Another professor is under fire for a tweet this week. In a now-deleted post on Twitter, Auburn University professor Jesse Goldberg declared “f*ck every cop. Every single one.” He then added, “the only ethical choice for any cop to make at this point is to refuse to do their job and quit.” The university is reportedly considering actions against Goldberg. As will likely come as no surprise to many on this blog, I do not agree that Goldberg should be subject to termination for the tweet which was the expression of his social and political views outside of the classroom. As I stated in my testimony in the Senate this week, faculty across the country are being subjected to campaigns for their termination due to controversial statements on the current protests and their underlying causes. While most of these cases involve professors who question the Black Lives Matter organizations or claims of systemic racism, it does not matter from a free speech perspective.
Jesse A. Goldberg is a Lecturer in the English department at Auburn University teaching classes in African American literature, American literature, and composition.
Goldberg’s twitter tirade came as a response to the controversy over the arrest of a protester, Nikki Stone, by plainclothes NYPD officers.
Goldberg insisted that the arrest constituted “kidnapping,” a common but unfounded hyperbolic description. As I have repeatedly noted, many arrests are made every year with plainclothes officers using unmarked cars. Critics have also noted that Goldberg has posted ACAB or “All Cops Are Bad” on social media.
In response, Auburn Executive Director of Public Affairs Brian Keeter denounced the comments as “inexcusable and completely counter to Auburn values.” Keeter appeared to suggest that the postings constituted “hate speech”:
“Hate speech of any kind is simply wrong. Auburn is fully committed to the fundamental right of free speech, but we do not support hateful words or actions that degrade, disrespect, or exclude. Especially during these difficult times in our nation, it’s vital that we reject crude stereotypes and work together to foster mutual understanding and respect within our communities.”
However, it was this statement that drew my attention: “Auburn officials are considering options available to the university.”
Goldberg is obviously extremely anti-police and his comments are highly offensive. However, what is the standard for any “options”? Many people hold such hostile views of law enforcement which reflect deep-seated political and social views. Such statements or investigations create a chilling effect on speech for faculty and students alike. There is no suggestion that Goldberg’s personal views have caused improper conduct or treatment in his classes. I would have much preferred a university statement that simply reaffirmed the free speech rights of all faculty and students, particularly when expressed off campus and in social media.
This principle is already stated in Auburn’s faculty handbook:
“College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write on matters of public interest as well as matters related to professional duties and the functioning of the University, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline. Academic responsibility implies the faithful performance of professional duties and obligations, the recognition of the demands of the scholarly enterprise, and the candor to make it clear that when one is speaking or writing on matters of public interest, one is not speaking for the institution.”
Goldberg’s comments warrant condemnation but they also warrant protection. As is often the case on this blog with its free speech orientation, we end up defending those with unpopular and often obnoxious views. However, the erosion of free speech on our campuses require not just clarity on these rules from university but consistency in faculty support for the right of colleagues to be speak freely.