Berkeley is up in arms this week because of a letter sent by someone claiming to be an anonymous professor of history at U.C. Berkeley. The writer, who identifies as a person of color, objects to a loss of free speech and academic freedom in the school adopting an institutional position on Black Lives Matter. The writer objects to the silencing of academics who do not support BLM for reasons entirely separate from the protection of black lives. I was sent this letter when it started to be circulated and I did not discuss it because I have no idea if this is an actual member of the Berkeley faculty though Kentucky State University Assistant Professor of Political Science Wilfred Reilley has recently vouched for the identity. However, it is the response of the Berkeley faculty that I believe is notable and concerning. The faculty denounced the letter and said that there is “no evidence” that such a person teaches on the faculty. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly impossible for any academic to criticize BLM or aspects of the protests. However, what concerns me is that Berkeley’s response notably does not even bother to state the pretense of tolerance for opposing views. The condemnation would seem to reaffirm rather than redress the concerns over academic freedom and free speech for dissenting faculty members.
We have been discussing the destruction of public art and history monuments by mobs who are often allowed to carry out such acts without police intervention, a problem that pre-existed the current protests (here and here and here). It was particularly alarming to see statues defaced or destroyed in London, including (bizarrely) a statue of Abraham Lincoln. The response in London and Paris is strikingly different but, in this tale of two cities, it is London that seems to be surrendering to the hysteria of the moment.
For many of us, the spasm of vandalism of public art and history has been painful to watch as mobs destroy a vast array of statues around the world, including such bizarre anti-racism vandalism like defacing Abraham Lincoln’s statue in London. The arrest of Derrick Garforth in Rhode Island is particularly disturbing after he allegedly vandalized a statue of Columbus. Garforth is a social science teacher in Middle School who teaches history but sought to destroy a historical monument. It is a powerful lesson for his students but not one that you would expect from a history or social science teacher.
Yesterday, we discussed the effort to remove one of the country’s most distinguished economists from his position because Harald Uhlig, the senior editor of the Journal of Political Economy, criticized Black Lives Matter and the Defund The Police movement. Now, Cornell Law School professor William A. Jacobson is reportedly facing demands that he be fired because he wrote a blog about the Black Lives Matter movement. Jacobson is the founder of the conservative website Legal Insurrection. My concerns were magnified by a letter from his colleagues that would label virtually any criticism of BLM or the protests as presumptively racist. The letter is a chilling reminder of the rapid loss of free speech values on campuses around the United States.
It seems that University of Chicago professors are much in the news this week. We recently discussed the controversy of posting by University of Chicago Professor Brian Leiter saying that military leaders should “depose” President Donald Trump and jail him. Now another Chicago professor is under fire. Notably, while no one called for Leiter to be fired for wistfully discussing a military coup, there is a chorus of writers and academics calling for the canning of Harald Uhlig, the senior editor of the prestigious the Journal of Political Economy. Uhlig is also the Bruce Allen and Barbara Ritzenthaler Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago. The reason is that Uhlig had the audacity to criticize Black Lives Matters and the movement to Defund The Police. Joining this effort is New York Times’ Paul Krugman, who is striking out at someone for giving his opposing view — an intolerant position that now appears to be official policy at the New York Times. It is all part of the new order where writers call for censorship, academics call for removing academic freedoms, artists call for art removal, and politicians call for dismantling police.
Gordon Klein, an accounting professor in the Anderson School of Business has taught at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) for almost 40 years. He is now suspended and under police protection in his home. The reason? Klein refused to exempt black students from his final exam and sent a pointed rebuttal to students asking for the “no harm” exam. Parts of the response was certainly mocking in tone, more so than I would have considered appropriate. The school has launched a formal discrimination investigation. However, the suspension, investigation, and death threats against Klein reinforce the fear of many in the academy of a raising orthodoxy on campus and a lack of support for faculty involved in controversies.
Louisiana State University Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Alyssa Johnson is under fire this week for asking her colleagues to create a type of listing of students who have engaged in hate speech — a list to be used to bar them from her classes. Johnson appears to see no need for due process in the creation of such a list and her meting out punishment unilaterally.
Figures from Glenn Greenwald to Tucker Carlson have raised the recent posting by University of Chicago Professor Brian Leiter saying that military leaders should “depose” President Donald Trump and jail him. The posting was either a poor attempt at a coup or comedy. The real problem is that in today’s environment it was unclear and, worse yet, unremarkable. On Reddit, readers were directed to “Brian Leiter (UoC professor) calls for a military coup: “Trump should be deposed and jailed” Leiter removed the statement and blamed the lack of a sense of humor on those who objected. He was not calling for a coup d’état, just musing about the possibility of a coup d’état.
Dr. Mike Adams, a professor of sociology and criminology, has long been a lightning rod of controversy. In 2014, we discussed his prevailing in a lawsuit that alleged discrimination due to his conservative views. Now Adams has triggered a firestorm — and a petition for his removal — after an inflammatory tweet calling North Carolina a “slave state.” As will come as no surprise again on this blog, I am inclined to view this as a free speech matter that should be protected. However, the university is threatening possible action against Adams.
Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the role of familiar groups like Antifa in the violence following the death of George Floyd. Attorney General Bill Barr acknowledged yesterday that there is a “witches’ brew” of groups fostering violations, including an anarchist group from the right. The anarchists on the left or right are opportunists who will strike at any time of unrest to seek the breakdown of order. While the number of Antifa arrests have been challenged as exaggerated, police are reporting a number of Antifa, radical left, and anarchist members arrested in various states. (here and here and here and here and here) These are groups that are all too familiar to some of us on college and university campus. While I have opposed efforts to declare Antifa a terrorist organization, the role of all of these groups in the recent violence should be a cautionary tale for academics and politicians alike in the tolerance shown for such anti-free speech movements. Many leaders and academics have denounced such groups on the right (some of which are also active in these riots), but notably have been more muted in condemning anti-fascist and left-anarchist groups.
Here is the column:
Michael Smerconish had an interesting discussion today with Professor Cliffort Scott, Professor of Social Psychology at Keele University. Scott believes that rioting should not be portrayed as random and without meaning. I think that is true. There are deeper causes that should be considered when considering violent dimensions to some protests. While I find Professor Scott’s work on protests and “hooliganism” quite interesting, I do not agree with his assertion on the program that “looting is an expression of power.” It is more often a means of acquisition not expression (unless they are expressing their desire for a Nintendo Switch). In other words, it is a crime act that arises in a myriad of public emergencies that offer an opportunity to steal with less risk of detection or arrest.
We have previously discussed the effort of students and faculty to bar federal agencies like ICE from job fairs despite the strong interest (and need) of students to seek such jobs. Now the American University College Democrats have demanded the banning of Customs and Border Protection despite widespread unemployment and the dire need of many fellow students to find positions with such agencies. The interesting twist is that this was not even an on campus event but a virtual event. Even without the government stepping on campus, the students objected to other students being able to speak with Customs in a virtual space.
University of Minnesota Law School Professor Francesco Parisi has won almost $1.2 million in a defamation case against a woman who accused him falsely of rape. It might be the largest defamation verdict in history for Minnesota. It is a rare such verdict in a rape case. However, the defendant was never charged with a false charge, a common practice of police even in some of the most notorious false rape cases like the Duke Lacrosse Case. At the time, Morgan Wright’s false charge destroyed Parisi’s life, including a three-week incarceration which led to his not being with his mother when she died. Continue reading “Law Professor Wins Record Defamation Verdict For False Rape Claim”
We have previously discussed the uncertain standard applying to teachers and professors who are subject to discipline for social media postings. It often seems that any termination or discipline is based upon subjective or majoritarian views of the content of postings. The latest such case is out of Catholic University of America where adjunct professor John Tieso has been suspended after tweets ridiculing Barack Obama and Kamala Harris after working for the school since 2013. Tieso told the site The College Fix that he is considering legal action.
For years, many of us who have long supporteded the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have grown alarmed by its abandonment of core principles in the support of civil liberties in favor of support what seems a more political agenda. Under the leadership of a President Susan N. Herman and Executive Director Anthony Romero, the ACLU has dropped support for unpopular causes while aligning itself more closely with the Democratic Party’s position on issues ranging from immigration to sexual harassment. I have spent my life supporting the ACLU and speaking at its conferences. It has been very painful for many of us in the “Old guard” as these political advocates have taken over the board and organization. That has been evidenced as the ACLU moved to develop a more nuanced approach to “hate speech” after criticism following the Charlottesville protests. Free speech protection was once the touchstone of the ACLU which was fearless in its unpopular advocacy. It is now an area of open retreat for the organization as the leadership seeks to appease irate donors. Despite the right to carry being a constitutional right, the ACLU has indicated that it will not vigorously support the right to lawfully carry weapons at protests. That is no more evident than in the truly shocking filing of the ACLU to oppose due process rights for students at our colleges and universities, particularly in the imposition of a higher and more consistent evidentiary standard. While I found aspects of the brief to raise compelling points, the thrust of the brief is an attack on basic evidentiary protections that would have once been viewed as a position fundamentally at odds with the organization’s mission.