Dr. Nicholas Meriwether has served as a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University for over 20 years.
And until recently, he did so without a blemish on his record. Last fall, however, Shawnee State launched an investigation into Dr. Meriwether, formally punished him, and placed a warning in his file – claiming he “created a hostile environment.”
So what changed?
Dr. Meriwether refers to his students as “sir” or “ma’am” or by a title (Mr. or Miss, for example) followed by their last name. He does this to create a respectful environment in the classroom.
But this considerate practice is exactly what landed him in trouble with university officials.
One day after class, a male student approached Dr. Meriwether and demanded to be referred to by female pronouns because the student identifies as a woman. When Dr. Meriwether did not immediately agree to do so, the student became aggressive, circling around him, getting in his face, and threatening to get Dr. Meriwether fired. The student then filed a complaint with the university.
As a Christian, Dr. Meriwether believes that God has created humans in his image, as male or female. So, he offered a compromise. He would refer to the student by first or last name only – respecting his own convictions as well as the student’s.
But that was not enough for Shawnee State officials. They demanded that Dr. Meriwether refer to this student as a woman or risk losing his job.
That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom has filed a lawsuit on Dr. Meriwether’s behalf. No one should be forced to speak a message or endorse an ideology they disagree with. Yet, that is exactly what Shawnee State officials are demanding. Instead of promoting and allowing a true marketplace of ideas to flourish, school officials are making it clear that only their favored viewpoints are welcome on campus.
This unfair and discriminatory position troubled two of Dr. Meriwether’s former students.
While neither student shares Dr. Meriwether’s beliefs, they see the value in free speech and a mutual exchange of ideas. And they reached out to show their support.
Just read what they had to say.
Former student 1:
You stoked the philosophical fire for me personally, and created a need for me to explore that world beyond the classroom. Be it through books, podcasts, etc. You're at the top my list for engaging and inspiring instructors.
I cannot stress enough about how much I side with your stance of defending Academia. I also believe that it should be a sacred institution. A marketplace of ideas, that win by their own merit.
Funnily enough, I'm a queer person. Your personal convictions could not be any further from mine.
It doesn't matter, though. I respect you, and I respect the ideas that you bring to the table of the marketplace of ideas. You made me think. That's hard to come by these days.
Former student 2:
As an atheist, I consider science to be one of humanity's crowning achievements and I believe that a free exchange of ideas is of inestimable importance (especially in academia) and a necessary precondition for any progress to be made in the pursuit of knowledge. Though I tend to be politically left-leaning in most cases, I think the American Left is totally misguided in prioritizing something as fickle as peoples' "gender identity" over freedom of speech. No one can justifiably claim the right to dictate the speech of another.
Insulating students from intellectual scrutiny in the name of avoiding offense would be doing them a disservice. You and I saw eye-to-eye on very little and that made those arguments all the more valuable to me. If you had only made a half-hearted attempt at a counterpoint or (far worse) neglected to even mention an opposing position in order to spare my feelings, you would have been fundamentally undermining my education. I thank you for showing me enough respect to bring your "A-Game" to every in-class debate. I hope that more people can [rein] in their emotions and see the benefit in having their ideas stress-tested by an earnest lover of wisdom.
These former students get it. While they don’t agree with Dr. Meriwether on everything, they appreciated the opportunity to interact with viewpoints different than their own.
It is exactly this type of environment that Dr. Meriwether seeks to provide in his classroom – a place where a variety of viewpoints can be discussed and debated in a respectful manner. And it’s an environment that should be duplicated across Shawnee State University and other campuses.
Instead, university officials are attempting to shut out every viewpoint that opposes their own. And in their rush to punish Dr. Meriwether, they’ve forgotten why universities exist in the first place: education – not indoctrination.