AFA Denounces Mayo Clinic After It Disciplines Doctor for Transgender Comments

Jun 7, 2023 | Press Release

AFA Denounces Mayo Clinic After It Disciplines Doctor for Transgender Comments

Doctor punished after comments to New York Times relating to his scholarly expertise

PRINCETON, NJ – The Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) today sent a letter to the Mayo Clinic denouncing its treatment of Dr. Michael J. Joyner, a Mayo Clinic physiologist and Professor of Anesthesiology, over his comments to The New York Times about transgender athletes. Dr. Joyner’s comments, as well as later comments made to CNN about COVID that also led to reprimand from the Clinic, were related to his scholarly research and expertise and, as such, should be protected by principles of academic freedom and the Mayo Clinic’s own policies. The Clinic has nonetheless subjected Dr. Joyner to disciplinary action, including a one-week unpaid suspension, denial of any salary increase at his next contract renewal, and threat of termination. The AFA has funded Dr. Joyner’s legal representation since the proceedings began. 

“Dr. Joyner, a distinguished professor and faculty member with thirty-five years of experience, is recognized as a leading expert on topics of scientific and public concern,” wrote the AFA in its letter. “Over the years, in his personal capacity, he has participated in numerous interviews with the media related to his areas of professional expertise. Mayo Clinic’s admonishments, written warnings, and disciplinary actions against Dr. Joyner—which include a one-week unpaid suspension, denial of any salary increase at his next contract renewal, and threat of termination of employment for failure to comply with Communications Department preclearance and oversight of media interviews—are a direct attack on his academic freedom. Furthermore, the restrictions on Dr. Joyner’s ability to speak publicly on controversial and important topics is a serious restraint on his speech.”

The letter continued: “The AFA recognizes Mayo Clinic’s reputational standing as one of the leading private institutions for scientific and medical research and we appreciate that such institutions may enact policies that public entities could not due to First Amendment constraints. But in 2022, Mayo Clinic secured identification as an educational institution for tax purposes in Mayo Clinic v. United States. Two years prior, in 2020, Mayo Clinic adopted its current ‘Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom Policy,’ a policy that commits to the ‘freedom of expression, which includes the right to discuss and present scholarly opinions and conclusions without fear of retribution or retaliation if those opinions and conclusions conflict with those of the faculty or institution.’ The actions taken against Dr. Joyner are neither consistent with an educational institution’s protection of academic freedom nor your own institution’s policy.”

    Additional Resources: 
    • Full text of the AFA’s letter to the Mayo Clinic
    • The New York Times and CNN articles containing Dr. Joyner’s quotes
    • Coverage of the controversy in ABC 6 News
    The Academic Freedom Alliance is a diverse alliance of college and university faculty members who are dedicated to upholding the principles of academic freedom and professorial free speech. These principles are central to the mission of our institutions of higher education for the pursuit of truth and knowledge. The AFA is committed to defending universal principles of academic freedom and will come to the assistance of professors regardless of their individual views. As always, the AFA is not concerned with the substance or merits of a professor’s ideas but with the principle that universities should be places that tolerate controversial ideas and allow free inquiry and debate, not public opinion or political pressure, to separate error from truth.

    Learn More About the Academic Freedom Alliance

    No one, at any academic institution, should fear suppression or retaliation for speaking out publicly in any form. We encourage you to join the movement in supporting the flourishing of intellectual life and the pursuit of knowledge and truth at institutions of higher learning.