The Corner


When Is Violent Rhetoric Protected by Academic Freedom?

The answer is, when it is uttered by a leftist professor who believes that white people are a problem for the rest of humanity.

Back on Christmas Eve, Drexel University political-science professor George Ciccariello-Maher tweeted that all he wanted for Christmas was “white genocide.” He followed that up with another in which he said that the massacre of whites in Haiti in its 1804 rebellion was a good thing. Those tweets came to the attention of Drexel officials, who called them “utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing.” His sentiments do not, they thundered, “reflect the values of the university.” But the school took no action because the scholar’s expressions are protected by academic freedom.

Jay Schalin of the Martin Center isn’t convinced that such speech is or ought to be protected and explains why in this piece.

“In light of the real-world situation, influences such as Fanon, and scholarship such as ‘So Much the Worse for Whites,’ Ciccariello-Maher’s claim that his tweets were sarcastic and benign falls apart. Academia’s increasing anti-white sentiment is starting to resemble anti-Semitic rhetoric that percolated through Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries,” he writes.

Is it really the case that Drexel can’t do anything except say that Ciccariello-Maher was being naughty? Schalin looks at some recent cases that are similar and concludes that if Drexel authorities wanted to mete out some punishment to him, it would be on solid ground. The question is one of fitness to teach students and the professor has made that very questionable: “If Ciccariello-Maher does not define a lack of fitness, then who does? Would a professor who tweeted ‘All I want for Christmas is black (or Jewish) genocide’ receive such blanket protection by Drexel or any other university? Would somebody in another position of influence — a member of the media, a politician, or a corporate leader — receive a pass for such a statement?”

Of course not. Officials would be filled with indignation over the speaker’s creation of a hostile environment, and rightly so.

Schalin concludes that Drexel officials might have used this as an opportunity to show that academic freedom is not an “infinite license” for college faculty members who say just anything without adverse consequences. Unfortunately, they chose to treat it that way.

Those four vicious kids in Chicago who kidnapped and tortured a young white man last week probably never heard of Ciccariello-Maher or read his tweets. But the idea in their minds that racial violence is justifiable came from people who keep stoking the fires of hatred. That’s what Ciccariello-Maher did and America would be better off if colleges did more than put out press releases saying that they are disturbed when professors throw gasoline on those fires.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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