Mayo Clinic Suspends Professor Who Deviated from ‘Prescribed Messaging’ on Women’s Sports, COVID
Dr. Michael Joyner, a professor at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science (MCCMS), was disciplined earlier this year after expressing unsanctioned viewpoints on sex distinctions and COVID treatment. In a final written warning dated March 5, department head Dr. Carlos Mantilla rebuked Joyner for a “negative and unprofessional pattern of behavior” that largely consisted of his sparring with Mayo Clinic’s Public Affairs department and refusing to allow them to pre-screen his interactions with reporters. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (The FIRE) responded that MCCMS had violated “the academic freedom and free speech promises the college makes to its faculty.”
Mantilla slapped Joyner with a one-week, unpaid suspension after he criticized the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in a January 12 CNN article for neglecting a promising COVID treatment. Joyner was “frustrated” with the NIH for “bureaucratic rope-a-dope” and “wet blanket” guidelines that refused to endorse convalescent plasma for immunocompromised patients, despite a promising review of nine studies published in JAMA Network Open. These remarks raised concerns from the Public Affairs team, wrote Mantilla, who added that “this most recent situation sheds light on a negative and unprofessional pattern of behavior exhibited by you for some time.”
In addition to the one-week suspension, the warning denied Joyner an annual salary increase, was added to his personnel file, and threatened termination if he violated any of its stringent directives.
To justify this stern reprimand, Mantilla referenced another incident which had been deemed “problematic in the media and the LGBTQI+ community at Mayo Clinic.” Joyner told The New York Times last summer that boys have a competitive advantage over girls in sports once puberty begins. “You see the divergence immediately as the testosterone surges into the boys. There are dramatic differences in performances,” he said. “There are social aspects to sport, but physiology and biology underpin it. Testosterone is the 800-pound gorilla.” Following that incident, members of the Personnel Executive Committee met with Joyner to discuss his “use of language viewed as inflammatory.”
According to Mantilla’s letter, these incidents were problematic because Joyner used idioms. “Your use of idiomatic language has been problematic and reflects poorly on Mayo Clinic’s brand and reputation,” he said. “The fact that your selection of idiomatic expressions continues has caused the institution to question whether you are able to appropriately represent Mayo Clinic in media interactions.” Among the instructions Mantilla expected Joyner to follow was a directive to “eliminate the use of idiomatic language.”
Does Mayo Clinic really believe that its brand and reputation is damaged when the media quotes one of its physicians using an idiom? Probably not. Doctors are not linguists. Idioms are such a natural, accepted practice in English that no organization would terminate its employees for using one — least of all in a field that boasts of being experts in language. In particular, Mayo Clinic’s commitment “to clinical practice, education and research, providing expert, whole-person care to everyone who needs healing” should mean that it welcomes any reasonable attempt to translate complex medical terminology into expressions that can be easily understood by the general public — such as idioms.
In fact, Mantilla’s own letter uses idioms. He employed two in the sentence already quoted above:
“This most recent situation sheds light on a negative and unprofessional pattern of behavior exhibited by you for some time.”
Did you catch that? Mantilla certainly didn’t. He used “sheds light on” where he meant “draws attention to” or, more precisely, “continues,” and he used “exhibited” to mean “established.” Technically, a situation is not a light source that can shed any rays, nor is a pattern of behavior an item that can be exhibited. Mantilla inadvertently sprinkled idioms throughout the three-page letter. So, we read of “language viewed as inflammatory” (meaning “interpreted”), pattern of behavior and conduct” that “does not align with Mayo Clinic’s Mutual Respect policy … ” (meaning “comport with” or “fulfill”), and a directive for Joyner to build strong working relationships with members of the Public Affairs team” (meaning “strengthen relationships” or “improve cooperation”).
The point is not that Mantilla’s language is incorrect or sloppy; it isn’t. The point is that English idioms are so subtle and pervasive that prohibiting them as unprofessional language is simply a made-up, inconsistent, impossible standard.
So, why is Mayo Clinic punishing Joyner for something as uncontroversial as using idioms?
One likely possibility is that idioms are merely a handy pretense for Mayo Clinic’s real purpose — controlling the narrative. This possibility is supported by the fact that CNN cited another Joyner idiom to which Mantilla did not object, “immune-compromised patients are essentially variant factories, and you do not want a bunch of people running around out there making weird variants.” Idioms are only a problem when he challenges the official narrative in pithy, headline-grabbing quotes.
Since the COVID era, politicized medical organizations and their media allies have labored to create a public perception that “the science is settled” on key questions with political implications, such as effective COVID treatments and comparative advantages of male and female athletes. Dr. Quentin Van Meter and other experts have repeatedly tried, and failed, to force medical organizations captured by a left-wing political agenda permit an open debate on the scientific merits of transgender ideology. Transgender ideologues want men to compete in women’s sports, and their spurious claims of discrimination and transphobia will only carry the day if they can refute — or, more realistically, obscure — the obvious fact that biological males have an inherent advantage.
As recently as March, NPR claimed there was “limited scientific research” that biological males retain an advantage — a claim that Twitter users quickly demolished by linking the studies. NPR then tweeted a “correction,” which admitted that “existing research shows that higher levels of testosterone do impact athletic performance” but claimed that “there’s limited research involving elite trans athletes in competition.” Readers also “added context” (a study) to that tweet, which is still live.
Reading between the lines in Mantilla’s letter, which dug into Joyner’s past disciplinary record, it seems that Mayo Clinic tries to systematically throttle the media exposure of this evidence through its Public Affairs department. “Over the years,” said Mantilla, “you have failed to consistently work within Mayo Clinic guidelines related to media interactions and failed to communicate in accordance with prescribed messaging.” Apparently, these media engagement guidelines required Joyner to “vet each individual media request through Public Affairs,” let them “determine what topics are appropriate,” and “cease engagement in offline conversations with reporters.”
Evidently Joyner and the Public Affairs team don’t get along — hence his taking interviews without their permission. They “describe your tone as unpleasant and having a ‘bullying’ quality to it,” Mantilla described, directing Joyner, “if an interview request is declined, eliminate unnecessary push back or combative communications. Accept ‘no’ for
an answer and move forward.”
Most of all, Mantilla told Joyner, “discuss approved topics only and stick to prescribed messaging.” Joyner is an expert in exercise physiology, has been continuously funded by the NIH since 1993, and has been honored multiple times by Mayo Clinic and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). He doesn’t need Public Affairs to prescribe his messaging for him — unless, of course, the object is something other than acquainting the public with the real state of scientific knowledge.
Meanwhile, Joyner has appealed the decision. The FIRE wrote on his behalf on April 19 that Mayo Clinic’s punishment of Joyner violates its own policy of academic freedom, which “includes the right to discuss and present scholarly opinions and conclusions without fear of retribution or retaliation,” even if they “conflict with those of the faculty or institution.” Furthermore, they pointed out that Joyner’s remarks were perfectly in line with his free speech rights as a private individual. Receiving no reply, they wrote a second letter on May 17 urging the MCCMS Board of Trustees “to immediately rectify this egregious free speech violation by rescinding all discipline against Joyner.”
In a June 1 reply, Mayo Clinic’s legal counsel claimed Dr. Joyner’s punishment “did not involve a gag order and did not violate our academic freedom policy,” and that it “was based on his violation of multiple Mayo Clinic policies” (the facts seem nebulous here — there might be violation inflation occurring). Furthermore, he said, “Mayo Clinic leadership is apprised of the relevant facts and is supportive of the disciplinary action taken against Dr. Joyner.”
The lawyer made the odd claim that “Mayo Clinic respects academic freedom and also recognizes that it is not absolute and must be balanced against other interests and Mayo Clinic policies.” On its face, this contradicts the academic freedom policy’s promise that faculty are guaranteed “the right to discuss and present scholarly opinions and conclusions” that conflict with Mayo Clinic’s. According to this interpretation, the lawyer reduces the policy to academic freedom in name only (or, perhaps, for favored viewpoints only).
The Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) followed up with a June 7 letter blasting Mayo Clinic’s “restraint of expression” through its Media Policy, which states, “All inquiries from news media must be triaged through the Department of Communications.” This policy, it said, “is a blatant form of prior restraint of expression,” providing the college with “with the arbitrary ability to control the speech of its professors.”
While acknowledging that Mayo Clinic is a private organization not constrained by the First Amendment, they argued that, “if it intends to maintain its status as a leading center for research, instruction, and scholarly publication, it should cease any attempt to restrict the dissemination of information or ideas by its professors.”
The same holds for other once-mainstream institutions that have become exclusive bastions of left-wing ideology. “The Science” is not “settled” simply because the scientists whose opinions and research are suppressed are not permitted to speak, and the American people are growing wise to that fact.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.