James Tracy, the controversial former Florida Atlantic University professor known for his conspiracy theories regarding the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and Boston Marathon bombing, will be in federal court Wednesday looking to get his job back.
To do so, Tracy will have to prove another alleged conspiracy — namely that university officials, including members of the faculty union tasked with representing him, worked together to get him fired.
The university has maintained it fired Tracy because he did not properly disclose outside employment, even when that included unpaid work related to his personal blog. Tracy was fired in January 2016.
A lawsuit filed by Tracy contends that he would not have been fired as a tenured professor if not for embarrassing the university by writing that the Sandy Hook massacre, resulting in the deaths of 26 first-graders and teachers at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn., was staged by the U.S. government in order to promote gun control.
Tracy began running into trouble with FAU in 2012 when his blog posts gained national media attention and the university was swamped by complaints seeking his ouster.
Tracy, who taught a conspiracy class at FAU, argued that the blog contained his personal views and was written on his own time and fell outside the university’s disclosure rules for outside employment.
Louis Leo IV, Tracy’s attorney, recently wrote a blog for the Florida Civil Rights Coalition asserting his client’s lawsuit “may very well be the most important free speech case pending in the United States right now” in relation to tenured professors, who typically are afforded wide academic freedoms.
“Stay tuned, as we put the First Amendment to the test … ” Leo wrote.
In 2013, Tracy reached an agreement with FAU in which he agreed to take the university’s name off his blog — named Memory Hole — and to make clear that his writings expressed only his opinion.
Between 2013 and 2015, when FAU began taking steps to fire Tracy, a series of public relations scandals — including naming the football stadium after a private prison company and the “Stomp on Jesus” debacle in which a professor asked students to write “Jesus” on paper, then step on it — combined with the Tracy fallout to cause Mary Jane Saunders to step down as university president.
In late 2015, FAU began requiring professors to sign disclosure forms detailing outside employment and professional activities. Tracy refused to comply.
Tracy received advice from faculty union representatives to sign the forms, but conflicting information about whether he could file a grievance against the policy.
Before Tracy finally signed the agreement, he received a disciplinary notice from the university. Tracy claims in his lawsuit that he asked union officials to file a grievance, but they refused to do so.
Tracy also says that university and union officials met regarding his situation without his knowledge.
Doug McGetchin, the union’s committee chairman for grievances and contract enforcement, admitted during testimony in court depositions that not representing Tracy “was a wrong position to take.”
Asked why he didn’t even meet with Tracy as he had with other faculty members with grievances, McGetchin answered: ‘I guess I was scared of him, is part of it. Or I was scared of the issue.” He then adds, “And of the — the public furor.”
Several FAU faculty and administrators are expect to testify in the trial, possibly including university president John Kelly.
An FAU spokesman declined comment Tuesday regarding the trial.