Here is the full exchange:
The most telling statement is the last. Before blocking Montalvo on Facebook, Lax declared “I’m too educated to think you are honest.” That smug statement captures perfectly the intolerance of many in academia today. Indeed, it also explains why top faculties have virtually purged their ranks of conservative and Republican faculty members. They simply declare their views to be not intellectually “rigorous” or honest. It is that easy. You then select only colleagues from the left who form an echo chamber for themselves and students on campus.
Lax’s embarrassing exchange with this student only occurred because it is not considered an embarrassment on many faculties. To the contrary, it is likely that he was showered with praise by many for his commentary. The reason such unhinged comments are increasingly being made in public is that they are common in private among academics. In order to prove you are woke and socially conscious, academics often compete in making more and more extreme comments about Trump, Republicans, or conservative politics. Even as the deputy chair of his department (which probably include a few Republicans or conservatives, Lax maintains a shrieking presence on social media in denouncing conservative viewpoints.
However, Lax is not accused to attacking students on campus or in his classes. He is speaking on social media as an individual and should not face investigation for such exchanges. Indeed, I have repeatedly objected to how universities place professors under investigation for months in clear cases of free speech or academic freedom. We previously discussed how these investigations produce a chilling effect on speech when administrators show little support for free speech, including a recent case at the University of San Diego.
It is rare for such unhinged postings to be investigated when they attack figures or causes on the right. We have seen how universities do not take action against those who write racist attacks on white people or sexist attacks on males. The result is not just the sanctioning of faculty for exercising free speech but the biased application of such measures based on the content of such speech. Students have also been sanctioned for criticism BLM and anti-police views at various colleges. Even a high school principal was fired for stating that “all lives matter.” Each of these controversies raise concerns over the countervailing statements against police or Republicans or other groups.
I am admittedly a free speech dinosaur. I believe in largely unfettered free speech, particularly for statements made off campus or outside of a classroom. I have defended faculty who have made similarly disturbing comments “detonating white people,” denouncing police, calling for Republicans to suffer, strangling police officers, celebrating the death of conservatives, calling for the killing of Trump supporters, supporting the murder of conservative protesters and other outrageous statements. We previously wrote about academic freedom issues at University of Rhode Island due to its Director of Graduate Studies of History Erik Loomis, who has defended the murder of a conservative protester and said that he saw “nothing wrong” with such acts of violence.
The highly biased positions taken in past cases should not tempt us to yield to temptation and demand the same treatment for faculty like Lax. Faculty and students need to be afforded the freedom to engage in our public debate outside of school, even when they do so in obnoxious or offensive ways in the view of others. Lax shows an embarrassing lack of judgment, objectivity, and civility. However, he has every right to expose his true self on social media. Indeed, social media helps expose such blind rage and bias in such moments. If he shows the same intolerance and anger in class, Columbia should take immediate action. Until then, he has every right to make a complete fool of himself.