We recently discussed the case of Saida Grundy, an incoming assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies at Boston University who released a series of tweets denounced by many as racist and sexist, including calling white males the main problem on college campuses and admitting how she tries not to buy anything from white people. While many called for Grundy to be fired, some of us defended her racist and sexist comments as an exercise of free speech done outside of her teaching responsibilities. However at the time, I noted “released a series of tweets denounced by many as racist and sexist. “White masculinity isn’t a problem for america’s colleges, white masculinity is THE problem for america’s colleges.” Now we have such a case and it does appear to confirm some of our concerns that the same standard is not applied to those with opposing views. Duke University professor Jerry Hough has reportedly been placed on leave after posting comments online that were also denounced as racist. While Grundy was allowed to apologize for “indelicate” comments about whites, Hough is facing calls for termination and has reportedly been put on leave. [UPDATE: there are some stories indicating that Hough may have been on academic leave rather than “put on” academic leave. It is not clear from various reports.]
Hough was commenting on a New York Times editorial titled “How Racism Doomed Baltimore” and included an observation that Asian Americans don’t riot because “they didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard.” He also wrote that “every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration” compared to “every Asian student [who] has a very simple old American first name.” Just as with Grundy’s comments, it is not necessary to debate the merits of such comments. What is at issue is the right to voice such views outside of the classroom and off campus as a matter of free speech. As with Grundy, these views may also be part of Hough’s academic views as political science teacher. His bio states that “his current research centers on the establishment of the state, identity, markets, and democracy in the United States.”
He later defended his comments and said that “Martin Luther King was my hero” and insisting he is “strongly against the toleration of racial discrimination.”
Duke Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Affairs Michael Schoenfeld released a statement quickly that said that “The comments were noxious, offensive, and have no place in civil discourse.” Boston University was right to treat Grundy’s comments as an exercise of free speech. If Hough has been put on leave, Duke has positioned itself on the other side of the free speech divide and has decided that it will now impose disciplinary action for academics who espouse offensive or obnoxious views outside of the class room. The problem is a lack of a standard that explains where this line. It is not simply a question of what speech will be considered permissible outside of the classroom but how the school will limit principles of academic freedom and free expression under such a standard in both academic writings and classrooms. It is a dangerous and slippery slope. The greatest problem is that the uncertain standard creates a chilling effect on academics, particularly untenured academics in what views will be tolerated. In the academic world, such uncertainty can be devastating and strikes at the very heart of the academic mission.
Here are Hough’s full original comments:
“This editorial is what is wrong. The Democrats are an alliance of Westchester and Harlem, of Montgomery County and intercity Baltimore. Westchester and Montgomery get a Citigroup asset stimulus policy that triples the market. The blacks get a decline in wages after inflation.
But the blacks get symbolic recognition in an utterly incompetent mayor who handled this so badly from beginning to end that her resignation would be demanded if she were white. The blacks get awful editorials like this that tell them to feel sorry for themselves.
In 1965 the Asians were discriminated against as least as badly as blacks. That was reflected in the word “colored.” The racism against what even Eleanor Roosevelt called the yellow races was at least as bad.
So where are the editorials that say racism doomed the Asian-Americans. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves, but worked doubly hard.
I am a professor at Duke University. Every Asian student has a very simple old American first name that symbolizes their desire for integration. Virtually every black has a strange new name that symbolizes their lack of desire for integration. The amount of Asian-white dating is enormous and so surely will be the intermarriage. Black-white dating is almost non-existent because of the ostracism by blacks of anyone who dates a white.
It was appropriate that a Chinese design won the competition for the Martin Luther King state. King helped them overcome. The blacks followed Malcolm X.”