“We are calling on the University of Central Florida to dismiss psychology professor Charles Negy due to abhorrent racist comments he has made and continues to make on his personal Twitter account. In addition to racism, Negy has engaged in perverse transphobia and sexism on his account, which is just as reprehensible. While he has a right to free speech, he does not have a right to dehumanize students of color and other minority groups, which is a regular occurance [sic] in his classroom. By allowing him to continue in his position, UCF would simply be empowering another cog in the machine of systemic racism.”
Negy faced protests at his home and on campus, according to news reports after he explored the concept of “white shaming” as an academic, including his book “White Shaming: Bullying Based on Prejudice, Virtue-Signaling, and Ignorance.”
Negy’s work is highly controversial and his tweets have inflamed critics. In a now deleted tweet, he wrote “Black privilege is real: Besides affirm. action, special scholarships and other set asides, being shielded from legitimate criticism is a privilege. But as a group, they’re missing out on much needed feedback.”
He has also written, again on Twitter, “If Afr. Americans as a group, had the same behavioral profile as Asian Americans (on average, performing the best academically, having the highest income, committing the lowest crime, etc.), would we still be proclaiming ‘systematic racism’ exists?”
Again, the question is not the merits or tenor of such writings but the right of academics to express such viewpoints. There have been few comparable protests when professors write inflammatory comments about white culture or white privilege.
UCF President Alexander Cartwright told students that the university would investigate Negy, and that he and his Administration “are acutely aware of the offensive and hurtful Twitter posts that professor Charles Negy has shared on his personal page. These posts do not reflect the values of UCF, and I strongly condemn these racist and abhorrent posts.”
We recently discussed the Eleventh Circuit ruling against Cartwright and the university over its discriminatory-harassment and bias response team policies as violative of the First Amendment. The Eleventh Circuit overturned a district judge’s rejection of a preliminary injunction against the policy: “[I]t is imperative that colleges and universities toe the constitutional line when monitoring, supervising, and regulating student expression. Despite what we presume to be the very best of intentions, it seems to us substantially likely that the University of Central Florida crossed that line here.”
In oral argument, the university’s own lawyer struggled to define the terms or to say whether particular statements might be deemed prohibited. The court noted:
“The discriminatory-harassment policy’s imprecision exacerbates its chilling effect. To take just one example, what does it mean for one student’s speech to ‘unreasonably . . . alter’ another student’s educational experience? Both terms — ‘unreasonably’ and ‘alter’— are pretty amorphous, their application would likely vary from one student to another, and the university’s totality-of-known-circumstances approach to determining whether particular speech crosses the line only makes matters worse.”
Just as the university spent a huge amount of time and money to fight for these unconstitutional rules, it has litigated the matter over Negy to seek to strip him of his job and all benefits due to his exercise of free speech.
After teaching psychology at the school since 1998, Negy, 61, was fired in January 2021. As Cartwright turned the weight of the university against him, Negy had to sell his house to pay his lawyers.
The arbitrator noted that, while the school added objections to his teaching style, Negy received outstanding teaching reviews. Moreover, he noted Negy “demonstrated a willingness to entertain some change in his style of instruction; however, the record is devoid of any clear evidence that any member of his management requested such effort.”
Chad Binette, assistant vice president of UCF communications, indicated that the university remains undeterred by these losses. He stated that “UCF stands by the actions taken following a thorough investigation that found repeated misconduct in Professor Negy’s classroom, including imposing his views about religion, sex and race. However, we are obligated to follow the arbitrator’s ruling.”
What is not clear to me is how Cartwright retains his position as president in a Florida public university after such a record of attacks on free speech and academic freedom. He has not only sought to impose anti-free speech conditions on faculty but spent copious amounts of money seeking to preserve those rules and uphold those actions. These principles are the essence of any university and their abandonment constitutes a rejection of Cartwright’s obligation as a university president. I would not support his termination as an academic but, as an administrator, he has shown a serial failure to defend his faculty and free speech. Until university presidents are held accountable for failing to defend free speech, they will continue to yield to every flash mob that forms on a campus.