North Carolina Teacher Fired for Antiwar Remarks
WINSTON-SALEM, NC - September 12 - Carolina teacher Elizabeth Ito has appealed her firing from Forsyth Technical Community College, which came after she made remarks critical of the conduct of the war in Iraq. Her firing, which has been widely criticized by local anti-war activists and free speech advocates, is seen as part of a larger crack-down on dissent and academic freedom. "It is clear that Elizabeth didn't lose her job because she expressed a personal opinion in the classroom," said Liz Seymour, a member of the Ito Defense Coalition. "She lost her job because of the opinion she expressed."
On Friday, March 28, 2003 Elizabeth, a first-year English teacher at Forsyth Tech, spent ten minutes at the beginning of her business writing class voicing her concerns about the war in Iraq. During this time the US military was encountering much unanticipated resistance in its push toward Baghdad and the previous night's news had reported that 30,000 more troops were being called up, a figure that by the next morning had risen to 120,000. Elizabeth wrote these numbers on the board and asked the students what they would do if the government had to start drafting. After class had ended two students complained to Elizabeth's supervisor Susie Keener, Chair of the Department of Humanities/Communication, that Elizabeth had criticized the war in class.
The following Monday morning Susie Keener and John Slade, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, met with Elizabeth for over two hours to discuss the incident. At the end of the meeting Dean Slade asked Elizabeth to promise not to raise the topic of the war again in class. Elizabeth said that she had no intention of revisiting the subject but that she was unwilling to bind herself to a promise. Later that week Dean Slade presented Elizabeth with a disciplinary letter that concluded with the statement "this matter is resolved."
Elizabeth, who had been commended for her teaching in a series of official reviews throughout the year did not, in fact, discuss the war again in class. Nonetheless, on May 15 she received a certified letter at her home informing her that Forsyth Tech no longer needed her services. In the weeks following her dismissal Elizabeth's students spoke out on her behalf-even one of the students who originally complained to the Forsyth Tech administration told Michelle Johnson a reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal, that he did not think Elizabeth should have been fired for her remarks.
Ito's firing has received widespread press attention in North Carolina including articles in the Winston-Salem Journa, the Durham Herald-Sun. the Greensboro News & Record, and the Carolina Peacemaker. A story was also broadcast on the local NPR affiliate. "This is not just about me or about my job," said Ito. "It's about something very disturbing that is happening all over the country. I want people to understand that if it could happen hee it could happen anywhere."