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. @JT
    “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.”

    @ Professor Ciccariello-Maher
    ” ‘Two days after U.S. airstrikes incinerated an estimated 200 civilians in the Iraqi city of Mosul, I sent a personal tweet in reaction to what I considered a smug and self-congratulatory gesture by a first-class passenger toward a uniformed soldier. Maybe predictably, my tweet has since been fed into and misrepresented by the outrage machine that is right-wing media. Needless to say, my personal views expressed off-campus have absolutely nothing to do with those of my employer, Drexel University.’

    “In its own statement, Drexel said Ciccariello-Maher’s comments ‘were made outside the classroom, are his own opinion and do not represent the University’s views.’ ”

    “A Drexel University professor – who said he wanted to ‘vomit’ after he saw an airline passenger give their first-class seat to a U.S. soldier – engaged in a heated debate tonight with Tucker Carlson.

    “George Ciccariello-Maher argued that it’s ‘irresponsible’ to blindly support wars that lead to the deaths of Americans and foreign civilians, so he wanted to ‘yell about Mosul’ when he saw the act of kindness on the plane.

    “Tucker pointed out that Ciccariello-Maher’s issue appears to be with U.S. foreign policy-makers, yet he’s blaming the soldiers.
    ” ‘Why is it bad to give them a first-class seat?’ Tucker asked. ‘Somebody’s trying to be nice to [a] guy who’s going through all these hardships … and that makes you mad. Why?’

    “Ciccariello-Maher said it was an ’empty gesture,’ and he wants to see policies that actually help the men and women of the U.S. military and innocent civilians.

    Tucker noted that Ciccariello-Maher made his tweet about the first-class seat protected, which prevented the public from seeing it. [Emphasis added]

    ” ‘If you’re proud of what you think and you can defend what you think, why did you do that?’ Tucker pressed.
    Watch the heated exchange above.

    @mespo727272, April 25, 2017 at 10:06 am
    “Protections for free speech are limited to defenses against government actors not private ones. You have no right to free speech on the job and you bear the consequences of your speech. BTW lynch mobs are usually dolts with little understanding of the law acting on their own ignorance. Only one commenter so far qualifies for that distinction.”

    Regarding your understanding of First Amendment guarantees and academic freedom from intimidation by politically correct moneyed interests, “…dolts with little understanding of the law acting on their own ignorance. Only one commenter so far qualifies for that distinction.” is a pretty harsh self-assessment, isn’t it? I’d characterize your comment as seriously ignorant and not a little authoritarian, but not actually doltish.

    1. It’s simple Ken: you have no idea what or who the First Amendment applies to. So why would anyone listen to anything else you have to say. And, so typical of the dolt, you can’t see the joke’s on you.

      1. mespo, Ken is Howard Dean’s outside child. He learned all he knows about the 1st Amendment from daddy.

        1. I’m trying to keep the term, “outside child” part of our vernacular. It is on the endangered list.

          1. Nick:
            Apt peccadillo descriptions will never die as long as most thinking is done below the waist. Speaking of the 60s vernacular, your comment made me think of that Janis Ian song “Society’s Child.” Here is that unforgettable performance by Ms. Ian, age 16, on the Smothers Bros Show:

  2. What’s wrong with donor pressure? So, the place isn’t a pure sandbox for it’s faculty. That will bother faculty, not ordinary people.

    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.

  3. And thus are righteous lynch mobs born. 🙂 The majority of the comments so far sadly demonstrate the insecurity and intolerance of their authors, who solidly support freedom of speech unless, of course, it happens to offend them for some reason.

    1. Protections for free speech are limited to defenses against government actors not private ones. You have no right to free speech on the job and you bear the consequences of your speech. BTW lynch mobs are usually dolts with little understanding of the law acting on their own ignorance. Only one commenter so far qualifies for that distinction.

    2. 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.

      1. ‘Don’t support free speech for my enemies’? None of us have advocated he be prosecuted. The question at hand is whether or not he should have a position at Drexel. Drexel’s not a public institution, so that question implicates nothing about his constitutional rights. It does corral questions regarding:

        1. His contractual rights

        2. The architectonic mission of the school (if any be articulated).

        3. The maintenance and performance of the university as a public forum.

        4. Whether or not there are employee performance issues at hand.

        5. Where some practical institutional interests lie.

        His contractual rights are binding. I doubt Drexel admits to an architectonic mission or that one is evident on the campus (other than something silly like ‘diversity and inclusion’); the place isn’t Brigham Young. As for the other three considerations, there are trade-offs.

        And whether or not I support ‘free speech’ rights for my ‘enemies’, they don’t support them for me, and you can see the implications of that running down the faculty roster in this jackwagon’s department.

    3. Freedom of speech does not mean one never needs to worry about negative reactions to that speech. There are consequences for our acts. Who besides those in education or government can expect to get by with voicing such outlandish opinions? Other industries/businesses require their employees to be accountable for their actions/words. [With his views, I wonder if is a legacy of the 60s radicals who spit in the face of those returning from Vietnam.]

  4. He’s a rather roguish employee hurting the business interests of a private business. Out he goes with less than a moments thought if I run the place. Academic freedom is fine but it’s not a suicide pact. And to Nick’s point, I would say he’s a “useless fool.” Do svidaniya!

    1. The vast majority of universities and 100% of those that worth attending are either state agencies or non-profits. They are not private businesses in the sense in which that expression is typically understood.

      1. So what? It’s still a private concern and not bound by the state or federal constitution in that respect. No private concern can be and remain a proper free agent.

        I’d be more sympathetic to Prof. Whatshisname as a local eccentric if I did not suspect he was a rude piece of work in meatworld and fully on board with running people like me out of the arts and sciences faculty entirely.

        1. This isn’t a first amendment issue in any case, so the question of whether it’s a public or private institution is irrelevant. Academic freedom and tenure are contractual rights not first amendment rights.

        1. Dang it!!! I just ordered a Taylor’s of Harrowgate sampler and I bet the price is going down. I should have waited. I also ordered 8 boxes of Bigelow’s Earl Grey Green Tea, Have you heard anything about the price of green tea in China???

          Squeeky Fromm
          Girl Reporter

          PS: FWIW, I French Pressed some Community Private Reserve Evangeline Blend this morning, but I think it is grown in South America, or maybe Central America. Wherever they grow coffee, which I don’t think is China. Anyway, Community is a highly under-rated coffee. That is some smooth coffee. I also had an apple because an apple a day keeps constipation away, or whatever the saying is.

          Am I digressing???

  5. I saw this smug a-hole interviewed. He has many degrees but little wisdom or street smarts. He is a useful fool. I hope he continues his employment and Drexel goes out of business. That would be natural consequences.

  6. Like many I have met in academia, Professor Ciccariello-Maher seems to be out of touch with the real world.

    The First Amendment guarantees “freedom of speech”… it does not guarantee “freedom from consequences”. Only in academia is the later expected, no matter how inflammatory or offensive the remarks.

    Were I to send out offensive tweets or make public comments that directly cost my employer thousands of dollars or more, I would be surprised if I weren’t immediately terminated… and I probably should be!

    Frankly, employees have responsibilities and a college professor is nothing more than an employee. Whether realized or not, employees are representatives or their company or institution and should act accordingly. Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s repeatedly inflammatory comments are a poor reflection on himself, his profession, and most importantly… the University that is paying his salary.

    All that being said… The professor has a right to be offensive. Due to academic freedom rules in employment contracts the University probably can’t fire him, but prospective students and alumni certainly are free to choose another place to spend their hard-earned money. Perhaps Universities should be a little more selective with whom they hire in the first place?

  7. “That is the beauty of free speech. Bad speech can be countered by good speech.”

    Free speech does not need to be a suicide pact for the university. A withdrawal of funds from donors and/or a loss of revenue from a drop in tuition is also evidence of free speech. The people have merely responded by not buying the entire package that Drexel is selling. The beauty of free speech protections is we get to know what other people are saying and then civilly respond. These universities also have a right to speak and they have an obligation to the entire institution, not just one professor.

  8. Does JT also question the ability of his local Bar Association to create a multitude of rules and regulations pertaining to the conduct of those practicing law and the consequences for stepping out of line? Hmmm? You know, those pesky rules pertaining to the professional conduct–or, any conduct, for that matter, even when it falls outside of the scope of professional duties–which permit that hallowed license, to practice law, to disappear? Yes, it’s not just “criminal” conduct which will let the boys yank one’s law license; all sorts of behavior, deemed “offensive” can, technically, allow one to come within the cross hairs of the Bar. Does JT challenge those rules, as well? A very wide and open ended scope as to what will garner the loss of the privilege to practice law. Read any state’s rules pertaining to professional misconduct, as they relate to the lawyers of said state, including the consequences for overstepping some very undefined lines. Those lawyers, who have engaged in that “offensive” or “abusive” behavior don’t just lose a job; they lose their license to practice law–either temporarily or permanently. Far worse than being canned from a job at a university. Why is JT not shocked at the loss of one’s livelihood, which is what occurs with the revocation of a law license and can be justified by such nebulous terms such as the commission of “offensive” or “abusive” behavior on the part of the offending attorney?

  9. Seems simple enough. The free market has spoken and he can speak as freely as he wants while looking for another job.

    Bill O’Reilly had an empire that he built on Fox, But he apparently screwed up and it has cost him dearly.

    Again, free market doing what it does best.

    1. Hmmmmmm. Clearly a malcontent. I guess if I was running the school, I would sh!t-can this guy for his poor and unscholarly presentation. Present a scholarly argument, but if you want to try to moonlight by doing inflammatory stand-up, then I’d be happy to relieve him of his day job.

  10. He sounds like a lifetime psychopath that everyone recognized but were “too polite” to say something about. One more evil person. And he is teaching others? 😳

  11. If they university can fire the football coach because of pressure from the alums, there is no reason they cannot go after a professor or two or three. Money talks, BS walks. He is costing them money and students, he goes.

    1. Football coaches are not tenured. Compiling losing records is not speech. You’re just being silly.

      1. Jay – publish or perish is the same as winning seasons. You don’t publish enough, you are toast.

  12. As a retired professor, I find this faculty member’s “private” remarks unprofessional. Certainly he can express his opinion but that needs to be done in light of his especial status as a professor; thoughtfully.

    1. When I was in school, professors did not opine. They had theories and could walk students through the steps of analysis which brought them to their conclusion. They felt their mission was to teach students how to assemble and analyze the facts before them …. to think. It was not good enough to have the right answer, but know and understand the basis for that answer. My professors were now interested in creating parrots of their thoughts and opinions. They were in the business to develop the minds of the next generation which would have the responsibility of solving the coming problems. Opinions like longing for white genocide is a personal opinion and wish.

      This professor reeks of narcissism. His personal desires appear to out-trump any desire he has to develop his students’ minds.

  13. The lowlife’s from Berekely. Nothing more need be said in his defense. There is none, contrary to JT’s wish that all teachers spread leftist poison everywhere they can. It’s not an issue of free speech. It’s an issue of decency and values. Who would you want your children to listen to? A lying, degenerate scumbag lowlife? Or someone who wants to preserve civilization and to help people grow. If Drexel get rids of this lying lowlife, it can only be improvement and the DONORS have to RIGHT to demand his termination. There are plenty of leftist schools that will gladly hire him. Those leftist schools LOVE poisoning youth and they can’t get enough of it.

  14. Hmmm. Is calling for “White Genocide” a form of “hate speech”??? If so, then according to Howard Dean, and most of the Liberal Democrats and SJWs. then Professor C-Maher speech is NOT protected by the First Amendment, and they are equitably estopped from claiming he has such rights.

    How is that for some fine forensical logic!

    Squeeky Fromm
    Girl Reporter

  15. I “Think” the school should modify any employment contract to say any activity or speech public or private that reflects negatively on our institution or holds it up to public ridicule is grounds for dismissal.

  16. “What do you think?”
    I think Professor George Ciccariello-Maher is a reprehensible person.

    If benefactors and student applicants choose to offer themselves elsewhere then so be it. They have as much a right to choose where to invest their time and money as Mr. Ciccariello-Maher does to make a jackass of himself.

    1. Thanks Mr. Smith for your comment. Was starting to wonder how much more the world had tipped on its axis and then saw your comment.

  17. @JT
    “What do you think?”

    I think that if Drexel punishes him in any way for his personal speech that he should sue Drexel just as Steven Salaita sued the University of Illinois when they denied him tenure based on what he had tweeted.

    “The Board of Trustees authorized an $875,000 settlement with Steven Salaita, on Nov. 12, following 14 months of protests, legal motions and inter-University conflict.

    “Salaita, the man who was at the center of many University conversations since August 2014 agreed to the settlement on the grounds he would never try to work at the University.

    “A University press release sent Thursday stated the University and Salaita reached a settlement that ‘allows both parties to move forward while focusing on their respective priorities.’ Salaita will receive the $600,000 as a lump sum and will not join the Urbana faculty. The remaining $275,000 will pay for Salaita’s attorney fees.”

    If university administrators are too obtuse to understand and respect the First Amendment and related principles such as AAUP guidelines, then let them enjoy the educative heat of lawsuits and financial settlements.

    1. Even if he sues and wins, Drexel may lose less money by firing him so that their donor base remains intact.

      Bet on the money controlling Drexel’s decisions. Every time.

      1. I’m tired of these so called “Professors” touting their LiBERAL/PROGRESSIVE/SOCIALIST views. Should be OFF Limits except in a Civics or Sociology class. Beyond that, they have no right or business lecturing their political beliefs. My neighbor removed his $500,000 donation to Duke for their stupid plan to ring a bell five times a day in honor of their 750 (that’s right…only 750) Muslim students. I applauded that decision. Can’t have it both ways. Support of women and then support a religion that treats donkeys better than women.

  18. Dr. Turley,
    Regarding censorship and it’s ills…I respectfully request you post a blog on the criminal statutes in Canada and (IIRC seventeen) EU nations in which persons are current imprisoned for the thought crime of disagreeing with the Western and Israeli-approved definition of the so-called “holocaust.”

    Beyond however one defines X number of Judaics who died at the hand of Germany in WW2, their cause of death, and circumstances around their death. Is it fair to other races of people who died in greater numbers, that USA taxpayers are forced to financially support only Judaic “holocaust” museum and other special accommodations? Is there any fairness to this word “holocaust” being more associated with Judaic WW2 death when other races such as Russia suffered innumerably more deaths?

    It’s noteworthy too that Russian deaths happened specifically because of the splitting of East Europe, which was considered payment to Russia for its contribution to the Western war effort, to help conquer Germany.

    General Patton decried the splitting of East Europe for Russia. Soon thereafter, he died a mysterious death. Some argue he was silenced to appease the peace treaties which resulted in many millions of Russian deaths. I have heard of no one who disputes that many more Russians died from WW2 and its aftermath than did Judaics during the war.

    Finally, there is an incredible YouTube video wherein a regular guy, a senior citizen in age, holds to the camera and reads multiple NY Times newspaper original copies from the early 20th C, comprising allegedly reliable stories of “SIX MILLION JEWS KILLED.” The point is that Judaics and their business partners decided to annex Palestine to protect oil for Western business interests in the late 19th C. These persons promulgated lies published in the NY Times and elsewhere attempting to stir up Westerners for their ultimate goal.

    Their stories finally stuck during and after WW2.

    Google searches quickly confirm that just prior to WW2, Judaics were fleeing Rabbinical control, and turning away from their “faith,” favoring secularism. To this very day, Rabbis proclaim loudly and proudly that Hitler was God’s revenge on the Jews for turning away from the Rabbis.

    The result of this type of Rabbinical pressure on Judaics is exactly as one would expect: the fastest growing branch of Judaism is the most rancid and intransigent Zionist type of Orthodoxy, such as the branch in which Micheal Chertoff participates (sorry, the name escapes me).

    I have read, and believe it true, that a Judaic in FDR’s State Department invented the term “Judeo Christian” specifically to rile up Western so-called “Christians” to support FDR’s desire to join the war effort. Prior to this invented and oxymoronic term, Westerners had almost no interest in the war. After this term appeared, Western Christians tended to better identify with the Jews suffering under Hitler.

    Judaism specifically hates Christ more than any other human being who ever lived, stating Jesus “boils in excrement for eternity.” To combine a religion that teaches such with Christ is a supreme absurdity.

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