Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher has caused a firestorm of controversy by tweeting how “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide.” He then followed up with a taunting clarification that “To clarify: when the whites were massacred during the Haitian revolution, that was a good thing indeed.” Drexel has said that it respects the professor’s right to free speech but has called him into for a meeting. Ciccariello-Maher maintains that he was using satire to taunt white supremacists.
The university denounced the comments as “utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing, and do not in any way reflect the values of the University.”
Ciccariello-Maher said that racists need to get a sense of humor and that “It is a figment of the racist imagination, it should be mocked, and I’m glad to have mocked it.” The question raised by some academics is whether the reversal of the satirical tweet — calling for the genocide of blacks — would be treated as a matter of free speech or discipline by the university.
As we have previously discussed (including the recent story involving an Oregon professor), there remains an uncertain line in what language is protected for teachers in their private lives. The incident also raises what some faculty have complained is a double or at least uncertain standard. We have previously discussed 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. There were also such incident at the University of London involving Bahar Mustafa as well as one involving a University of Pennsylvania professor.
As is well known on this blog, I tend to favor free speech rights in all of these cases. In my view, this view does seem to be satire — bad satire but satire all the same. However, the standard remains entirely uncertain for academics as to whether their conduct or comments outside of school will be the basis for discipline. As a private institution, Drexel falls under a different standard than schools like the University of Oregon. Yet, free speech demands a bright line to avoid a chilling effect on those who want to challenge the status quo or popular views. Academics often write to challenge students and the public in exploring the edges of norms and beliefs.
What do you think?