In the George Floyd Protest Era, Professors Find Themselves under Attack

UCLA campus in 2009. (File photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
The litany of examples grows.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE T here are a number of ways an activist movement can quantify its progress: number of statues toppled, Twitter exposure, law changes, and so on. But real change takes time — who can wait for a legislature to meet, debate a new law, and run it through the deliberative process? The much quicker option to measure influence is to get people fired. Nothing smells more of victory than parading around the cybersphere with the head of an insufficiently woke employee on a pike. Of course, to achieve such a theatric firing, an activist group needs an obeisant boss who is not only ideologically aligned but also horrified at being made to look insensitive.

Enter college campuses.

In the weeks following the gruesome death of George Floyd while in police custody, the righteous headhunters have redoubled their efforts to get professors thrown off campus. In June, Arizona State University withdrew an offer for journalism professor Sonya Forte Duhé to become dean of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism after a tweet surfaced in which she offered prayers both for the family of George Floyd and for the “good police officers who keep us safe.”

After the tweet, more scrutiny followed. Some former students of Duhé’s at Loyola University New Orleans complained that as a professor she had advised them that, to get a job reporting on-air, they should wear their hair differently, dress more professionally, and speak more-proper English. One gay student said she told him to modulate his voice to make it less effeminate.

After Arizona State rescinded its job offer, Loyola announced that Duhé would not be getting her former job back. (Elsewhere at Loyola, a student petition was started to fire a libertarian economics professor; at the same time, a competing petition was started to give him a raise.)

Other firing demands blanketed universities across America. Cornell Law School professor William Jacobson was publicly censured by his dean after criticizing aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement. In two blog posts, Jacobson called the “Hands up, don’t shoot” chant a “fabricated narrative” and categorized violent protests as “wilding.”

At UCLA, an accounting lecturer, Gordon Klein, was removed from teaching after he refused to grant minority students special accommodations during the George Floyd protests. After a student called his decision to deny extending deadlines for black students “extremely insensitive, dismissive, and woefully racist,” UCLA removed Klein and placed him under police protection.

At Grove City College, a renowned conservative professor was smeared for using “white nationalist rhetoric.” At Michigan State, Stephen Hsu, senior vice president for research and innovation, was recently pressured to abandon his position after he conducted research suggesting that the cognitive abilities of people of different races might be higher or lower. (Hsu says that his research was misrepresented and that the accusations against him are “entirely false.”)

Fortunately, not all university administrations are quick to appease the human-resource mobs. This week, the University of Chicago ruled that criticizing the “defund the police” movement does not violate its policy on harassment, discrimination, and sexual misconduct, reinstating Professor Harald Uhlig as editor of a prestigious economics journal. Uhlig had ridiculed the idea of defunding police, comparing it to belief in creationism, and said Black Lives Matter had lost its credibility by endorsing the concept.

Naturally, such scrutiny evades professors who cheer on violence and property damage. When vandals in Madison, Wis., pulled down a statue of famous abolitionist Hans Christian Heg, who died fighting against the Confederate army, Sami Schalk, professor of gender and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, cheered the lawless rioters on. “Destroy them all,” Schalk tweeted, adding, “People over property. Always.” (After a Twitter dustup with a white, male local reporter covering the violence, Schalk told him, “I hope a witch curses your d—k.”)

The universities’ response to the George Floyd protests should be a reminder for every school that wraps itself in “academic freedom” — some schools are marginally academic and only selectively free.

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