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University will not fire law professor who spoke at pro-Trump Capitol rally

Nina Agrawal, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES – Chapman University's president says he cannot and will not fire a professor and former law school dean amid growing campus calls for action against the faculty member's participation in a pro-Trump rally during which he made claims about election fraud on the day a violent mob stormed the Capitol.

"I am not the Emperor of Chapman University, nor am I the Supreme Leader of Chapman University. I am the President of the university, and as such, I am bound by laws and processes that are clearly spelled out in our Faculty Manual," Daniele Struppa said in a statement.

John Eastman, an endowed professor and constitutional law scholar at Chapman, in Orange, California, spoke alongside Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani at the "Save America" rally Jan. 6, citing "secret folders" in ballot machines that were used to skew vote totals.

"They were unloading the ballots from that secret folder, matching them, matching them to the unvoted voter, and voilà, we have enough votes to barely get over the finish line," Eastman said at the Jan. 6 rally. "We saw it happen in real time last night and it happened on Nov. 3rd as well." Two Democrats won U.S. Senate seats in closely contested runoff elections Jan. 5.

A Jan. 8 letter signed by more than 160 Chapman faculty members called for the university's faculty senate, provost, president and law school dean to take action against Eastman, including stripping him of his endowed professorship and removing him from teaching students.

"Free speech is sacred, and tenured academics like Eastman have the privilege of speaking their mind without fear of repercussion. But Eastman abused that freedom," they wrote, saying that his conspiratorial claims about a stolen election formed the basis of the insurrection.

 

In his first statement, issued Friday, Struppa said Eastman "played a role in the tragic events in Washington, D.C., that jeopardized our democracy."

"Eastman's actions are in direct opposition to the values and beliefs of our institution," Struppa said in the statement. "He has now put Chapman in the position of being publicly disparaged for the actions of a single faculty member."

But Struppa said he would follow the guidelines laid out in the faculty manual — which in his second statement Saturday said allowed for the termination of faculty members if they are found guilty of a felony or disbarred. "The university has no right to substitute itself for these formal bodies," he said.

Lisa Leitz, department chair of peace studies at Chapman and a lead author of the faculty letter, said in an interview that Eastman's "outright lies related to electoral fraud" amounted to a violation of academic integrity and professional misconduct, which can be grounds for disciplinary action, according to the faculty manual.

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