Boston University has been widely criticized for its response to racially-charged comments of its newest professor, Saida Grundy, an incoming assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies. Various news outlets are reporting that BU alums have threatened to withdraw support from the school over hiring a professor who has denounced “white men as a “problem population” and called “white masculinity . . . THE problem for america’s (sic) colleges.” Grundy has made her Twitter account private and refused to make any comments to the media about her past comments that have been denounced as both racist and sexist.
As discussed in the prior story, Colin Riley, the university spokesman, issued a statement standing by Grundy and, correctly, stating that this is an act of free speech. Many academics, including this one, believe that this is protected speech, but that does not prevent the university from denouncing such comments.
Riley has now issued a statement that “… we are deeply saddened when anyone makes such offensive statements.” The university further stated that it “does not condone racism or bigotry in any form and we are deeply saddened when anyone makes such offensive statements.” It may not do much to quell the anger among alums over the hiring itself or the delayed sense of “regret” expressed in the comments.
Many alums are suggesting that, had this been a white professor calling blacks the problem on campuses, there would have been an order terminating the contract. I hope that BU would adopt a consistent approach in such cases, but in the end the damage is likely to linger. Universities are facing tremendous financial pressures today and BU has long been the poorer relation to its neighbors, Harvard and MIT, in terms of fundraising. This will not help. However, the university is correct in maintaining the right of Brundy to be able to speak freely, particularly given the connection of this speech to her academic research. One can question the hiring decision on its merits in terms of such scholarship, but academics should be allowed to make controversial, even offensive, comments in their public writings.
What do you think?