Watch: Veteran Professor Fired from Christian University after Gay Man of Faith Addresses Students

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday March 16, 2022

Universities supposedly muzzling free speech is a perennial right-wing complaint — but all it took was an out Christian speaker addressing a class to prompt a tenured graphic design professor's firing at a Christian university, multiple news reports say.

"Oklahoma Christian University has fired a tenured professor of 41 years after he brought a gay speaker to address his class about overcoming struggles in life," detailed UK newspaper The Daily Mail.

"Michael O'Keefe taught arts and design at the private facility in Oklahoma City, and led his students on a class entitled The Business of Branding Yourself," the account detailed.

The speaker O'Keefe invited "warned students [at] the start of the class that there would be explicit language used" before talking about "his personal journey as a Christian," the article added.

"After the class, an investigation was launched, and O'Keefe was fired for gross misconduct, infuriating many of his students."

O'Keefe was terminated on March 7, news reports said.

Reflecting talking points raised by right-wing Christians who claim that conservatives are censored and silenced at non-religious institutions of higher learning, O'Keefe's lawyer, Kevin Jacobs, told the media that "it doesn't sound like much of a university if you can't have a free exchange of ideas."

"Letting students expect a world where you may be different is the message Mr. O'Keefe wanted his students to hear," Jacobs said, according to NBC News.

"That's the message this speaker delivered, not an advocacy of gay rights," Jacobs told local NBC affiliate KFOR. "Unfortunately, that's not permitted at Oklahoma Christian University today. It cost Mr. O'Keefe his job."

NBC detailed that the guest speaker in question "was also an Oklahoma Christian University alumnus and was employed as an adjunct professor at the university for nearly 20 years."

Local newspaper The Oklahoman reported that the firing had unleashed a barrage of negative responses online, with alumni among those who are "castigating" the university for having fired O'Keefe.

"To have fired Michael J. O'Keefe after 41 years of inspiring designers to be better in all ways (being inclusive comes to mind here) is not how Oklahoma Christian should have responded," former student Tim Watson declared in a Facebook post. "The way they should have responded is 'well done my good and faithful servant.'"

Another former student took to Twitter to share that O'Keefe "is the kind of professor who sets his students up for success in every way. I know for certain that I would not be where I am today without Michael O'Keefe."

Family members also rose to O'Keefe's defense, with wife Lori Osley posting on Facebook that the guest speaker in question "was one of several speakers brought in. However, he was gay. Again, he only spoke about his personal journey not to promote any type of lifestyle."

"I have personally seen how Michael has given his heart [and] soul to these kids at the school. We have had kids show up on our doorsteps crying and anxious and he has taken the time for them," Osley added.

But O'Keefe's firing isn't the only controversy the university faces, The Oklahoman reported.

"The university also faces accusations of discriminating against female staff members, and canceling small group chapel gatherings, particularly those gatherings seen as safe spaces for LGBTQ students," the newspaper said.

Legal counsel for the university put out a statement on O'Keefe's firing that read, in part, "The university will always put first the wellbeing of our students in every decision we make," KFOR reported.

Watch KFOR's news report below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.