When Florida Atlantic University said last month that it had taken action to terminate the employment of James Tracy, the community should have breathed a sigh of relief.
Tracy, a tenured associate professor in FAU’s School of Communication and Multimedia Studies, has become infamous for questioning through his blog — MemoryHole — the legitimacy of the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that resulted in the deaths of 20 children and six adults. Further, he has suggested that trained “crisis actors” may have been posing as traumatized students and families.
And Tracy hasn’t limited his conspiracy theories to the Sandy Hook tragedy. He has challenged the authenticity of the Boston Marathon bombing and Washington Navy Yard shooting in 2013, and yes, even the recent shootings in San Bernardino, Calif.
University faculty have the right to speak openly and honestly on difficult and sometimes controversial topics, but Tracy’s words and actions deserve no such First Amendment protection. FAU, as a high-profile member of the community, is right in seeking to separate itself from him.
Tracy, through his mind-bending blog posts, has done far more than simply raise preposterous and distasteful questions about the terrible events at Sandy Hook Elementary. The 50-year-old professor has suggested that there may have been no shootings; that the deaths might have been faked; and that the entire event was staged to help the government enact stricter gun control measures.
Yet sadly, Tracy’s statements were apparently not the worst of his actions. More recently, Lenny and Veronique Pozner — the parents of Noah Pozner, a 6-year-old victim of the Sandy Hook shootings — alleged in an op-ed emailed to The Post Editorial Board on Dec. 8 that Tracy sent them a “certified letter demanding proof that Noah once lived,” that the Pozners were his parents and that they were the rightful owner of Noah’s photographic image.
Tracy, as of this editorial, has yet to publicly deny the Pozners’ revelations.
To be sure, a university must use care when considering the termination of a member of the faculty. Tenure is an important protection that allows professors to research and speak out in ways that the university administration may not like, or to raise issues that politicians and state officials would rather not hear. The faculty at FAU, for example, includes many accomplished and distinguished scholars who are important voices on issues in our community. That freedom to speak must be respected.
But there is a moral line beyond which tenure should not provide protection. FAU has declined to comment on why it chose to send Tracy a letter on Dec. 16 saying that his termination was recommended, and he had 10 days to appeal. But clearly Tracy has crossed that line.
Tracy has not only joined and led a chorus of irrational and hurtful speakers but his alleged letter to the Pozner family was outrageous and cruel. The death of a child, especially is such a tragic way, is painful enough. But demanding proof that the child ever existed is beyond the pale.
FAU has been working hard to improve its academic standing, and attract top students to its programs. The controversy surrounding Tracy continues to draw negative publicity and ridicule to a school and faculty that is otherwise making noticeable strides in so many areas.
It is understandable that FAU has had enough. So have we.