Speech Repression By the Academy

Photo by Danielle Corcione

By: Danielle Corcione

Last May, Princeton University professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor gave a commencement speech at Hampshire College. After the speech circulated on the web, Fox News produced a news segment of her comments calling President Trump the “racist, sexist megalomaniac” he is. She quickly received violent threats that she’d be lynched and raped — not only in her inbox, but through Princeton’s Department of African-American Studies. As a result, she cancelled a series of West Coast appearances for her From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation book tour. Although Taylor had been touring in support of the book for a year and a half, she had never faced violence quite like this before.

In an August op-ed in the New York Times, Taylor exposes the hypocrisy of the “free speech” debate: “When it comes to protecting the speech of people who are most vulnerable to being intimidated into silence — like people of color and gay people — conservatives either are suspiciously quiet or drive further intimidation with wildly negative news coverage. … Most schools — including Princeton, where I teach — support their besieged professors. But in recent months, other progressive academics have been investigated, disciplined and even fired for comments they made outside of the classroom.”

Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher was also recently  disciplined for certain tweets. Inside Higher Ed reports Ciccariello-Maher received a letter in May from provost M. Brian Blake, which explained an “appropriate review” would be conducted and “a special committee” would convene (alongside the Faculty Senate) “to investigate [his] conduct and provide findings and recommendations to me concerning your extremely damaging conduct.”

Academics who vocalize their support and enthusiasm for Antifa have also recently been targeted. The Washington Post reports Dartmouth College has been institutionally distancing itself from lecturer and Antifa: the Anti-Fascist Handbook author Mark Bray, particularly after his guest media appearances following the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rallies. In an official statement, the Office of the President stated: “Recent statements made by Lecturer in History Mark Bray supporting violent protest do not represent the views of Dartmouth. As an institution, we condemn anything but civil discourse in the exchange of opinions and ideas … however, the endorsement of violence in any form is contrary to Dartmouth values.”

Students and faculty alike also experience similar institutional repression when supporting the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement. In fact, campus BDS activists are being proactive about their own safety by creating the Campus Antifascist Network (CAN). According to  their website, the organization’s mission is to “(bring) together faculty, students, staff, and community members across US campuses to stem the rise of fascism, whether proudly displayed in hateful exclusionary slogans and posters, or disguised as “free speech.” We come together to stand with threatened members of our campus communities and oppose fascist mobilizations.”

Author’s note: On October 10, the Washington Post published an essay by Ciccariello-Maher, where he announced Drexel University had put him on administrative leave.

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