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: January 30, 2024

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):Catholic University of America

Region & Country:Americas | United States of America

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On January 30, 2024, the Catholic University of America dismissed professor of psychology Melissa Goldberg in retaliation after a doula she had invited to class as a guest speaker spoke about providing abortion and care to transgender patients.

On January 23, Goldberg invited Rachel Carbonneau, the founder and CEO of the doula company Family Ways, to speak during her class on Lifespan Development. During the guest lecture, Carbonneau addressed a variety of different topics related to perinatal health, including the social determinants of health, opioid epidemic, and racial inequalities in healthcare. Towards the end of the lecture, a student asked Carbonneau about abortion. According to a 10-minute recording made by a student in the class Carbonneau described having “the honor and the privilege of working with families that have had to make the hardest decision of their entire lives,” by providing abortion care. The recording also captures Carbonneau explaining that she also works with transgender clients, including some men who have given birth.

Following the class, a second-year nursing student shared the recordings with conservative and Catholic media outlets. He later explained that he was hoping to prompt the university to take action against Goldberg by leaking the recordings.

On January 30, 2023, Catholic University president Peter Kilpatrick wrote in an email that the university had terminated Goldberg’s contract because of “clear evidence that the content of the class did not align with our mission and identity.” Goldberg’s faculty profile page was also removed from Catholic University’s website that day.

While private religious colleges and universities have a right to make decisions based on ideology, Catholic University’s Faculty Handbook includes a commitment to academic freedom, including “freedom of inquiry, open discussion and unrestricted exchange of ideas as essential to the pursuit of knowledge.” The AAUP has also raised concerns about whether Catholic University’s termination of Goldberg’s appointment followed the due process stipulated in its Faculty Handbook.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the dismissal of a faculty member in apparent retaliation for the exercise of academic freedom in the classroom. University authorities have an obligation to refrain from retaliatory actions intended to punish, restrict, or chill the exercise of academic freedom—including the invitation of outside speakers to campus—and should employ transparent, fair processes when engaging in disciplinary actions. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, dismissals stemming from such activity undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.