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. Paul –
    I just saw your comment about McAdams. If you think he’s an honest man who knows and tells the truth, I don’t care. I know what he is, and you would too if you would educate yourself. Then, you’d understand why serious researchers consider HIM to be little more than a Hatchet Man whose main target is the truth, and those who know the truth and aren’t afraid to tell it.

    If John McAdams is your idea of ab honorable man, so be it. If you consider his esteem (sic) a collector’s item, i question your ability to be a good judge of character.

    1. Bill McWilliams – I do not know McAdams from Adam. My comments had to do with the hatchet job article you did on him. To me you were doing fine with your persuasive essay until you seemed to lose the thread near the end. You had a subject that you were doing a good job on and then flipped to another, for no good reason. I did enjoy your writing style though.
      There is a local journalist who I follow and I always like reading her for her style, but never for her content. She wrote a book on a local ‘infamous’ person and her book was a local best seller. She made two mistakes. 1) She got too close to her subject to see the forest for the trees. 2) She still wrote like a journalist not a non-fiction writer.
      Hope that helps. 😉

  2. Paul

    No one disputes that Stone didn’t get all of the facts right. He was making a film. A film without drama would be a flop. He never said he was making a documentary. Many of us know about the major factual errors in “JFK”.

    That said, he was far more correct than some want to believe. Trying to disparage him rather than noting the huge impact his film had, as far as causing a huge increase in he number of people who became motivated to learn the truth about the coup de’tat of 11-22-63 is what makes him so valuable.

    Do you also understand that the Official 9-11 Conspiracy Theory is 100% fiction? How does that make you feel? Or, do you simply accept the comfort of not wanting to know the real facts about that particular inside job?

    Denial, and willful ignorance should be beneath anyone interested in historical truth.

    1. Bill McWilliams – 1) Oliver Stone is crap for a historian in any film he has ever made. However, like Leni Reifenstahl (sp?) he is an excellent filmmaker and gets his propaganda across. With JFK we are not talking the usual things I would overlook (compression of characters, compression of time, etc) we are talking major problems. 2) Are you familiar with the Big I little i theory? This fits in one of my little i’s (of course) and frankly I spent time on it years ago and don’t wish to spend time revisiting it. Although the History Channel is kind enough to revisit it every so often and now the American Hero Channel, I do watch any new programs they have on the subject. However, I do not want to get into this area in depth and I do not feel the least bit bad about not wanting to.

  3. Bill McWilliams – I read your McAdam’s article however it is nothing but a clever hatchet job. Mostly you attack McAdams because he disagrees with you. We have seen this reaction from you before.

    I am a little older than McAdams and have known several people who were ‘buffs,’ There is no pejorative to buff, you are taking offense where there really isn’t any. It appears from your article that McAdams beat your man to a pulp and left him bloody on the floor. And it appears from your article that you think only you could have stood up to this bully who actually used facts and factoids. How dare he defeat your champion. So, you vilify him. I am sure he is properly chastised by your article. I am sure he called with an abject apology and said he would never again use facts or factoids to defeat one of your people.

  4. Among other things, the left’s contribution to the creeping fascism in the US is the absurdity of political correctness. It’s a cancer on our country.

  5. Here’s the link I posted earlier about John McAdams:

    His reputation is that of a disiinformationalist who might well be a paid propagandist for the CIA. He does not tolerate truth about the JFK murder if it conflicts with the Warren Report. Never admits he was wrong. No serious JFK researcher considers him anything more than a dishonest, mean-spirited propagandist. Like one of his admirers here, he doesn’t respond to facts. Rather, he does what his admirer does: insult the messenger

    1. Bill McWilliams – I am not a fan of the Warren Report, I think LBJ told them in advance what the conclusion was going to be and they just had to figure out how to get there. I am more of a fan of the 2nd hearing.

      However, I do know that Oliver Stone makes so many mistakes in his films that one prominent film magazine, who regularly carries the screwups in films, refuses to do Oliver Stone films anymore.

  6. Another cautionary tale from one of my home states. John McAdams is a political science professor @ Marquette. In his blog, he called out a colleague. The colleague was a philosophy teaching asst. who shut down a discussion on gay marriage because she didn’t like that a student was speaking in opposition to gay marriage. The teaching asst. considers herself a student and filed a complaint. But McAdams points out she ran the classroom and for all intents is a professor, w/ authority over students. The administration caved and suspended McAdams.

  7. Don Carlos, Our culture, nurtured by the education industry, is becoming a victim/grievance socialist leaning cesspool. JT continually shows the problem in education. But, if you have the stomach for it, go to for a comprehensive accounting of the assaults on the 1st Amendment.

  8. “Columbia was right to reach out to students,” says the Professor. We’re talking Columbia Law School, not elementary school. These are twenty-somethings engaged in learning a profession, all post-baccalaureate, and they need to be coddled and snuggled by their faculty?? The dear little baby almost-lawyers! We don’t coddle medical students like that, fortunately.

  9. Oliver Stone did all lovers of truth a big favor. Prior to his film “JFK”, most people believed the “Lone Nut” fairy tale promoted by the Warren Commission. The Oliver Stone movie opened a lot of eyes and more and more people studied the evidence and learned the truth that JFK was assassinated in a conspiracy that involved agencies of our own government.

    Sadly, there are still plenty of paid and non-paid propagandists who drank the kool-aid that causes them to promote government sponsored conspiracies that are laughable to those who study the evidence and don’t just spout right wing disinformation and propaganda.

    If Nicky would take the time to learn more than just talking points and right-wing insults of people who disagree with him and his kind, and if he is honest, he will admit that he has been wrong about most of what he preaches.

    1. Bill McWilliams – Oliver Stone is a great filmmaker but an unreliable historian.

  10. These are not liberals run amok. These are authoritarian liberals who are very similar to the authoritarian conservatives we’re all too familiar with. Both are born of intolerance.

  11. Chip, He’s our Oliver Stone. I could go through a litany of, well let’s just say non mainstream beliefs. I’ll just give you 2. He believes DUI’s should be legal, unless someone is injured. We can only guess the genesis of that stance. And, he is a truther. ‘Nuff said. I do not engage. But, unlike some folks I do not even read, I always read his comments for the entertainment value.

  12. Weeny, weeny bo beanie
    Banana fanna fo meanie.

    If the first two letters are ever the same..
    Ya drop them both and say the name…
    Like Bob, fob fo bob and mary mary is contrary

    The name game.
    The student game.
    The blame game
    The student loan shame
    The shame on you , never ending shameless autocratic, Anthony Wiener living in Wein game.

    If this don’t explain it then nothing will. I hope none of you have kids in college.

  13. CHIP,

    If the shoe fits – and apparently it does – wear it well = with your biuddy.

  14. Bill McWilliams @ 4:49: 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).

    Bill McWilliams @ 4:57: a well-known right-wing professor who is also suspected of being a CIA asset

    Res ipsa loquitur, as the saying goes.

  15. Since 1/5 of all Co-eds get raped, I think its time to cut down on the time at risk. I suggest reducing the time required for a BA to degree to 3 years instead of 4. Hundreds of thousands of girls may avoid getting raped if we do this.

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