In the latest battle in the campus free speech wars, a biology professor is alleging that he was fired from a public college for teaching the basic realities of biological sex. Lawyers representing Dr. Johnson Varkey say he was fired from the public community college where he taught, St. Philip’s College, for teaching that X and Y chromosomes determine an individual’s biological sex.
“When teaching the human reproductive system, Dr. Varkey… stated that human sex is determined by chromosomes X and Y, and that reproduction must occur between a male and a female to continue the human species,” First Liberty alleges in a letter sent to the college. “In the course of teaching Human Anatomy and Physiology, he made these statements in every class for 20 years, without any incident or complaint.”
“On November 28, 2022, four of Dr. Varkey’s students walked out of his class when he stated, consistent with his study of human biology and his religious beliefs, that sex was determined by chromosomes X and Y,” their letter continues. “Although St. Philip’s College refused to explain any details about the ‘complaints’ directed toward Dr. Varkey, he presumes that the complaints came from these students. In two decades of teaching these basic, unremarkable concepts, no other students have ever complained.”
Varkey then received notice of a complaint against him, although they did not give him the specifics of what it was about.
He then received a termination letter declaring that his “classroom behavior while facilitating in an official teaching capacity” is “found to be unacceptable.” It cited complaints of his supposed “religious preaching, discriminatory comments about homosexuals and transgender individuals, anti-abortion rhetoric, and misogynistic banter.” (Dr. Varkey says he has never injected his personal religious views into his teaching). The termination letter concludes, “While some of the subject matter may be connected to class content, it was very clear, from the complaints, that you pushed beyond the bounds of academic freedom with your personal opinions that were offensive to many individuals in the classroom.”
Varkey says he was “surprised and shocked” by the termination.
“I’ve been teaching for that school for the last 20 years and without any complaints,” he said. “So, I was shocked to see that letter.”
If these alleged facts are true—and Varkey provided documentation confirming much of his account—then there are huge constitutional violations going on here.
For one thing, even if Varkey did inject his personal opinion, he has every right to do that! The First Amendment protects the academic freedom of professors at public universities to teach even controversial ideas. But if it’s really true that he was reported for teaching that chromosomes determine sex then it’s all the more absurd, because that’s not even a “controversial” belief by any stretch of the imagination. Most would simply consider it a basic biological fact.
Yet, secondly, there’s also a potential due process violation here, if Varkey’s account of events is accurate. He wasn’t given any meaningful chance to face and dispute the charges against him, something a public college professor is entitled to as a matter of constitutional rights.
You don’t have to take my word for it. The nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) has weighed in on the allegation, saying, “If the facts match the allegations, it means a public community college violated Varkey’s academic freedom to determine how and when to introduce pedagogically relevant material into class, and his due process rights in doing so.”
Here’s hoping the truth comes to light and that if St. Philip’s College did violate the Constitution, they’re held to account.