Now that Amanda Knox’s murder conviction in Italy has been overturned, the fallout from Amanda Knox’s acquittal has begun. And because of the peculiar actions of Pepperdine University in 2010, the case affects some of us here at home, specifically with regard to issues of free speech, intellectual freedom, and social justice.
Let us ask the question: what happens to Pepperdine now that Amanda Knox has been acquitted?
Pepperdine, which was recently ranked as the 5th “Douchiest school” in America by GQ, actually fired their own Deputy Director of Public Safety, former FBI agent Steve Moore, after he appeared on CBS News’ The Early Show and suggested that Amanda Knox might not be guilty of murder. Pepperdine administrators took him aside quietly and asked him not to comment any further on the matter, as they wanted to keep Pepperdine’s name out of the story in Italy. Pepperdine owns property and has an overseas study-abroad program in Florence, Italy, and may not have wanted one of its own speaking out against Italian officials.
Not long after Moore refused to be quiet about Knox’s innocence, Pepperdine fired him. Of course, Pepperdine claims they cannot comment because it is a “personnel issue,” and “wholeheartedly disagrees” with any characterization that Moore’s termination came about for any reason other than various job performance-related issues (and certainly not out of retaliation for not obeying orders to stop speaking out on behalf of a woman who was, in fact, not guilty of murder).
The question now remains: what happens to Pepperdine for firing an employee who was right?
Moore sued Pepperdine for wrongful termination, and after trying a few legal maneuvers to avoid going to trial, Pepperdine financially settled with Moore for wrongfully terminating him when all he was trying to do was stand for justice. So at the simplest level, the answer is that Pepperdine had to pay a financial penalty for wrongfully terminating an employee.
This is Pepperdine’s (and certainly many other organizations’) tried and true modus operandi: pressure someone into silence or departure on one issue by threatening them with another issue. While Pepperdine’s Director of Public Information, Jerry Derloshon, “disagrees wholeheartedly with Moore’s characterization of his dismissal,” Vice President and General Counsel Gary Hanson wrote in an e-mail regarding Moore’s termination, “We will of course respond appropriately to the lawsuit that Mr. Moore has filed.” Apparently that “appropriate response” included paying Moore a large amount of cash out of court for wrongfully terminating him without having to admit it.
But must Pepperdine also pay another price, say, to their credibility? Can a private Christian institution continue to pay mere lip service to issues of free speech and social justice when they immediately and consistently surrender both when they threaten Pepperdine’s private interests? Not only did a Pepperdine professor became the poster child for the “Yes on Prop 8” campaign to ban same-sex marriage in California, but then, after numerous attempts at damage control by Pepperdine to claim that the university does not pick sides on ballot initiatives (note they didn’t denounce Prop 8 as civilly unjust, just that they “don’t pick sides”), the Dean of the Pepperdine Law School joined and ultimately led Prop 8’s legal team to appeal a California court’s decision to overturn it. Apparently social justice is a worthy cause at Pepperdine until the donor base (or internet campaigns) say otherwise.
Will Pepperdine’s U.S. News and World Report rankings continue to wallow in the second tier of universities because, in addition to insisting that all research and tenure decisions be subject not only to the University Tenure Committee, but also to a “Religious Standards Committee” (which may or may not be comprised of members with advanced degrees in religious studies), the school also limits the intellectual freedoms of their faculty members by making a public example of non-tenured staff members who will not follow Pepperdine’s “suggestions”?
Will Pepperdine answer questions about why they fired a man for speaking out on behalf of a woman who has been found to be not guilty?
And how much longer will Pepperdine students, faculty, and staff stand idly by and hold the coats of the administration as it continues to cave in on issues of civil rights, freedom of speech, and social justice?
A portion of Pepperdine’s Mission Statement reads: “Pepperdine affirms … that truth, having nothing to fear from investigation, should be pursued relentlessly in every discipline.” Apparently Pepperdine relentlessly pursues truth as long as it is in their financial and religiously ideological interests to do so.
So, please allow a brief letter from a concerned alum:
Please publicly apologize to Steve Moore.
Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.
Seaver Grad Alum, Class of 2000
September 2, 2010 – ABC News – Amanda Knox is Innocent of Brutal Murder, Retired FBI Agent Claims
September 30, 2010 – CBS News – Amanda Knox Exclusive: Former FBI Agent Fired by School for Speaking Out on Knox Case
September 30, 2010 – Pepperdine Graphic – Casting doubt on Italian murder conviction got him fired Moore says
October 30, 2010, Pepperdine Graphic – Moore files lawsuit over termination
July 12, 2011 – Injustice in Perugia – Steve Moore Vindicated in Lawsuit With Pepperdine University
July 25, 2011 – Pepperdine Graphic – Moore reflects on newest findings in Amanda Knox trial
Ocober 3, 2011 – MSNBC – Amanda Knox Murder Conviction Overturned