The Importance of Being Earnest: Professor Suspended for Dismissing a False Racial Incident

Theater professor Dr. Steven Earnest of Coastal Carolina University is the latest faculty member to face suspension for expressing a dissenting view on campus. What is notable about this case is that students are demanding his termination because he failed to show sufficient empathy over a mistaken racial incident.

The controversy began on September 16th when students came into a classroom and found names written on a board. The names were recognized as being students of color. Students organized a protest over minority students being singled out for an unknown nefarious purpose.

In reality, the names were written on the board by a visiting artist who was responding to a minority student who said that she felt isolated. The artist listed other students of color in the theater department as a resource for the student.  They left the names on the board.

Despite the fact that this was an effort at positive reenforcement, the University still apologized to the student body for the incident. The visiting artist also apologized for her “thoughtless and careless” action.

Earnest, however, voiced a dissenting view in response to an email from the Department of Theatre’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee apologizing to the student body: “Sorry but I dont think its a big deal. I’m just sad people get their feelings hurt so easily. And they are going into Theatre?”

Students learned of the email and declared Earnest either racist or racially insensitive. They demanded that he be fired. Rather than supporting his right to free speech and academic freedom, the dean of Coastal Carolina’s College of Humanities and Fine Arts, Claudia Bornholdt, reportedly ordered Earnest to stay out of his classroom. He was then suspended.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) issued a letter to the university to object that Earnest was being fired for being insufficiently upset by the incident.

I can understand that some students may have felt offended by the email, but Earnest has a right to express his view of the incident — just as they do.

Notably, the university is a public university in South Carolina. Thus, the First Amendment applies directly to this dispute.

Moreover, the faculty manual expressly guarantees:

“Coastal Carolina University adheres in principle to the American Association of University Professors’ Statements of Academic Freedom and its policy to defend academic freedom against any encroachment. The University, as a center of learning, depends upon the free search for truth and its free dissemination. The University has adopted both of the following statements: the AAUP report, “Freedom in the Classroom,” and the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.

Faculty members of Coastal Carolina University are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties. However, research for pecuniary return will be based upon an understanding with the authorities of the institution. Faculty members are entitled to freedom in the classroom to discuss their subjects but should not introduce controversial material which has no relation to the subject.”

The action taken against Professor Earnest runs contrary to both the First Amendment and the AAUP principles formally adopted by the university.

These students fail to see that defending free speech is a protection of not just the right of Professor Earnest to speak but their right to denounce such speech.

Oscar Wilde wrote in The Importance of Being Earnest that “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” That is why we protect a diversity of viewpoints to allow the truth to emerge through the crucible of free speech. 

44 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Earnest: Professor Suspended for Dismissing a False Racial Incident”

  1. I cannot add anything to the comments above because I found the majority of them to be right on target with a little humor sprinkled in.

    I agree with the majority on this one.

  2. My 17 year old son, who has a 4.33 (weighted) GPA, sports accolades and is very active in the community should theoretically be accepted into any school of his choosing next year, came to me a couple of days ago and said he’s having second thoughts on attending college because of the current climate and his own political views. He already works remotely as a software programmer for a game developer and has been offered a full time position after graduation at a very respectable salary. I’m torn, so torn.

    1. Tough position. College frequently no longer makes sense except for the fact it is an inexpensive way for businesses to sort through candidates. If he doesn’t go, he can get a degree while working. That by itself can look good on a resume as some people have financial responsibilities that have to be met. That demonstrates responsibility and hard work.

    2. Anonymous,

      With regard to your son’s choice to enter the workforce or attend university given the job offer he received and not at all knowing the full story of course, I can reasonably say that what would it matter if your son elected to work one or two years as a dev at this company and perhaps then come to a choice on whether to pursue his formal education further? He would only be about 20 years old by then and is young enough to go about it in a manner of his own choosing. Nothing would truly be lost considering a 45 year career ahead of him. And if he retained most of his salary from the software company it could go a long way toward financing his education or a down payment on a house.

      From what I know of the sofware industry they generally are interested more in talent and ability as a whole then they are at checkboxes on resumes or official college transcripts. Some companies are more one way than the other. But as another commenter here mentioned having the degree is a way of winnowing the vast numbers of resumes of unknowns that clog inboxes of HR departments.

      One must be an extraordinarily driven person to be successful in the software industry. A dev I knew who has over 35 years experience at a major company once said to the effect of “If you don’t grow in this industry you die.” That is a true statement. The take away from that is that the industry changes constantly, internal reorgs are a way of life, and a person must be able to quickly adapt to new conditions or requirements or they quickly become obsolete. It is also not that a person can adopt to this, but in the long term, and what employers want to generally see is that the employee WANTS to and strives to be such a person–who not only works well but thrives. Extra points are awarded if the applicant can show initiative such as a product or tool they developed on their own, or as a hobby; especially one that others have found useful on the Internet.

      There are companies that are like the old IBM model of the 1960s still around. Then there are government agencies that hire software engineers. These types of entities like to see measurable, and quantifiable qualifications such as degrees, GPAs, and certain coursework and the reputation of the university. Then there are the smaller footloose or highly mobile and creative companies that want the person who stands out, who can be an asset and who can bring an uneasily attainable skill to the company. These are the companies that look for the devs I describe in the paragraph above. Some companies are large enough that just hiring a run-of-the-mill software engineer is the usual form of business but they also have the reasources to hire someone completely outside the software profession who has basic programming experience but brings with them an extrordinary talent that might be of great utility to a project. I remember one person hired by a firm who had a PhD in mathematics and specialized in designing models for optimizing the efficiency of systems on a transactional analysis basis. His methodology greatly improved the efficiency of an enterprise level mail and messaging system and was quite successful.

      Surely not knowing the full story with regard to your son to bear in mind is limiting. With that said if a good company is willing to offer a 17 year old a full time job at graduation to be a software developer that is quite uncommon. And if your son accepts this employment he will be years ahead in experience in training than what his high school cohorts will be when they graduate from university and begin their job search. Even some government agencies are willing to consider five years of software development experience being at par with a four-year degree in computer science. I believe your son will be successful in whichever path he chooses. That he can choose his path, at his stage in life, he is already ahead of the game.

      1. Darren, though I wrote the anonymous comment, yours was a far more complete and great response. I liked, “having the degree is a way of winnowing the vast numbers of resumes of unknowns that clog inboxes of HR departments.”. There are many ways to add to that. Many years ago, my niece, in her application essay, I think to Duke, said in a better way that I am an Indian, not an Indian chief. Duke accepted her, responding that they had a lot of chiefs applying but not enough Indians.

  3. Wait, the Theatre department has their own “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee”? Does every department have their own “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee” ? lol.

  4. This stuff is now yawn inducing. The inmates are running the asylum.. and the corrections officers are helping them…

  5. What is so funny/sad (?) about this is that CCU is gaining a national reputation with their football team and, according to many You Tube videos,the party school of SC, being so close to Myrtle Beach. I have taken to e-mailing the university departments, etc. most involved in suspensions and alumni associations before I ever post here. Just thinking of the number of Turley readers.

  6. Natural rights inherent in people. We declare that all men, when they form a social compact are equal in right: that all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; and they have at all times a right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper. —

  7. This is primarily a Gen Z pathology. There are lots of books and articles explaining away why this generation is like it is. Personally, my dear, I don’t give a damn. Who can be sympathetic with these little fascists when they now have carte blanche to trample over the rights of others. There will be a breaking point, and when that day comes, well, let’s just say that karma won’t care about their “feelings.”

  8. So, the Red Army is angry and upset that a professor did not falsely claim a racist incident? They demand dismissal because he didn’t leap to a false conclusion.

    He’s right. If they’re this thin skinned to criticism, perhaps theatre is not a wise career move.

    This is why academia is so thoroughly hard Left now. The activists threaten and winnow out the conservatives, then they went after the moderate Democrats, and now they savage anyone on the Left who does not dutifully toe the party line.

    It’s a fascist movement.

  9. Well, it is expected that a very tiny minority of students will take “pretend offense” to the names of minority students written on a board. I say “pretend offense” because it is unlikely that any offense was really taken. What these students have learned, is that attention can be garnered by raising certain issues. To end this, third party observers should not comment, as that simply generates more attention.

    1. You could not be more wrong. They ARE offended. This is what indoctrination does to our children, this is THE PROOF. They have been brainwashed, this is how they think now. They have no reasoning skills, no empathy for opposing views. They have tunnel vision. They believe what they preach.

  10. I can’t think of anything else other than it is crazy time.

    Too much Crazy. Better to listen to Patsy

    1. I was shocked when I learned that Willie Nelson was the writer of Crazy. Until I had learned that, I never knew the Nelson is a song writing genius.

      1. Iowan, I didn’t know either. It was a similar surprise to me even though I know him as a singer and song writer.

  11. With all due respect, mentally “fragile” individuals should be somewhere in a closed environment in psychotherapy, and not unloading their insecurities onto everyone else. All universities suddenly turned into w mental ward of some State Hospital. Can you imagine our current youth fighting for independence, writing Declaration of Independence and Constitution that are still relevant centuries later? They would have surrendered to the British as long as the British used correct pronouns. How did we get to this point? Do these people have parents that care? My parents taught me right from wrong and not behaving like a deranged 5-year-old kid throwing tantrum in a candy aisle..

    1. “. . . a deranged 5-year-old kid throwing tantrum . . .”

      That is spot on.

      With rare exceptions, academia has become an emotionalist culture — driven by a philosophy that elevates feelings over rationality. Such are the consequences of rejecting reason.

  12. “I can understand that some students may have felt offended by the email, but Earnest has a right to express his view of the incident — just as they do.”
    I can’t.

  13. The professor is right, these “students” will never be able to handle a critical review – or should I say racist review, because anything critical is obviously racist.

  14. Just when one thought that the state of the Nation had reached absolute bottom, one reads about this incident. At this rate all diversity of thought will be eliminated from the Academy in another couple of years. Here is a lecturer being sympathetic to overly sensitive snowflakes and he is forced to apologize for leaving names on a chalkboard. I have spent a lot of time working in developing countries including South Sudan and Burkina Faso. I would very much like to see some of this pathetic non students dropped into a place of real hardship and get a grip on reality. Say drop them into the middle of Lagos and see how they fare.

    1. I see you weren’t sufficiently fervent during today’s Minute of Hate against Goldstein Mr. Smith…

  15. Lefties virtue signaling.

    Don’t these people realize that they set themselves up as figures of contempt?

    And like the boy who cried wolf, they use up their credibility.

  16. Ignorant, racialized zombies seeking vengeance for a crime they can’t articulate clearly. Thanks, Obama.

  17. Sue, Professor, sue.

    But he was right at least about one thing, says the father of a former theater major: “And they are going into Theatre?”

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