A professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, Sean Aday, is under fire this week from various conservative sites and Campus Reform for using the occasion of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s birthday to call him a “rapey prep school douchebag.” As will not come as a surprise to many on this blog, I support Aday’s right to express his views on social media, even views that are offensive or obnoxious as they are here.
Aday responded to a posting on Kavanaugh’s birthday by tweeting:
“Appropriate that the picture here makes him look just like the rapey prep school douchebag that he is: RT @KimberlyRobinsn: Happy birthday to Brett Kavanaugh, who was born #OTD in 1965 in Washington D.C.”
Aday has other incendiary postings attacking attacking conservatives and Republicans. However, these are his views. It is true that he posts his personal twitter on his school web page. That has become common in academia. I can see the discomfort with the inclusion of the “follow” link for some critics. Yet, his Twitter bio does specify that his “tweets are his views, not GWU’s.”
This tweet is not alone, however, in expressing the professor’s dislike for conservatives. For example, he attacked Rush Limbaugh after the conservative radio host said that he believes “America’s still not ready to elect a gay guy…” Aday responded that “It really speaks volumes about Rush’s sexual inadequacy and insecurity that he considers Trump — a rapist who even consensual partners describe as comically endowed and unsatisfying — “Mr. Man.”
I have previously written about concerns that public employees are increasingly being disciplined for actions in their private lives or views or associations outside of work. We have previously seen teachers (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) students (here, here and here) and other public employees (here and here and here) fired for their private speech or conduct, including school employees fired for posing in magazines (here), appearing on television shows in bikinis (here), or having a prior career in the adult entertainment industry (here). This includes Halloween costume controversies or the costumes of their children. Employees at private institutions have fewer protections from such disciplinary measures.
Sean Aday has taught at George Washington for 20 years and received his
Ph.D., and M.A. from The Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, 1999. He received his B.S.J. from The Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. He has a long list of academic publications.
As always, my principal concern is whether Aday brings his inflammatory views into his classes or interactions with students. I can certainly see how conservative students would feel uncomfortable with a teacher who expresses such views as part of a class. Students, however, are aware that teachers have different political viewpoints and engage in a wider array of social and political activities. Indeed, as a member of the media and public affairs school, it should be no surprise that he is engaged in the broader commentary and public debate. We want faculty and students to be active in the real world; engaging in our national dialogues over political or social controversies. There is no indication that he has created a hostile or intimidating atmosphere in his classes.