Penn Professor Faces Calls For His Removal After Questioning An Anti-Racism Statement [UPDATED]

download-10We have been discussing efforts to fire professors who voice dissenting views of the basis or demands of recent protests including an effort to oust a leading economist from the University of Chicago as well as a leading linguistics professor at Harvard.  It is part of a wave of intolerance sweeping over our colleges and our newsrooms.  Now, an effort has been launched to fire University of Pennsylvania Professor Carlin Romano and to kick him off a prestigious literary group because Romano questioned the language of a proposed statement on racism in the publishing industry and even spotted an embarrassing typo.
Update: After posting the original blog, Professor Romano sent me a kind note. He then in true form (given his original email on the proposal) noted a long list of typos in my column. (Many on this blog routinely point out such typos, which are something of an embarrassing signature for me. I usually get up around 5 am to write blogs before caffeine fully takes hold). I thought it was hilarious and asked if I could mention his edits. He gracefully agreed and then pointed out two more typos. I still do not think that he should be fired.
Professor Romano is an attorney who teaches at Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication. He became the latest target in academia when he questioned the language of a proposed anti-racism statement. Romano has publicly declared support for the movement and has written in the past of the need to diversify the publishing industry.  However, he wrote to object to statements that he felt failed to acknowledge the past efforts by people like him and to paint the entire industry as racist.There was a time when such criticism would have been welcomed on boards and faculties.  This is not “those times.”  NPR described Romano’s comments as “racist” without giving examples to support such a career-ending allegation.  The line that is being most cited in other coverage is Romano stating that the statement failed to acknowledge how white editors fought to be more inclusive and “[m]any of the writers cited in the letter‘s own list would never have been published if not for ecumenical, good-willed white editors and publishers who fought for the publication of black writers.”  He also noted the difficulty in past efforts to diversify because “[w]e professors especially know that accomplished black undergraduates rarely want to go into book publishing because it pays so badly.”  He even objected that the statement misspelled the name of Ahmaud Arbery, the black man shot and killed by armed white residents in Georgia.None of that sat well with those who drafted or supported the proposal.

That led to another Change.org petition demanding that Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication “prohibit Carlin Romano from teaching at Penn this fall or ever again.” An even broader effort seeks to remove him from the prestigious National Book Critics Circle, which declared that it is “facilitating a special membership meeting” to vote on the removal of Carlin Romano from its board after dozens of board members called for his removal.

Once again, we come to these disputes from the perspective of a free speech blog.  I am less concerned with the merits than I am with the right of figures like Romano to voice dissenting views. I am not familiar with Professor Romano or his views. Yet, it does not matter if Romano opposed the Black Lives Matter movement or its demands. It is a matter of the right to express divergent views. In this case, Romano did not challenge the need for a statement for greater diversity. He objected to the failure to acknowledge past efforts and the painting of the entire industry as racist.

Any such questioning of such proposals is now treated as de facto racist — followed by the now inevitable Change.org petitions.  We discussed recently however that Change.org did not allow such petitions by conservative students objecting to a Cambridge professor stating (and then repeating) that “White Lives Don’t Matter.”  That petition (which did not even seek the professor’s termination) was declared “bullying” and removed from the site. However, petitions targeting Romano for objecting to the language of a proposal as unfair is viewed as entirely acceptable by Change.org.  Ironically, I support both academics in their right to such free speech as well as those posting these petitions. It is the clearly biased position of Change.org that is disconcerting from a free speech perspective.

Romano has expressed disbelief in being targeted by such petitions. He is a  former NBCC president and its current vice president of grants and, in the email, prefaced his criticism by noting that he has “probably written more articles and reviews about Philadelphia’s black literature and traditions in my 25 years at the [Philadelphia] Inquirer than anyone living, black or white.” In addition, he told The Daily Pennsylvanian: “I am pro-Black Lives Matter. I am in favor of greater diversity in the book publishing business. I am not racist, not by a long shot.”

That appears entirely immaterial. Board members resigned rather than serve with an academic who objected to the language of a Black Lives Matter proposal.  I have no objection to people criticizing his rhetoric or his position but, rather than seek clarification of his remarks or address his concerns, the demand is for removal.

The response is similar to the effort to remove University of Chicago Professor Harald Uhlig as senior editor of the prestigious Journal of Political Economy and a similar effort to remove Harvard Professor Steven Pinker from the Linguistic Society of America.

It is also similar to the successful effort to push writer Andrew Sullivan out of New York Magazine and Vox.  Sullivan noted:

And maybe it’s worth pointing out that “conservative” in my case means that I have passionately opposed Donald J. Trump and pioneered marriage equality, that I support legalized drugs, criminal-justice reform, more redistribution of wealth, aggressive action against climate change, police reform, a realist foreign policy, and laws to protect transgender people from discrimination. I was one of the first journalists in established media to come out. I was a major and early supporter of Barack Obama. I intend to vote for Biden in November.

It did not matter. Sullivan reported that colleagues said that they felt unsafe working in the same building with him because he questioned aspects of current protests or demands.

My principal concern is not that Romano will be fired at Penn. I am hopeful that the faculty will stand by a colleague regardless of their disagreement with his position. Rather, my principal concern is that this campaign has already succeeded in adding to the already glacial chilling effect on free speech and academic freedom. It is likely that this board will remove Romano if recent examples are any indicator. Few professors want to risk the possibility that they will be next to be called a racist or subjected to a Change.org petition. Indeed, in his letter, Romano references an unnamed board member who was too afraid to voice objections to the proposal’s language.

The level of fear and intimidation on faculties today is alarming. It is part of a concerted effort to deter anyone who would express dissenting views particularly of BLM as an organization or demands made in these protests.  I have heard from many professors around the country who say that they simply cannot risk being targeted and labeled a racist.  So they remain silent.  That is the point of these campaigns. When someone like Romano speaks out, they are quickly isolated, targeted, and condemned. The message is clear. There is a new orthodoxy on campuses that cannot be questioned, even by those who have expressed support for Black Lives Matter generally.

This anti-free speech environment is being fostered by the silence of professors and reporters who have adopted a purely pedestrian view as colleagues are abused or fired.  The silence will not ultimately protect those who remain.  It is a campaign that will devour its own in the loss of academic freedoms and free speech.  Free speech dies in silence and the current silence is deafening.

 

152 thoughts on “Penn Professor Faces Calls For His Removal After Questioning An Anti-Racism Statement [UPDATED]”

  1. The professor is a victim, a victim that forget that he was dealing with vipers. No matter how well you treat it, feed it, and care for it, it’s very presence places your life in danger. It is still a snake. Black Liers Matter, like snakes, are not reasonable nor are their supporters. This entire mess is not about Equality of treatment. It is about Equality of results. They, ànd They are a tiny minority of American Blacks, try to take by intimidation and force what they cannot do via the ballot, seize political control of Our government and society in general. We have forgotten and They don’t care that we are a people, a nation with Majority rule and minority rights. That Majority is not based on ethnicity, but ideology.

  2. Dr. Peter received his doctorate in education here at Washington State University. He taught at the University of British Columbia. I suppose both experiences helped him to form the Peter Principle of maximal incompetence.

  3. The problem with Black Lives Matter is the first word — Black.
    Wouldn’t it be better to practice All lives Matter?
    They do.

    I thought the simper statement — Lives Matter — but when I realized how much a three note cadenza was universally used instead of a two note cadenza I realized that the three word statement is far better.

    Perhaps quiet will prevail and All Lives Matter may become more universal.

    1. If some (not all) police-chiefs ordered illegal “Stop & Frisk” searches (or pretext car searches) of white kids in the affluent suburbs like poorer neighborhoods – as the 14th Amendment legally requires – there probably would be more equal and fatal “mistakes” in police interactions. Poor kids can’t afford good lawyers like suburban parents. Ex: easy to pick on kids in Harlem but harder to do on Long Island.

      If police-chiefs followed their oath of office (which includes following federal laws defining the 14th Amendment) and treated richer Americans like poorer Americans there would be near equal fatalities between white people and people of color. When that outcome happens “All Lives Matter” would be appropriate. BLM is in response to unequal treatment sometimes resulting in death.

      So far, in the 20th and 21st Centuries, police-chiefs don’t practice that. The result is that mostly Americans of color have bad interactions with police and result in the most fatalities. “Black Lives Matter” was essentially pointing out that violating the 14th Amendment, practicing unequal treatment, results in mostly black and brown people being physically harmed or killed. Rank and file police officers simply follow orders from their top management and police unions.

      Real so-called fiscal “conservatives” should be disturbed that the 1960’s well-intended “War on Drugs” has cost taxpayers more than $1.5 trillion tax dollars, not including the drag on the U.S. economy (destroyed livelihoods, payroll taxes and taxbase of excessive imprisonment). America is the world’s largest jailer. Nations like Portugal and Switzerland, with maximum drug legalization, have the lowest number of drug related deaths. Maybe combined, the total cost to taxpayers and the U.S. economy is over $10 trillion in tax dollars. The War on Drugs has also destroyed the 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments of our Bill of Rights.

      What did we get for this huge investment by taxpayers? Today there are more illegal drugs and more drug-related deaths than in 1968 (“Terry v. Ohio” U.S. Supreme Court ruling).

  4. Ah, well. If he supports Black Lives Matter he just doesn’t get their totalitarian antagonistic agenda and apparently has to learn the hard way.
    Safer for him to demonstrate his superior acumen parsing posters, impressing the hell out of Turley–maybe all he’s really good for

  5. The far Left always acts like this. Dissent is punished. People are urged to report on each other, sever ties. Dehumanize critics. Leap upon any syllable of disagreement.

    Debate or criticism is never tolerated in a Leftist dictatorship. Since the Democrat Party has swung pretty hard Left, normalizing extremist positions, I hope to God they don’t get more power in November. We see what they do with a modicum of power, whether it’s a Liberal tech company censoring, employing propaganda, and limiting information on FB, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, or Google, getting people fired or canceled, or abusing positions of authority in government.

    Vote responsibly.

  6. The totaliaian academics and their ilk who are suppressing free thought are worthless fools, doing nothing of significance, accomplishing nothing of significance, preening to each other in an endless hall of funhouse mirrors, gazing upon their own reflections like cut-rate Narcissi. (Nar Sissies?) After all the in fighting is finished and they have unfairly damaged the careers of the few courageous souls willing to stand up to them–even a little bit–they will succeed in changing nothing. These are people who no one listens to, not really, because what they say doesn’t matter. They are mental masturbators, hectoring blabberers, useless pseudo-intellectuals always in search of the next phoney laurel wreath to bestown upon one another, the next grant, the next cushy tenured position, the next sinecure. Their entire “careers” are spent doing nothing useful. I guess, nice work if you can get it.

  7. Communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs) and American Constitutional Rights, Freedoms, Privileges and Immunities cannot coexist in America.

    The communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs) must eliminate the Constitution and Bill of Rights or leave America.

    The communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs) must engage in “…fundamentally transforming the United States of America…” or emigrate.

    Communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs) cannot BE Americans.

    1. “Labels” used to stereotype entire groups are rarely accurate. There are few, if any, communists in the United States. It’s important to distinguish America’s “constitutional democratic republic” model versus a “communist” model. Communism promotes “Equal-Outcomes” (same salary, same car, same house, etc regardless of Individual hard work, individual talent, etc). America’s model of government promotes “Equal-Opportunity” (equal education for children, equal justice under law, equal treatment of women, minorities, etc.). America’s model also values constitutional-tradition until a plaintiff legally changes that tradition as unconstitutional through the court system (women’s voting rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, etc). To use a label, it would be very “liberal” to oppose “equal-opportunity” of any person and “liberal” to support unconstitutional-tradition (as defined by the U.S. Supreme Court). For example: using real labels, John F. Kennedy was socially-liberal but fiscally and constitutionally conservative. George W. Bush was socially-conservative but fiscally and constitutionally liberal. It’s just lazy and dishonest to stereotype entire groups with inaccurate labels.

  8. We need an itShay list of colleges that stomp free speech. Maybe call them The Hitler Bund Colleges.

  9. This anti-free speech environment is being fostered by the silence of professors and reporters who have adopted a purely pedestrian view as colleagues are abused or fired.

    It has apparently not dawned on you yet professor, that your strategy towards the defense of our 1st amendment rights is absolutely ineffective at stopping the abuses. What impact has your opinions had on your own university? Your well-established constitutional credentials put you in a position where you can commit your life, fortune and sacred honor to this noble cause. Consider how many young men and women have sacrificed that much for that noble purpose. At some point, you’re literally going to have to put your money where your mouth is and get on the field, instead of providing your legal analysis from the booth. I may have missed it, but where are your appearances on the major news outlets denouncing these abuses? How much are you willing to risk?

    1. Exactly. I am a very staunch proponent of free speech. This behavior is not speech beyond a point, and we crossed that line long ago. I appreciate Jonathan’s efforts more than I could say, he is very much a lone wolf amongst the left at this point, but come on – bashing in the heads of perfect strangers, ruining the lives of relative strangers with *absolute* intent – there is nothing to defend there. Wake up! As stated elsewhere, this should no longer come as a ‘surprise’. Academia and education in general are largely lost at this point, and if we don’t want a future predicated on any of this, we had damned well better start speaking up. In public. On social media. Everywhere. The option to play it safe and see what happens is a thing of the past.

  10. The First Amendment’s speech clause was primarily designed to protect unpopular, offensive and even obscene speech. Different people are offended by different things, so infringing on anyone’s free speech exercise is a threat to everyone. The best counter to free speech is more free speech, not punishing the speaker. If you disagree with unpopular, offensive and obscene speech exercises – have a debate – with your own free speech.

    The late great Hollywood icon, Jack Valenti, helped create the TV/Movie rating system (PG, R, PG-13, etc) but he empowered “parents” to censor content not a “government entity” like the FCC or universities receiving government money. If you are offended, offer your own free speech but don’t destroy the First Amendment in the process.

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