There is a new debate over impact of social media on academics. We previously debated the status of Boston University sociology professor Saida Grundy after a series of racist postings on social media. Boston University retained Grundy while many asked what would have happened if a white professor had posted the inverse comments about the “problem” of black males on campuses. Now a Memphis professor, Zandria Robinson, has triggered the same debate after denouncing whites and insisting that “whiteness is most certainly and inevitably terror.” However, in Robinson’s case, she was rehired by Rhodes College, which seemed to view her controversial comments as a positive element supporting her appointment. Some have criticized the decision and asked again if a white professor had called blackness a “terror,” if those comments would have been deemed a positive intellectual perspective.
Robinson taught sociology at University of Memphis until resigning on June 11th after her social media postings were made public. She said that she did not want her daughter attending school with “snotty privileged whites” and that “whiteness is most certainly and inevitably terror.” She added that there was a need for “thinkpieces about how more mental health services could prevent white people from acting how they are conditioned to act.”
Rhodes College heralded Robinson last week “As a leading scholar and author in the areas of race, class, gender, culture, and the South, Dr. Zandria Robinson’s comments are sometimes provocative, controversial, and debatable.”
In the meantime, University of Memphis spokeswoman Gabrielle Maxey insisted that Robinson was not fired and that the university did not force her out over her racist comments. Rather, she decided to resign.
The debate continues over free speech and academic status. I tend to oppose discipline or terminations over public comments so long as these academics do not show racism or intolerance in the treatment of students. I am particularly concerned when these comments are tied to the academic work of faculty on race issues and politics. My primary concern is that there should not be a double standard. When a white professor is targeted for such comments in the future, will Professors Robinson and Grundy be the first to step forward in defense of their free speech? I would hope so.