We have been discussing disciplinary measures taken against faculty who engage in the public debate over social and political issues ranging from the Black Lives Matter movement to police misconduct to systemic racism in society. Now Professor Gregory Manco, a math professor at St. Joseph’s University, has been suspended after he made arguments opposing reparations on Twitter. Few media outlets beyond conservative sites like The College Fix are covering the controversy but it raises serious questions over the curtailment of free speech for both faculty and students in expressing opposing views in our ongoing national debate over social, economic, political, and legal reforms.
We 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 and a literature professor at Penn. The silence of many faculty in the face of crackdowns on free speech has been chilling in the last few years.
A written notice from the school’s human resources department to Manco called the tweets “biased or discriminatory,” and he has since been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.
Manco was writing on a personal and an anonymous account as “South Jersey Giants.” Yet, he was still targeted because he expressed his opposition to reparations as well as racial bias training. A professor should be able to voice such views not just anonymously but directly as part of a national debate on such issues.
As always, my concern is not with the merits of such arguments, or even the manner in which they are expressed. Rather, professors have a right to express themselves even when they espouse offensive or disgraceful positions. As we have previously discussed, one professor called for more Trump supporters to be killed. Another called for strangling police. Rhode Island Professor Erik Loomis, who writes for the site Lawyers, Guns, and Money, said he saw “nothing wrong” with the killing of a conservative protester — a view defended by other academics. While sites like Lawyers, Guns, and Money feature writers law professor Paul Campos who call for the firing of those with opposing views (including myself), they continue to feature a writer who has justified actually killing those with opposing views. I have opposed calls that extremist figures like Loomis should be terminated at their universities for speaking publicly on such issues. However, there remains a sharp contrast in how such controversial statements are treated by universities depending on their content or conclusions.
We have previously discussed the concern that academics are allowed (correctly) to voice extreme views on social justice and police misconduct, but that there is less tolerance for the voicing of opposing views on such subjects. There were analogous controversies at the University of California and Boston University, where there have been criticism of such a double standard, even in the face of criminal conduct. There were also such an incident at the University of London involving Bahar Mustafa as well as one involving a University of Pennsylvania professor. Some intolerant statements against students are deemed free speech while others are deemed hate speech or the basis for university action. There is a lack of consistency or uniformity in these actions which turn on the specific groups left aggrieved by out-of-school comments. There is also a tolerance of faculty and students tearing down fliers and stopping the speech of conservatives. Indeed, even faculty who assaulted pro-life advocates was supported by faculty and lionized for her activism.
Universities are not alone in such one-sided actions. This week, I testified in Congress on efforts to bar individuals from social media or even pressure companies to take networks like Fox News off the air.
In this case, Manco compared slavery reparations to the great-great-grandchild of a murder victim asking the perpetrator’s great-great-grandchild for compensation. It is easy to see why many would be offended by how he expressed his views, including the statement “Now get this racist reparation bullshit out of your head for good.” However, other academics espousing anti-police or anti-Republican views have used similar language without triggering a campaign for termination.
Students demanded action and the university swiftly complied with an investigation and suspension of Manco. Director of Public Relations and Media Gail Benner told The College Fix that “We thank our students for bringing to our attention a possible violation of our values. The University launched an investigation into a report of bias. The faculty member will not be in the classroom or in a coaching role while the investigation is conducted.”
The suspension raises that same concern that I had with the recent handling of the case of Law Professor Jason Kilborn who was suspended for using a censored version of the “n-word” on an exam. The suspension and public investigation of Kilborn triggered serious academic freedom questions. The matter could have been investigated further by the university after an initial determination not to change his status. Instead, he was suspended — a decision that clearly will create a chilling effect on other academics at the school.
There is no connection of Manco’s classes and he not only wrote without reference to his position but did not even write under his own name. Chief Human Resource Officer Zenobia Hargust wrote “The University received several complaints regarding online postings that were allegedly made by you and are of a biased or discriminatory nature.” Those postings were private, off-campus remarks. Yet, he was suspended. Even if an investigation was warranted, it could have left his status unchanged, particularly in light of a presumption that he is entitled to speak on social and political issues outside of the school.
Indeed, the faculty handbook affirms that right, as Manco himself pointed out.
That statement is not the creation of St. Joseph’s University. It is the 1940 statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors:
College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.
Manco however was suspended despite the controversy focusing on discussions outside of the university on social media on an anonymous account. Manco told the College Fix “I have no idea how it will turn out. A fair investigation clears me and I rejoin my students. I can only hope it will be fair. I love my university.”
The silence of other faculty at the university (and faculty at other universities) continues to be both conspicuous and alarming. There is a palpable fear that speaking out in defense of the free speech rights of professors like Professor Manco will only make you the next target of criticism or some cancelling campaign. The result is bone-chilling silence from most faculty when fellow professors are targeted for expressing conservative or opposing views on these sensitive subjects. That silence is as damaging as the campaigns targeting faculty members. Historically, censorship and speech controls are used not just to silence a few but to deter many others in the expression of opposing views. Manco will presumably be cleared, but his suspension sends a clear message to others that expressing themselves in public (even anonymously) could result in public investigation and humiliation.