Scores of professors signed a letter on Wednesday protesting Drexel University’s decision to put a professor on leave after he said “white patriarchy” was a cause of mass shootings in the U.S.
The controversy started with a tweet.
Prof. George Ciccariello-Maher of Drexel cited “the white patriarchy” as the reason for mass shootings in the United States after the Las Vegas massacre last month, in an Oct. 2 tweet.
Drexel put the professor on administrative leave because the action was a “necessary step to ensure the safety of our campus,” Niki Gianakaris, a university spokesperson, said in a statement.
Ciccariello-Maher, who refused to talk to Fox News saying that “I don’t talk to mercenaries,” told The Sun in an email that it was “incredibly encouraging to see seventy faculty members from Cornell taking such a strong stand in support of academic freedom and against fascist harassment on campus.”
The professor also called for a nationwide front to protest “targeted harassment” coming from the far-right.
“We need a united front of university faculty, students, and administrators that refuses to be intimidated by the right-wing outrage machine,” Ciccariello-Maher said.
The professor, who teaches politics and global studies, is no stranger to controversy.
A tweet last year by Ciccariello-Maher, who is white, saying, “All I want for Christmas is white genocide,” gained traction on conservative news outlets. Later, he criticized someone giving up their first class seat for a uniformed soldier in a tweet that went viral.
Cornell professors, in their letter, said these statements, which were made outside of the university environment, are not meant to influence his employment at Drexel.
The faculty at Cornell join a number of petitioners, including the American Association of University Professors, who are criticizing Drexel for taking disciplinary action against the professor. These groups say it was incumbent on Drexel to defend Ciccariello-Maher’s academic freedom.
“Academic freedom is the first principle of the modern university,” Prof. Alexander Livingston, government, told The Sun in an email. “It protects students and faculty to pursue the truth and understand their world, even where this pursuit is unpopular or controversial.”
“Drexel’s failure to protect this freedom sets a dangerous precedent for scholars and students everywhere,” Livingston added.
Prof. Matthew Evangelista, government, said that as long as people disagree, academic freedom is necessary. “If people expressed only uncontroversial views and everyone agreed on everything,” it would not be necessary, he said.
Cornell professors said Drexel’s decision is in violation of the American Association of University Professor’s standards.
“Academic freedom quite clearly, and absolutely correctly, extends to extramural political speech,“ said Prof. David Bateman, government. “There is no ambiguity there, and so the argument that he should be held liable without a due process hearing for views expressed as a citizen are simply mistaken.”
Bateman also told The Sun in an email that expecting an employee to act as a representative of the employer at all times is an “abhorrent and totalitarian view” of employer-employee relations.
“Employers ought not to have this power over persons, to treat those who work as always obligated — even in our civic life — to act as their agents, and to suppress our own views in their interests,” he said.
Prof. Russell Rickford, history, said Drexel’s action is an example of how “small, reactionary networks and websites that serve rabidly racist constituencies” are dictating universities to abide by what he said were their far-right terms.
Rickford said universities around the country should be more concerned with social justice than with “brand management.”
“Unless we fight this hypocrisy, we’ll wind up with an even more chastened intelligentsia,” Rickford told The Sun. “And that means a freer reign for white supremacy and fascism.”
Cornell professors said Drexel putting Ciccariello-Maher on leave is the latest in a string of incidents and that threats to academic freedom are “intensifying and multiplying.”
The letter lists the examples of scholars who have been subject to campaigns of “online harassment, trolling, and death threats” and then later suspended from universities. These scholars include Johnny Eric Williams (Trinity College), Tommy J. Curry (Texas A&M University), Lisa Durden (Essex County College), Tessa Winkelmann (University of Nevada Las Vegas), Keeanga-Yamhatta Taylor (Princeton) and Mark Bray (Dartmouth College).
Ciccariello-Maher, who has been on leave for a month, is allowed to teach online classes. It is not clear when or if he will be reinstated.