SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: March 05, 2023

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Mayo Clinic

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On March 5, 2023, Mayo Clinic suspended Michael Joyner, a Professor of Anesthesiology, for comments that he made about the National Institute of Health during a CNN interview.

Dr. Joyner is the principal investigator on a National Institute of Health-funded study on convalescent plasma’s effect on COVID patients. In January 2023, Dr. Joyner participated in a CNN interview on convalescent plasma, after receiving permission from the Mayo Clinic. During the interview, Dr. Joyner expressed frustration with National Institute of Health’s “bureaucratic rope-a-dope” which he said discouraged doctors from using convalescent plasma to treat their COVID patients. On March 5, the Mayo Clinic suspended Dr. Joyner without pay, citing his disregard for the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science’s policy on media relations. The Clinic reportedly instructed Joyner to “discuss approved topics only” with reporters and to “stick to prescribed messaging.” Failure to comply with these stipulations would result in Joyner’s termination. These threats directly contradict the Mayo Clinic’s own policies, which protect faculty members’ freedom of expression even “if those opinions and conclusions conflict with those of the faculty or institution.” The Clinic’s disciplinary letter to Dr. Joyner also stated that colleagues had reported him for unprofessional and bullying behavior.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the suspension of a scholar exercising their right to freedom of expression while making public statements about their research. Higher education authorities have an obligation not to interfere with expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, suspensions stemming from such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.