Collegia Apologia: Academic Apologies Abound In The Aftermath Of Ferguson

Ferguson_Day_6,_Picture_44Below is my column that ran today in the USA Today. It ran earlier on the web and this is a slightly expanded version of the piece on the spat of apologies around the country.

College campuses this week seem more like centers of reeducation than education as various academics have been forced into public apologies over references to the recent controversial decisions of grand juries in Missouri and New York.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 9.13.31 AMConsider the bizarre case of UCLA law professor Robert Goldstein who based an essay question on his final on Michael Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, chanting, “Burn this bitch down!” after the grand jury decision. The angry mob proceeded to loot and burn various businesses in the town. With some calling for Head to be prosecuted, this was a ready-made question for exploring the limits of the first amendment in a real-life situation. However, Goldstein was immediately attacked by commentators like Elie Mystal of the blog Above the Law for being “racially insensitive and divisive.” Mystal falsely stated that Goldstein’s question asked students to “advocate in favor of extremist racists in Ferguson.”

Surprisingly Goldstein actually apologized and told his students that he “clearly underestimated and misjudged the impact of this question.” He proceeded to throw out the question in what seemed a cringing compliance with a new taboo subject.

The apologies continued this week at Smith College after President Kathleen McCartney publicly joined protesters in what she called “a shared fury . . . . [as] we raise our voices in protest.” McCartney declared “all lives matter,” but was immediately denounced for being too inclusive by not saying “Black lives matter.” Smith sophomore, Cecelia Lim, complained that McCartney was “invalidating the experience of black lives.” McCartney asked forgiveness and promised not to stray from the expected language. (Ironically, the next weekend, a civil rights leader led the crowd with the theme that “all lives matter.”).

At the University of Iowa, visiting professor Serhat Tanyolacar also protested wrongly with a striking statue of a Klu Klux Klan member composed of newspaper clippings on racial tension and violence. It was a striking piece of artistic and political speech designed to “facilitate a dialogue.” Within hours, university officials declared the art to be “deeply offensive” and ordered its removal. It effectively declared the art, which is protesting intolerance, to be itself a form of hate speech. Tanyolacar issued a formal apology and a university official who had defended the art also apologized for his “own privilege and culture bias” that blinded him to the feelings of African Americans.

In the meantime, Columbia Law School postponed exams after minority students insisted that it was difficult to sit for exams and apply legal principles that are used to “deny justice to so many black and brown bodies.” The law school agreed and Robert E. Scott, Columbia’s interim dean, postponed the exams due to the “trauma” of the decisions which “threatens to undermine a sense that the law is a fundamental pillar of society to protect fairness, due process and equality.” Students at other law schools are demanding similar delays in their exams.

I sympathize with students who feel deeply injured by what they view as injustice and Columbia was right to reach out to students. However, as lawyers, we work in a trauma-filled environment where not just the rights but the very lives of our clients are sometimes in the balance.

In the cacophony of apologies, what is being lost is the sense academic freedom and free speech on college campuses. Ironically, Tanyolacar did “facilitate a dialogue” but it is whether an open dialogue is still possible on our over-charged campuses.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.

50 thoughts on “Collegia Apologia: Academic Apologies Abound In The Aftermath Of Ferguson”

  1. Its ironic that a prolific commenter ( whether or not he is a paid disinformationist, he makes liberal use of the well-known the familiar counter-intelligence tactic of polarization. One way to do this is to demonize the opponent. The message being: Is this the kind of person you would trust for information on a controversial subject).

    Claiming to be on the side of free speech while always ready to engage in the above-described tactic is the height of hypocrisy.

  2. “Hey, boss, I can’t come into work today because I’m too traumatized by the recent grand jury decisions.” How long do you think I’d have my job after that? If law students aspire to be professionals, they’d best act like professionals. And college administrators should do likewise.

  3. Then you have A City University of New York English professor who faces a slate of charges after police accused him of sparking a violent run-in with officers during Saturday’s protest demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge.

    Eric Linsker, 29, was allegedly spotted by police carrying a large garbage can on walkway of the bridge above the traffic lanes during the protests against the police killings of unarmed black men.
    Protesters had been tossing debris at police on the bridge’s lower level at the time, police said.

    His lawyer said, “you got the wrong man”. He’s a real nice guy….really. The cops have the video.

  4. That is why the higher education bubble needs to burst like a bunch of wooden shoe wearing knuckleheads buying tulips.

    The waste is staggering. So many people who should not go to college are wasting billions of taxpayer dollars in student loans that will never be repaid.

    Put everything on line. Since colleges are full of rapists these days the best thing to do is close them down and let everyone work from the privacy of their own home. Nobody will be offended. Nobody will be raped. Nobody will binge drink.

    Unless of course they do but then it is on them.

  5. There is no courage in education anymore. Only political considerations on which party you are willing to offend less or more.

    For those Wisconsin people on here, I hope you are following what is going on at Marquette with Professor McAdams. Spineless weasels. And it tracks completely with this column.

  6. Nick, the Oberlin instructor would almost certainly have loved to get the “visiting” part of his job title dropped next year. I’m guessing now that he’ll be teaching at a community college by then, if not sooner.

  7. ChipS, Thanks for the Oberlin story. A professor w/ some balls. God bless him!

  8. Stop the apologies. Stick with your original statement and have some courage when the blowback happens.

  9. trooper, Things have changed since I was first in college back in the 70’s. Most of my professors were tough and would NEVER cave in to stupid crap like this. It was a different world when I returned to school 25 years later.

  10. There’s at least one person willing to stand up to this bull-tish: Michael Raney, Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics at Oberlin. He’s the guy whose email reply to a long, whiny email from a student (who whitesplained to him that black students were in no shape to take his final exam so that he should postpone it) was, in its entirety, “No.”

    Given that he seems to have no tenure-track job anywhere, Dr. Raney’s ballsiness makes him the Anthony McAuliffe of the battle against campus insanity.

  11. “College campuses this week seem more like centers of reeducation than education…”

    That’s b/c that’s what they are.

    Are you really just noticing, or is it finally impossible to rationalize away?

  12. leejcarroll stated the other day on the KKK thread that the apologies seemed like hostage statements. Many of the people calling for an, “open dialogue on race” are the hostage takers, deciding what can and can’t be said. The 1st Amendment is under attack on many fronts, from North Korea to college campuses to the MSM. JT has been accused of being racially insensitive by some because he has the temerity to actually seek a true and open dialogue on race.

  13. This is the year of ‘microaggressions.’ I am surprised that Inga has not picked up on the word. It is floating around all the college campuses.

  14. These statements by academics sound like the “confessions” of defendants in a “show trial” in Stalin’s Soviet Union back in the 1930’s.

Comments are closed.