Yale lawyers file to dismiss Bandy Lee’s free speech suit
The aggrieved psychiatrist has until Nov. 8 to respond to the University’s filing. In their dismissal, Yale lawyers say that the University is not contractually beholden to the “Woodward Report,” which dictates standards on academic freedom.
Courtesy of Yale University
Yale’s lawyers have filed to dismiss a free expression case brought against the University by Bandy Lee MED ’94 DIV ’95, a psychiatrist and former School of Medicine-affiliated faculty member.
Lee filed her original complaint in March, alleging “unlawful termination … due to her exercise of free speech about the dangers of Donald Trump’s presidency.” Yale, her lawyers argue, fired Lee in May 2020 in response to a complaint from lawyer and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz LAW ’62. In a January 2020 letter to Yale, Dershowitz alleged that Lee had violated the ethics rules of the American Psychiatric Association by tweeting that same month that he and other supporters of former president Donald Trump experienced “shared psychosis.”
Yale unsuccessfully filed to dismiss the case in June. On Sept. 17, the University’s lawyers once again asked for the case to be dismissed. Their associated memorandum describes Lee’s behavior and comments as “teaching deficits” and argues that Lee’s yearly reappointment was entirely within the University’s discretion.
Lee has tied her case to the state of academic freedom at Yale and said she hopes that University President Peter Salovey will reexamine her case in light of his recent statement on academic freedom, which he made in the wake of professor of history Beverly Gage’s resignation due to donor interference in the Grand Strategy program.
While numerous former colleagues and psychiatry professionals protested Lee’s firing in letters to the University that Lee posted on her website, Lee told the News that Yale officials have not taken her complaint seriously. When she initially appealed her firing to Salovey last spring, Salovey called her firing a “reasoned decision,” per the court case.
Lee has until Nov. 8 to respond to Yale’s dismissal filing.
“Needless to say, [Yale’s filing] disappointed me, but it did not surprise me,” Lee told the News. “Trying for seven months and failing just to have a discussion with colleagues I have known for 17 years, and then the president of Yale … was puzzling.”
Central to the case is the concept of academic freedom. Lee’s supporters contend that her termination, as well as the APA rules on which her firing was based, violated her First Amendment rights. Her complaint explicitly argues that Yale failed its commitments to academic freedom, citing the 1975 Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale — commonly referred to as the Woodward Report — which is meant to dictate Yale’s policies regarding freedom of expression.
In its dismissal filing, however, Yale described the Woodward Report as a “statement of principles” rather than a “set of contractual promises.” Lawyers argue further that principles of academic freedom are instead implemented through the Faculty Handbook, which explicitly excludes School of Medicine voluntary faculty, such as Lee, from its appeals processes.
In an email to the News, University spokesperson Karen Peart wrote that Lee’s lawsuit has “no legal basis.” She, as well as the University’s filing, noted that Lee was a voluntary professor not on the tenure track, and that her reappointment was entirely at the University’s discretion.
“Dr. Lee was a voluntary faculty member in the School of Medicine, and her request for reappointment was considered in accordance with Yale’s policies and practices,” Peart wrote. “Yale does not consider the political opinions of faculty members when making appointment decisions.”
In response, Lee noted a much larger majority of medical school affiliates — more than 85 percent — are voluntary or non-tenure-track compared to other Yale schools. Dershowitz echoed the University’s argument and said that academic freedom goes beyond individual faculty members.
“Yale has its academic freedom as well as she does,” Dershowitz told the News. “No University could ever be forced to allow a person who doesn’t meet any scientific standard of competence to teach. The idea that the school must allow someone like that to teach its students would violate all standards of academic freedom.”
Lee’s lawyers did not respond to a request for comment.
“I consider my lawsuit not only to be of personal concern but a critical one of academic freedom as well as the freedom of professionals, who have a duty to the public, to speak freely on matters of public interest,” Lee wrote.
During her time at Yale, Lee created a Yale College course titled “Violence: Causes and Cures.”
Philip Mousavizadeh contributed reporting.