rotenberg could not be reached for comment.