We have been discussing the concerns over free speech on our campuses, including the question of equal treatment given social postings by faculty in their private time. Douglas Muir, an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia’s Engineering School, has become the focus of these concerns after he took a leave of absence after he was criticized for calling Black Lives Matter as the biggest racist organization since the Ku Klux Klan. It was clearly an inflammatory statement and understandably viewed by many as insulting and ill-informed. However, there remain free speech concerns over when such statements have resulted in disciplinary actions for academics.
Muir wrote on Facebook “Black lives matter is the biggest rasist (sic) organisation (sic) since the clan (sic). Are you kidding me. Disgusting!!!”
That led to a condemnation from the Universities and calls for his termination.
This has renewed the debate over the impact of social media on academics and whether there is content-based approach to such controversies. It is in fact free speech and there are academic protections for unpopular speech. The college is right. However, there is a growing concern over the test being applied to academics based on the content of such speech. The controversy raises again the question of a double standard in controversies at the University of California and Boston University, where there have been criticism of a double standard, even in the face of criminal conduct. Recently, we discussed a case at the University of London involving Bahar Mustafa. We recently saw a student suspended for a joke on Yik Yak that was denounced as racist. Another student was fired for criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement.
Yet, critics have charged that countervailing comments have not resulted in the same levels of discipline or even outrage:
• At Dartmouth, Black Lives Matter protesters burst into the Baker-Berry Library and prevented students from studying or even leaving as some screamed racial epithets: “F–k you, you filthy white f–ks!” “F–k you and your comfort!” and “F–k you, you racist shits!” Vice Provost for Student Affairs Inge-Lise Ameer actually apologized to the protesters for all the negative comments directed at their conduct.
• A columnist at Berkeley wrote about “white devils,” students living off-campus at Claremont said they were looking for a roommate “of color,” and the University of Connecticut set up a living space designed to be supportive of black male students. Resident advisers at the State University of New York even created a course entitled “Stop White People,” and weren’t disciplined. Yet Rohini Sethi, Houston University’s student body vice president, was suspended for posting her view that “all lives matter” on social media. And Georgia Southern University student Emily Faz was the target of stalking and death threats after criticizing Black Lives Matter on Facebook; she had to take time off from her job to protect her co-workers.
• Tulane students tore down a “Trump wall” at a fraternity off campus without any sanction, but when someone wrote “Trump” on sidewalks in chalk, Emory issued a long letter commiserating with the students who were offended by the supposed intimidation.
• Boston University sociology professor Saida Grundy posted a series of racist screeds against white people but retained her job. Memphis professor Zandria Robinson was hired by Rhodes College after denouncing whites and insisting that “whiteness is most certainly and inevitably terror.” There is little doubt what would have happened to a professor who said the inverse of such statements about minorities.
I have tended to oppose discipline on both sides over social media postings. Thus, Joy Karega, an assistant professor of “rhetoric and composition” at Oberlin College posted bizarre claims on Facebook blaming Jews and Israel for 9/11 as well as ISIS. The college however decided that such postings are protected and it is correct in doing so.
Muir has been the subject of calls for his termination over a response to a Facebook post by a local real estate agent who attended a lecture by Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza and referred to BLM as “working for dignity for everyone.”.
The university responded to the calls for termination by denouncing Muir and clearly indicating that he was forced to take a leave:
“While free speech and open discussion are fundamental principles of our nation and the University, Mr. Muir’s comment was entirely inappropriate. UVA Engineering does not condone actions that undermine our values, dedication to diversity and educational mission. Our faculty and staff are responsible for upholding our values and demonstrating them to students and the community. Mr Muir has agreed to take leave and is preparing his own statement to the community.”
In the meantime, the mayor of Charlottesville, Wes Bellamy, has called on the public to boycott Muir’s “Bella’s” Italian restaurant that he runs with his wife, Valeria Bisenti.
Here Muir made a posting on his own Facebook account that he viewed BLM as itself racist and akin to the KKK. There is clearly ample reason to strongly object to that statement and that analogy. However, Muir was not advocating discrimination against students or questioning diversity or the education mission of the university. For faculty, the question remains where the line is drawn over the exercise of free speech, particularly on private social media accounts. If faculty members are to be fired or placed on leave for social media commentary, there should be a standard that not only respects free speech values and academic freedom but also maintains a clear line for equal treatment among academics.
What do you think?
49 thoughts on “University Of Virginia Professor Takes Leave Of Absence For Criticizing Black Lives Matter As A “Racist” Organization Akin To The KKK”
Karen you sound passionate about all that you said, unfortunately most of it is bull. I have been on the BLM website and didn’t see any of the things you mentioned, actually, BLM is a big advocate for the alternative life style, particurly transgender folks.
Uri – the difference is between what you say and what you do. They can be really nice people on their website but thugs on the street.
Uri, I know I’m not supposed to laugh at quotes like this, but “Karen you sound passionate about all that you said, unfortunately most of it is bull” cracked me up.
This idiot is just an adjunct, he should just keep his mouth closed I guess he figured he wasn’t going to become full time fsculty so why not say something stupid.
This PC crap has got to stop. I hope we don’t end up like Sweden. The Swedes are so wrapped up in not wanting to be called racist that they are not even defending their country nor themselves from the refuges they have allowed into their country. Whatever the truth is it can’t be stifled.
This is troubling.
When I first heard about BLM, I took it to mean that “black lives matter just as much as everyone else’s”, and I agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment. But BLM has become an increasingly threatening movement. It’s founders believe that Israel is an illegal occupier and support Palestinian terrorists, with antisemitic rhetoric. High ranking members have voiced the opinion that the police should be disbanded, and that all black inmates are political prisoners and should be released. They have voiced racist rhetoric against Caucasians and Latinos. They march changing, “What do we want? Cops dead! When do we want it? Now” and “Cops are pigs, fry ’em like bacon.” They have encouraged violence against LEO and resisting arrest. They perpetuate the narrative that no a single officer involved shooting of an African American is justified, regardless of the race of the cop. Even black cops shooting black suspects are included in the cops are racist meme. And we have all seen that criticism of BLM can lead to bullying on campus or the threat or actual loss of your job. Merely saying “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter” has been branded racist by BLM and the dutiful politicians and media, which is absurd. BLM absolutely is racist, if you’ve read their speeches, chants, or interviews. Not all of those demonstrating for BLM are, of course, but many of those high up in the movement absolutely are.
That seems very threatening to me.
I would not go so far as to liken them to the Klan, but no organization or movement is above criticism. BLM should be no exception. They do, in fact, advocate violence agains the police and racism, and they do in fact have support of politicians going all the way up to the White House. But the Klan held millions of people in terror for decades, infiltrated law enforcement, the courts, and legislators, and held more power over people. It is a matter of degree. My own grandfather stopped a Klan mob in their tracks with a shotgun, standing up for their victims. So glad they are seen as fringe now.
Yes, a university can legally take action if an at will employee makes public statements that can hurt the school’s reputation or enrollment. This could have been a good chance for discussion on the racism and violence going on today. Perhaps the reason why criticism of BLM might affect enrollment is because not enough people are talking about the issues in the BLM movement.
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