UCLA is facing a new free speech controversy after its Director of Race and Equity, Jonathan Perkins, tweeted that he (like many) hoped Justice Clarence Thomas would die rather than recover from his recent illness. UCLA recently disciplined a student for controversial statements, but has stood by the right of Perkins to express such hateful viewpoints. Ironically, Perkins’ office has long posted anti-free speech positions to justify censorship and speech codes.
Perkins is a lawyer (with a J.D. from the University of Virginia) and previously worked in the General Counsel’s office of Harvard University.
When news spread of the hospitalization of Thomas, Perkins declared “No one wants to openly admit [we all] hope Clarence Thomas dies. Whatever you need to tell yourselves.” He further referred to objections to wishing death upon others as “silly” while adding a racist attack: “Uncle Thomas is a sexist token who’s committed himself to making us all share in he and his treasonous wife’s misery.”
It was a mild statement to be sure but I still support the right of Perkins and other faculty and students in being able to speak freely on social media. This was a personal viewpoint expressed outside of the school.
However, that was not the approach taken by UCLA in other controversies. Last year, UCLA athlete Chris Weiland was dismissed from the cross country and track & field team after video of him making racist, sexist and homophobic comments appeared on social media. The comments were overheard as Weiland spoke with his mother.
Avery Anderson, UCLA’s Director of Track and Field and Cross Country reinstated Weiland after a suspension, but then protests led to his dismissal.
UCLA’s Black Student-Athletes Alliance issued a statement that:
“UCLA knew about an incident of blatant racism, homophobia and sexism and did very minimal actions about it. … We do not feel safe with this person on campus, and we demand UCLA athletics take action immediately and remove this student from the team.”
Anderson responded to this and other objections by reversing her decision:
“It became clear that his continued involvement with the team is incompatible with the culture of mutual support and respect we’re fostering. I now realize that the decision to reinstate him was not the right decision, and that the action today is best for the well-being of our team.”
UCLA professors have also been subject to investigations and protests over their private speech or class policies that were denounced as racist. One professor is currently suing UCLA.
There are no such protests or actions taken over the hateful and racist comments of Perkins.