Now for some good news. We have been following efforts to have professors stripped of academic positions or outright fired for voicing opposing views of police shootings, Black Lives Matter movement or aspects of recent protests from the University of Chicago to Harvard to Cornell to other schools. Now we have a professor at Creighton University who has triggered an outcry by calling support for police officers an expression of white supremacy. The University later issued an apology on behalf of Associate Professor of Theology Zachary Smith but no one has called for his termination. Today, that is progress. We can only hope that if Smith’s comments were directed at groups or issues associated with the current protests, the university and his colleagues would have the same measured or muted response.
A New York City education council meeting recent attracted national attention after one member of the council (and its past President), Robin Broshi, accused another member, Thomas Wrocklage, of racism after he was seen in a zoom meeting bouncing a black child on his lap. The video below is rather breathtaking but the incident has led to countervailing claims of racism and slander. As is often the case, we tend to jump on any novel torts claims and this is a good example of the tension between opinion and slander, particularly in such overheated (indeed radioactive) moments in public debates. It is unfortunately an increasingly common legal question in today’s rage-filled politics. The video of his meeting has now been shown throughout the world. However, it has some interesting elements as a pedagogical tool for understanding the underlying applicability of tort liability, or lack thereof.
Today we discussed the formal censuring of a conservative student at Georgetown for his criticism of Black Lives Matter as an organization and his objections to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court. Georgetown University has remained silent as the student has been declared a racist and the student government called for his investigation. At Penn State, the university took an important step in this time of rising intolerance and actually included conservative students in a welcoming message. It did not last. After an outcry from students, the university deleted the tweet — thereby sending precisely the opposite message to conservative students.
We have been discussing the targeting of professors who voice dissenting opinions about the Black Lives Matter movement, police shootings, or aspects of the protests around the country from the University of Chicago to Cornell to Harvard to other schools. However, student face even greater pressure to conform to a new orthodoxy enforced on our campuses. An example is conservative Georgetown University junior Billy Torgerson who was the subject of a formal resolution of condemnation by the Georgetown University Student Association as well as a call for a bias complaint to the university. The reason is a column posted on his own website entitled “A Nation Of Virtuous Individuals” in which he espouses widely held conservative views of the law and patriotic views of the country.
By any measure, Harvard Professor Steven Pinker, who holds the Johnstone Family Chair of Psychology, is one of the most influential intellectual leaders in the world. He is also someone who believes in robust intellectual discourse and free thought and speech. That propensity for academic freedom has now made him a target of hundreds of academics and graduate students who are seeking his removal from the Linguistic Society of America. The letter is one of the most chilling examples of the new orthodoxy that has taken over our academic institutions. The signatories seek his removal for holding opposing views on issues like underlying causes of police shootings and other research. The cited grievances are at best nuanced and at worst nonsensical. Yet, hundreds signed their names and academic affiliations to try to punish a professor for holding opposing views to their own. We have been discussing these cases across the country including a similar effort to oust a leading economist from the University of Chicago. It is part of a wave of intolerance sweeping over our colleges and our newsrooms — a campaign that will devour its own in the loss of academic freedoms and free speech. (I should note that I do not know Dr. Pinker and, to the best of my knowledge, I have never met him).
Many years ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at Tsinghua University, considered one of the best educational institutions in China. I was impressed as faculty at the university struggled to remain intellectually active under the repressive controls of the Communist regime. It is a perilous existence as academics fear that they will write anything that annoys the government. Now, one of the best known law professors in China, Xu Zhangrun, has been arrested. Xu predicted the crackdown after he recently wrote a piece criticizing the government’s response to the coronavirus. His colleagues have been forced into silence at the risk of their own arrest. The arrest comes at a time when many are concerned about the loss of free speech in this country, not by the government but private companies and universities. I have chastised faculty around the country for their silence in the face of the increasing intolerance for opposing views on campuses and actions against professors raising dissenting views of the current protests. Indeed, many have joined in the call for such punitive measures. Xu is an example of the courage that academics in places like China have shown in the face of imminent threats to their liberty and even their lives.
There is a controversy raging at the University of Cambridge after English professor Priyamvada Gopal posted a June 23rd tweet that “White Lives Don’t Matter.” Thousands signed a petition to have Gopal fired but the university has correctly stood by her free speech rights. The question should not be whether Gopal is fired, but the virtual certainty that she would have been fired in many universities if she made the same comment about other races. As a blog focusing on free speech, we have repeatedly discussed the investigation and termination of professors for controversial statements on social media. The greatest concern is the lack of any consistent or coherent protection of free speech in universities. Free speech dies with doubt as to what will be the subject of toleration and what will be the subject of termination. That is why bright line rules are maintained by courts in this field that specifically bar content-based viewpoint discrimination from the government.
We have been discussing the free speech issues raised by efforts to terminate professors who criticize the Black Live Matter Movement or aspects of the protests following the killing of George Floyd. However, there is another such controversy with the inverse fact pattern. Claira Janover has been fired as an “incoming government and public business service analyst” at Deloitte after posting a video that suggested that she would stab people who said “all lives matter.” Yesterday, we discussed a dean at the University of Massachusetts who says that she was fired for using such a line in an email. Ironically, Janover shows the same intolerance for anyone with an opposing view, but the case still raises some of the same free speech issues that we have previously discussed, including the punishment of individuals for their social media postings.
We have been discussing the growing fear of professors and students over the loss of free speech on campuses for years, but recently those concerns have been greatly magnified with the investigation or termination of professors for expressing opposing views about police abuse, Black Lives Matter movement or aspects of the protests following the killing of George Floyd. There is a sense of a new orthodoxy that does not allow for dissenting voices as campaigns are launched to fire faculty who are denounced as insensitive or even racist for such criticism. The most recent controversy involves the recently installed University of Massachusetts-Lowell Dean of Nursing Leslie Neal-Boylan. Dr. Neal-Boylan had only been in her position for a few months when she was fired. The reason, according to many reports, is that she sent an email on June 2 to the Solomont School of Nursing on the recent anti-racism demonstrations across the country that include the words “everyone’s life matters.” As a blog dedicated to free speech, it has been difficult to keep up with the rising number of cases of the curtailment of speech or academic freedom on our campuses. What is equally alarming is the relative silence of most faculty members as individual professors are publicly denounced by their universities, forced into retirement, or outright terminated for expressing dissenting views. This case however raises an equally serious concern over the loss of due process for academics who find themselves the focus of a campaign for removal — or simply summary dismissal.
I reached out to the University and updated the column with the response, which does not clarify most of these questions but suggests that the Dean may have been terminated for other reasons. I have also reached out to Dr. Neal-Boylan for a response on both the cause and merits for her termination.
We have been discussing the wanton destruction of public memorial and statues across the country, including baffling attacks on abolitionists and those who fought against slavery. One of the most incongruous targets has been Abraham Lincoln in various cities. Now, students at the University of Wisconsin, including the Black Student Union and the Student Inclusion Coalition, have demanded the removal of Lincoln’s statue as ‘a single-handed symbol of white supremacy.” The signer of the Emancipation Proclamation, the vocal advocate for the 13th Amendment, and the man assassinated for his war against the South and slavery. Saying that Lincoln is the “symbol of white supremacy” has about as much foundation as saying Harvey Milk is the symbol of militant heterosexuality. Both were great leaders who were killed at the height of campaigns for equality. As I discuss below, there are aspects of Lincoln’s legacy that are worthy of condemnation but even John Wilkes Booth would dispute the claim of Lincoln as the embodiment of white supremacy.
Below is my column in The Hill on the ongoing destruction of memorials and statues. After this column ran, I learned that one of the iconic busts of George Washington University had been toppled on my own campus. I did not learn that from our university, which was conspicuously silent about this destructive act at the very center of our campus. There is something eerily familiar in the scenes of bonfires with police watching passively as public art is destroyed. Such acts are akin to book burning as mobs unilaterally destroyed images that they do not want others to see. There are valid issues to address on the removal of some public art but there is no room or time for debate in the midst of this spreading destruction. Even when there is merit to objections to literally or artistic or historical works, mob action threatens more than the individual work destroyed by such action. The media has largely downplayed this violence, including little comparative coverage of an attack on the Democratic state senator who simply tried to videotape the destruction of a statue to a man who actually gave his life fighting against slavery in the Civil War. As discussed earlier, history has shown that yielding to such mob rule will do little to satiate the demand for unilateral and at times violent action. People of good faith must step forward to demand a return to the rule of law and civility in our ongoing discourse over racism and reform.
Here is the column:
We have been discussing the erosion of free speech on social media and the Internet. This includes calls from leading Democratic leaders for years to implement private censorship of political speech, a view supported by academics who have declared that “China was right” about censorship. The latest attack on free speech comes from Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign which has asked Facebook and Twitter to remove posts by Republican President Donald Trump aimed at discrediting mail-in voting. While Trump’s statements have been widely criticized as without foundation, they constitute political speech. Biden however wants these companies to help censor such statements from his opponent and many are supporting the effort. Continue reading “Biden Pushes Facebook and Twitter To Remove Trump Criticisms of Mail-In Voting”
New York Times Magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones was one of the journalists who denounced the New York Times for publishing the views of a conservative U.S. Senator on the use of troops to quell rioting in U.S. cities. Hannah-Jones applauded the disgraceful decision of the Times to apologize for publishing such an opposing viewpoint and denounced those who engage in what she called “even-handedness, both sideism” journalism. Now Hannah-Jones has deleted a tweet advancing an anti-police conspiracy theory. When Hannah-Jones and others objected to the publishing of the views of Cotton, opinion editor James Bennet was rustled out to make a pleading apology. That however was not enough. He was later compelled to resign for publishing a column that advocates an option used previously in history with rioting. Unlike the editor of the Times, however, such theories are not viewed as cause for resignation or “both sideism.” The concern for many of us is that the media is not just losing its touchstone of neutrality but continues to apply vastly different standards for journalists and editors, even at the same newspaper.
We have been following controversies over free speech on campuses, particularly in recent weeks involving faculty and student critics of the ongoing protests or the “Defund The Police” movement. Indeed, I have a column on those concerns this morning. The most recent controversy concerns a Catholic chaplain, Daniel Moloney, who has resigned as chaplain for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His removal followed his reference to the criminal record of George Floyd and equivocating comments on the problem of racism in police departments. His case raises the question of whether the free speech concerns should be treated differently for non-academic positions.
On Saturday, federal district court judge Royce Lamberth denied a motion to enjoin the release of former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s tell-all book in a 10-page order. The book, titled “The Room Where it Happened,” is already in circulation with reporters literally standing outside of the courthouse reading from it. As argued in the column before the decision, Lamberth rejected the injunction. However, he lambasted Bolton for his failure to complete the classification review that he agreed to as part of his taking the position with President Donald Trump. There are already possibly classified subjects being teased out of the book by the media. Lamberth decried the fact that Bolton has “gambled with national security” and said that his actions “raise grave national security concerns” but “the damage is done.” Perhaps it is done for the release but the damage to Bolton may only be beginning. As Lamberth noted, he now faces civil and criminal liability, which are discussed in the column.
Here is the column: Continue reading “Bolton’s Win Could Cost Him More Than Just Profits”