The New York Times is under fire for its coverage of how an incoming Tennessee cheerleader was dumped from the team after the release of a three-second video in which she used a racial epithet. Times reporter Dan Levin gave a strikingly positive account of how Jimmy Galligan waited for years to release the video to do the most harm to Mimi Groves. The article “A Racial Slur, a Viral Video, and a Reckoning,” is being cited as the ultimate celebration of the cancel culture in its tenor and lack of balance. Everyone agrees that the use of the n-word was a terrible thing. However, the same standard does not seem to apply to professors who use racist and insensitive comments. It would seem that, even if students are not accorded the same protections for faculty, universities should offer them the same opportunity for redemptive change. After all, college is meant as place for personal growth for students.
Levin’s article was criticized as “glorifying” the decision of Galligan to wait to the release of the three-second clip until after Groves achieved her lifetime dream of being admitted to UT and joining its cheerleading team. Groves is an accomplished cheerleader who was a varsity cheer captain at her high school. When asked, some black leaders have said publicly that they do not agree with the action taken by UT.
It now appears that Galligan kept a three-second snapchat video in which Groves used the n-word. Here is how Levin described it: “Galligan, who had waited until Ms. Groves had chosen a college, had publicly posted the video that afternoon. Within hours, it had been shared to Snapchat, TikTok and Twitter, where furious calls mounted for the University of Tennessee to revoke its admission offer.” The media attention unleashed a torrent of demands from people that Groves be expelled from UT.
The backlash led to UT dropping Groves from the cheerleading team and Groves ultimately left the university.
How is that a balanced or just result for any institution of high education?
As we have previously discussed (including with the 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. Indeed, faculty have complained of a double or at least uncertain standard that applies to insensitive or racial commentary that depends on the viewpoint. 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.
Some professors have used racist epithets without being fired or even disciplined. Other comments have ranged from openly racist to patently offensive. Professors have claimed the pandemic is a white conspiracy. Another professor said that “white lives don’t matter.” Another wrote about a hatred for all white people. Another appeared to call for the death white people deemed racist. Another professor called Justice Barrett a “white colonizer” for adopting Haitian children. Other professors have called for doxxing or campaigns of harassment. Another professor called all supporters of police “white supremacists.” Another professor declared “whiteness is terrorism.” Another professor called for the “miserable deaths” of white men. Another called for “white genocide.” Another called every Republican “racist scum.”
I have defended faculty members from both the left and the right despite their use of hateful and insensitive remarks on social media as a matter of free speech. Notably, these are adults who intentionally post inflammatory comments but they still are accorded protections of free speech and academic freedom.
This was a high school freshman who made a terrible mistake in a three-second snapchat clip. The New York Times however seemed to border on the gleeful in describing her demise. I have previously commented on the loss of journalism integrity at the Times. However, the primary blame rests with the University of Tennessee which showed little concern for this student despite her profuse apologies.
I have complained previously that universities are not only allowing for the erosion of free speech but failing to protect students from the retaliation for their political or social viewpoints. We can all condemn the comment made by Groves while, after her public apology, allowing her to continue to fulfill her dream of attending UT and competing on the cheerleading team.