Drexel To Investigate Controversial Professor After Complaints From Donors and Politicians

Drexel University Professor George Ciccariello-Maher is an unabashed lightning rod for controversy.  Last Christmas, he wrote how he longed for “white genocide”.  Then recently he wrote how he wanted to “vomit” when an airline passenger gave up his first class seat to a soldier. It is chilling and obnoxious rhetoric, but he made these comments on his private social media sites.  The investigation by Drexel appears to be the direct result of donors threatening to withdraw support for the university. As such, it is a highly troubling intrusion into the right of free speech of faculty.

As we previously discussed, in December, on his Twitter account, Drexel University Professor George Ciccariello-Maher said “All I want for Christmas is white genocide.”  He clearly wanted to get a rise out of people and he succeeded. He told his critic to work on their “sense of humor.”

When a man gave up his first class seat to the soldier, Ciccariello-Maher said that, as he tried not to vomit, he wanted to “yell about Mosul.” 

That is not all.  He previously posted “#BringBackFields, then do him like #OldYeller.” The reference to being shot was taken as directed at Ben Fields, the South Carolina deputy school resource officer who violently arrested a female high school student.”  He has also posted the words “Off the Pigs.”

As we have previously discussed (including the 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.

In this case, Ciccariello-Maher has caused an uproar among donors and prospective students. Now the school has launched an investigation.  Why?  He clearly has written highly insulting and controversial things.  He has the right to do so.  Yet, in an April 3 email from the university’s provost, M. Brian Blake, Ciccariello-Maher was notified of the investigation into his “extremely damaging conduct.”  The school empaneled “a special committee of inquiry to investigate your conduct and provide findings and recommendations.”

Notably, the provost wrote that “at least two potential significant donors to the university have withheld previously promised donations.” That is precisely the type of motivation that academic freedom rules are designed to protect against.  Blake merely describes how his personal speech has angered many instead of a few, which is hardly the measure of the principle of academic freedom.  To the contrary, it is designed to protect regardless of whether the impact of the writings are great or small.  Blake however wrote:

“Numerous prospective students whom the university has admitted have written to the university stating that they will not attend the university because of your conduct, and at least two potential significant donors to the university have withheld previously promised donations.  . . . The nearly unmanageable volume of venomous calls that the university has received — during this critical time in the academic year when prospective students are deciding where they want to attend college — compelled the university to consider turning off its phones in the days following your tweet, and we have real concerns that admitted students were unable to get through with questions.”

Blake insists that he previously warned Ciccariello-Maher that his social media posting could result in discipline.  The school is citing its policy on academic freedom as permitting investigation and possible discipline. It states:

“The college or university teacher is a citizen, a member of a learned profession, and an officer of an educational institution. When s/he speaks or writes as a citizen, s/he should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but his/her special position in the community imposes special obligations. As a people of learning and an educational officer, s/he should remember that the public may judge his/her profession and his/her institution by his/her utterances. Hence, s/he should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinion of others, and should make every effort to indicate that s/he is not an institutional spokesperson.”

The discussion of “restraint” hardly reads like the reservation of authority to punish academics for what the school itself called personal views that “should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.”  Moreover, Blake’s move followed demands from politicians to fire Ciccariello-Maher adding to the concerns over retaliation for unpopular views.

While Blake has stated that this language comes from the AAUP guidelines, he omitted a key footnote, as discussed in Higher Education:

“The controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness for his or her position. Extramural utterances rarely bear upon the faculty member’s fitness for the position. Moreover, a final decision should take into account the faculty member’s entire record as a teacher and scholar.”

Thousands of university professors (including this one) engage in blogs and social media to express political, social, and academic viewpoints.  Inevitably, there will be those who view many statements to be offensive or insulting. However, these academics retain not simply their rights of free speech but have historically been protected by the principles of academic freedom. If schools like Drexel destroy that tradition, any professor could be dismissed after some wealthy donor complains to a university president.  University administrators are notorious for putting the bottomline ahead of principle in such controversies.  The answer to Ciccariello-Maher is readily apparent: response with your own postings and arguments.  That is the beauty of free speech. Bad speech can be countered by good speech.

Ciccariello-Maher has four degrees and teaches in the Department of Global Studies and Modern Languages:

  • BA, Government and Economics, St. Lawrence University, 2001
  • BA, Honors/MA Social and Political Sciences, Cambridge University, 2003
  • MA, Political Science, University of California at Berkeley, 2004
  • PhD, Political Science, University of California at Berkeley, 2010

He describes his academic focus as centering “on what could be called the ‘decolonial turn’ in political thought, the moment of epistemic and political interrogation that emerges in response to colonialism and global social inequality.” His first book, We Created Chávez, resented what he calls the “people’s history” of contemporary Venezuela “demonstrating that Hugo Chávez was not the cause, but rather the result, of a broader and more fundamental transformative process.”  His current work in progress tries to “plumb the history of political thought for a radicalized understanding of the relationship between conflict and group identity (in the work of Georges Sorel), further charting the decolonization of this very conception and its projection onto a global framework (in the work of Frantz Fanon and Enrique Dussel).”

It is a mistake to judge this controversy based on the merits of the views of Ciccariello-Maher.  Rather, it is difficult to see the limiting principle for Drexel, particularly when the university admits that it is responding to donors and prospective students.  The problem with Ciccariello-Maher appears to be that the university has found his exercise of free speech to be prohibitively expensive.  If he is fired or disciplined, how much protection will his colleagues enjoy in the future.  How much money has to be at stake or how many donors have to call?  The investigation itself creates a chilling message for Drexel faculty that their remarks outside of the school will be reviewed and potentially investigated if it threatens financial support or prospective students.

What do you think?

68 thoughts on “Drexel To Investigate Controversial Professor After Complaints From Donors and Politicians

  1. @ “…Trump spokesperson Katrina Pearson…” in my last post.

    Not that it affects in any way the significance of her statement, It appears that my source, “Raw Story,” may have misspelled her name, which several other outlets refer to as “Katrina Pierson.”

  2. @Bill Weedon, April 26, 2017 at 12:30 am
    “Ken Rogers…Perhaps your arguments could be better accepted if your path was more recognizable-you’re not left or right wing, you dislike authority, you dislike corporate everything, you dislike people who succeed….wait! Maybe the path is anarchy, but anarchy is chaos. Hmmm. Maybe The title of Dylan’s biography is best suited for you…No Direction.”

    If you need a label to help orient yourself with respect to what I have to say (assuming that you sincerely care), “libertarian Christian” will do for starters in describing my politico-spiritual orientation in the world.

    One of my mentors (through his books) has been the Christian theologian, sociologist, and philosopher Jacque Ellul, who writes in The Presence of the Kingdom (1989), “If we let ourselves drift along the stream of history, without knowing it, we shall have chosen the power of suicide, which is at the heart of the world…In order to preserve the world, it is actually necessary that a genuine revolution should take place.”

    He means, of course, a revolution of consciousness, not a political rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic of the National Security State.

    Before you or anyone else is tempted to think that his saying that “suicide is at the heart of the world” is hyperbolic, just consider current international tensions and the fact that the arsenals of the nine nuclear powers are on high alert and are sufficient to destroy humankind many times over.

    In addition to the threats issued almost daily by the governments of nuclear powers, consider, too, that Trump spokesperson Katrina Pearson publicly posed the question, “What good does it do to have a good nuclear triad if you’re afraid to use it?”
    http://www.rawstory.com/2015/12/trump-spokesperson-why-bother-having-nuclear-weapons-if-youre-afraid-to-use-them/

    “SIX ESCALATION SCENARIOS
    SPIRALING TO WORLD NUCLEAR WAR
    General Scenarios Assumptions Scenario 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6
    URGENT: Scenario 3 – Israel Bombs Iranian Nuclear Plants

    “A world nuclear war is one that involves most or all nuclear powers releasing a large proportion of their nuclear weapons at targets in nuclear, and perhaps non-nuclear, states. Such a war could be initiated accidentally, aggressively or pre-emptively and could continue and spread through these means or by retaliation by a party attacked by nuclear weapons. While some speak of ‘limited nuclear war,’ it is likely that any nuclear war will quickly escalate and spiral out of control because of the ‘use them or lose them’ strategy. If you don’t use all your nuclear weapons you are likely to have them destroyed by the enemy’s nuclear weapons.

    “Such a war could start through a reaction to terrorist attacks, or through the need to protect against overwhelming military opposition, or through the use of small battle field tactical nuclear weapons meant to destroy hardened targets. It might quickly move on to the use of strategic nuclear weapons delivered by short-range or inter-continental missile or long-range bomber. These could deliver high altitude bursts whose electromagnetic pulse knocks out electrical circuits for hundreds of square miles. Or they could deliver nuclear bombs to destroys nuclear and/or non-nuclear military facilities, nuclear power plants, important industrial sites and cities. Or it could skip all those steps and start through the accidental or reckless use of strategic weapons.

    “Below are seven scenarios by which world nuclear war could come about. While these are some of the major scenarios and combination of attacks and retaliations, they are hardly exhaustive. U.S., Russian and other nuclear nations’ weapons strategizers deal with these scenarios every day, but rarely let mere citizens in on their grisly thinking. Citizens must end their denial and become aware of such scenarios.” {my emphasis]
    http://www.carolmoore.net/nuclearwar/alternatescenarios.html

  3. Ken Rogers…
    How refreshing to find such a well grounded mind in this conversation. It takes great insight for someone so adept at finding the hatred, violence, authoritarianism and other such evils of society to defend and support a venerable scholar who spouts hatred, violence, authoritarianism (e.g. “You must do as I think and say or you are wrong and evil”), etc. ad nauseum. Perhaps your arguments could be better accepted if your path was more recognizable-you’re not left or right wing, you dislike authority, you dislike corporate everything, you dislike people who succeed….wait! Maybe the path is anarchy, but anarchy is chaos. Hmmm. Maybe The title of Dylan’s biography is best suited for you…No Direction.

  4. @JAY, April 25, 2017 at 4:28 pm
    “In the Tucker Carlson interview, the professor came off as slimy (sic) and petty.”

    I tried watching the interview again, and it still stopped and started in long fits, so I couldn’t see enough to agree or disagree with your perception that he was “slimey and petty.” He did seem rather subdued, but for all I know he’s that way all the time

    I did see enough, however, to be amused at very earnest Tucker’s school-boyish attempt to discredit Ciccariello-Maher as an illegitimate, uppity critic of the US Military.

    If you’re interested in revelatory evidence of propagandist Tucker’s emotional relationship with the US National Security State, take a look at his interview of internationally recognized scholar Dr. David Ray Griffin, in which Carlson broadcasts his literal worship of the US NSS, when he says that Griffin’s and others’ suggesting that elements within it could have been responsible for the attacks of 9/11 was “blasphemous.” Yes, gasp, Dr. Griffin blasphemed Tucker’s God: 🙂
    https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=hp-avast&p=Tucker+Carlson+interview+of+David+Ray+Griffin#id=1&vid=93fb3b0d9e854f79b282c916199643bb&action=click

  5. @Nick Spinelli, April 25, 2017 at 2:15 pm
    “mespo, Ken is Howard Dean’s outside child. He learned all he knows about the 1st Amendment from daddy.”

    Nick, I guess this thinking stuff is hard and confusing for you, but Howard Dean claims that “hate speech,” whatever that is, is not legally protected speech in the US, whereas I said in the Coulter-Berkeley thread that caving to protesters of Coulter’s speech by cancelling it was “condoning mob rule.”

    See the difference there?

  6. @JAY, April 25, 2017 at 4:28 pm
    “Actually, you were, quite rightly, attacking the free speech relativists who populate the comment section of this blog. To them, this professor is clearly something of an enemy, and they clearly had no concern for his free speech rights, though they were very indignant yesterday over UC Berkeley’s efforts at shutting down Anne Coulter.”

    Yes, their hypocrisy, or perhaps pure illogicality, is stunning. They seem to be wilfully blind to their own political correctness.

    “I find the left to be much, much worse on free speech issues generally (cf. Howard Dean, and esp. the antifa goons at Berkeley).”

    I find the “left-right” categorization of people to be virtually useless in terms of explanatory power. Left-wing fascism and right-wing fascism are both fascism and authoritarian behavior is authoritarian behavior, regardless of who manifests it, and that and libertarian (non-aggressive) behavior are the definitive political criteria for me.

    Everything else political is subject to discussion on a case-by-case basis, to the degree that the case is not clearly one or the other, libertarian or authoritarian. The desire to deprive of or to punish someone for his or her speech clearly falls into the authoritarian category, and there appears to be a surfeit of authoritarian would-be speech suppressors here in JT’s comments section, notwithstanding his own repeated explications of the obvious legality and desirability of untrammeled free speech, even (or especially) when it’s offensive to many emotionally insecure people.

    “In the Tucker Carlson interview, the professor came off as slimy (sic) and petty. Why is he so concerned about a transaction between two other passengers that didn’t involve him? And why are his feelings about it so important? Because he must show us all how ‘good’ he is. Well, it worked on you, I guess.”

    Correct me if I’m mistaken, but I think he merely tweeted his response to seeing the passenger give up his seat. He didn’t confront the two other passengers, did he? I’m reminded here by the way, of the Vietnam War protestor who received a visit from the Secret Service after he’d carried a sign at a protest stating, “Johnson’s War Makes Me Want to Puke.” The protestor asked the SS agents who came to see him how his sign was a threat to the President, and one of them replied with a straight face, “If enough people puked on the President, it could kill him.” Perhaps a similar concern for the safety of the other passenger and the soldier was evoked in many anti-First Amendment critics of Ciccariello-Maher when he tweeted that he tried not to vomit when he thought of the 200 civilians killed by the US attack in Mosul.

    “And he never did give a proper answer to Carlson’s question about why he has to take out his anger more rightly directed against US policy makers against a soldier and against a first class passenger who supported the troops, which, by the way, is not necessarily the same thing as supporting US policy. The last distinction is a little beyond the cognitive abilities of the thick professor, evidently.”

    I’m confident that you know better than that last sentence suggests. At any rate, I certainly hope so.

    I’ll watch the interview again, as it kept breaking up when I tried to watch it earlier today, but regardless of what I see, I’ll note here that I find it quite disingenuous and condescending to them to absolve US military personnel of all responsibility for their participation in the invasion and occupation of other countries, and to place the responsibility solely on warmongering policy-makers.

    Military personnel aren’t robots who must go and do wherever and whatever they’re programmed to go and do, and to continuously signal at every turn unequivocal approval of their undeniable aggression against inhabitants of other countries is not an effective way to encourage them to think about what they’re doing to themselves and to others. In addition to their own and others’ physical peril in those foreign countries, the last time I saw figures, twenty-two (22) veterans are committing suicide each day. I’m sure that they are multi-factorial suicides, but war guilt or “moral injury” is reportedly one of the factors.

    To conclude, I think the main motivator for the passionately hostile response to Ciccariello-Maher’s personal statements as a US citizen may be accurately characterized as authoritarian “patriotism.”

  7. @JAY, April 25, 2017 at 3:56 pm
    “I don’t see a lot of concern for very much of any thing but virtue signalling”

    That’s a pretty heavy accusation that calls for a lot more evidence than I’ve seen, but at least you recognize his right to so signal without being punished for it.

  8. The dear professor appears visually ‘white’.
    Perhaps he will show us ‘whitey’s’ the way, and snuff himself, first …

  9. @JAY, April 25, 2017 at 12:05 pm
    “Ken: what you say is sad, but true. If you don’t support free speech for your enemies, you simply don’t support free speech. I support the right of this professor to reveal himself to be an absolute jackass.”

    Why do you characterize Ciccariello-Maher as an “enemy”? And on what do you base your assessment that he’s an “absolute jackass”? Surely, it isn’t on his humanitarian concern for the well-being of Iraqi civilians and US troops as evidenced in the interviews above. So what is it?

    • Actually, you were, quite rightly, attacking the free speech relativists who populate the comment section of this blog. To them, this professor is clearly something of an enemy, and they clearly had no concern for his free speech rights, though they were very indignant yesterday over UC Berkeley’s efforts at shutting down Anne Coulter. I find the left to be much, much worse on free speech issues generally (cf. Howard Dean, and esp. the antifa goons at Berkeley). In the Tucker Carlson interview, the professor came off as slimy and petty. Why is he so concerned about a transaction between two other passengers that didn’t involve him? And why are his feelings about it so important? Because he must show us all how “good” he is. Well, it worked on you, I guess. And he never did give a proper answer to Carlson’s question about why he has to take out his anger more rightly directed against US policy makers against a soldier and against a first class passenger who supported the troops, which, by the way, is not necessarily the same thing as supporting US policy. The last distinction is a little beyond the cognitive abilities of the thick professor, evidently. Look, I was against going into Iraq as far back as Sept, 2001, when Bush/Cheney first started talking about it. I’ve never voted Republican in my life, but these self-righteous leftists have worn me out with their intolerance.

      • Actually, you were, quite rightly, attacking the free speech relativists who populate the comment section of this blog.

        There is no such thing, except in your addled head.

        1. Drexel is not a public institution.

        2. Prof. Whatshisname is not an outside speaker there to discuss topical questions. He’s on the payroll.

        3. Ergo, what he says implicates the institutions interest and may implicate the terms of his employment. In this particular case, he pissed off some donors, and the institution doesn’t want them to walk.

        4. Run down the list of faculty in his department, and see what their research interests are. Absent a detailed defense from the faculty in question, it’s a reasonable inference that the department is a collecting pool of apologetical pseudo-disciplines. IOW, the department is political patronage. Now, of course, not every faculty member is properly described as a patronage recipient. Trouble is, nearly every one who is not is seconded from some other faculty or is teaching something which could be readily sheared off to form it’s own department.

        Which is to say, the institution would be within its rights to shut down his department and put them out on the curb. In fact, only so doing would serve academic integrity.

        • You are thoroughly without understanding of the issues involved in this matter and more generally resistant to learning much about anything at all. I decline to waste any time to help you out with that.

          Good day to you, sir.

  10. @desperatelyseekingsasquatch, April 25, 2017 at 11:24 am
    “What’s wrong with donor pressure? So, the place isn’t a pure sandbox for it’s (sic) faculty. That will bother faculty, not ordinary people.”

    Yes. If you’re funding and running higher a educational institution to produce as many obedient little authoritarian followers as possible, you don’t need professors with doctorates in political science commenting adversely on US foreign policy.

    That’s what we have friendly fascist legislator-buying billionaires and Corporate Media propagandists like Rachel Maddow and Tucker Carlson for.

    “What’s vaguely amusing, is that a starboard equivalent of this man would have been booted out of graduate school 15 years ago if he hadn’t been screened out to begin with.”

    What’s very amusing is this example of towering ignorance (verging on outright stupefaction) of US graduate school education. Perhaps it was only Divine Intervention that kept Ann Coulter, Jonathan Turley, Rachel Maddow, and Neil Gorsuch (to cite only four examples close to hand) from being screened or booted from their graduate studies.

    • Ah, Ken Rogers, sufficiently enlightened to be freed from the vicissitudes of having to pay his bills or maintain good relations with his benefactors. His is the cloistered, never-never land of his own unflinching principles where common sense and reason need not apply. Yes, it would clearly be producing miniature Hitlers to admonish — even mildly — a cretin professor who equates his country with the worst totalitarian regimes in history and which predictably causes his sources of funding to wonder just what they are getting for their cash. Ken’s is the cause of the principled zealot — an academe’ Joan of Arc, if you will, riding headlong into the breach at the Battle of Orléans, banners whipping and armor clanking. But, alas, people tire of zealots and their fiery fate is a historical constant.

    • Yes. If you’re funding and running higher a educational institution to produce as many obedient little authoritarian followers as possible, you don’t need professors with doctorates in political science commenting adversely on US foreign policy.

      This statement is, of course, non sequitur. The problem, Ken, as always, is that someone can explain something to you. They cannot comprehend it for you.

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