Issacson drew national attention with an appearance on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” show. When the New York Daily News contacted Issacson, he was dismissive of the concerns: “Oh, that shit? Everybody dies.” He added:
“I was talking about police as an agent of control that is actually in less control of the public than it’s supposed to be. I don’t have a problem with individual police officers – I mean, I teach them – but I don’t like policing as an institution. Police officers are agents of that institution.”
Issacson has appeared on a couple of Fox shows and admitted that he is a leader of Smash Racism DC, an organization accused of fostering violence. He identifies himself as an anarcho-communist and spews the same low-grade and jingoistic platitudes common to the Antifa movement. Issacson insists that the anti-speech activities of the Antifa are “self-defense.” He does touch on his teaching in this interview:
He does not that he has taught “alt-right” students and has not discriminated against them. There is no allegation that he has been biased in his classroom.
However, in a statement on the controversy John Jay College’s president, Karol V. Mason has stated
“Today, members of the John Jay faculty received threats, and our students expressed concerns for their safety in the classroom. Out of concern for the safety of our students, faculty and staff, we are immediately placing the adjunct on administrative leave as we continue to review this matter.”
“My biggest regret is putting my students and the John Jay faculty and staff at risk. That was not a risk that they assumed voluntarily, and that very much contravenes my political convictions. I deeply apologize to the John Jay community for making them the target of death threats and harassment.”
The issue of academic freedom looms large in such controversies. As we have previously discussed (including the recent controversies involving an Oregon professor and a Drexel 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.
There remains an undefined line of what academics are allowed to say on social media or public forums. The danger is that schools will engage in content-based discrimination or, even worse, use public reactions to determine what is permissible or not permissible. What makes the Issacson case a bit different is his reference to his students and classes including not just the “dead cop” comments but not wanting students to become police officers (which is a large portion of students at the college).