Michael Fischler is an award-winning professor emeritus of education at Plymouth State University, a public institution in Plymouth, New Hampshire. He founded its Counseling and Human Relations Center, led it for four decades, and ultimately saw it officially renamed in his honor.
But that honor has now been stripped, his attorneys say, and he is being asked to complete Title IX training before he is again allowed to teach––unlawfully so, they claim, as a punishment for constitutionally protected speech.
Last year, Fischler was contacted by a lawyer representing one of his former students, Kristie Torbick, a high-school guidance counselor in her late 30s. She had been arrested and stood accused of a shocking crime: engaging in sex acts with a 14-year-old to whom she was providing therapy.
The mother of three had yet to admit guilt and it was unclear if she would contest the charges. Would Fischler be willing to submit a letter to her defense lawyer setting forth his recollections of his former student?
He obliged, offering impressions formed over a three-year period a decade earlier. Everything he wrote was explicitly presented in the context of her performance in her course work and as a graduate assistant. He offered no opinion as to her guilt or innocence, and concluded with a passage assessing her character as he had experienced it.
Kristie, through her performance as a student and trusted partner in the delivery of two academic courses, earned my unequivocal support. She performed said ‘roles’ exceptionally well, consistently demonstrating behavior that reflected selflessness; compassion; reliability; self-effacing humor, mindfulness and wisdom. Her commitment to facilitating the intellectual and emotional growth of others was exemplary. Thus, she has earned and receives my unconditional support.
Torbick would later change her plea to guilty. Before the imposition of a sentence, her former professor’s words and 22 other statements were presented to a judge, who sent her to prison for two-and-a-half to five years. Suddenly, all 23 statements were part of the public record—many of them read in open court before sentencing as the victim sat listening. (Fischler was not among those who attended the hearing.)