Free Speech on Campus graphic

Rutgers president orders further investigation into history professor disciplined for offensive Facebook post – August 2018

New Brunswick, NJ

In May 2018, a Rutgers University history professor posted an anti-white rant on Facebook, which the university found to have violated its policy on discrimination and harassment. In a challenge to the disciplinary action taken against the professor, the president of Rutgers called for a more rigorous investigation into the post’s language, citing the importance of Free Speech on college campuses.

Key Players

James Livingston, who lives in New York City, is a tenured history professor at Rutgers University. As a result of social media posts deemed to be inflammatory, he faced an investigation at Rutgers that led to disciplinary action.

Robert Barchi is president of Rutgers. Apparently unaware that another university office had found Livingston’s rant in violation of school harassment and discrimination rules, Barchi ordered that the matter undergo another review. He argued that the case needed to be examined by First Amendment experts who might shed light on speech and academic freedom issues.

Further Details

In May 2018, James Livingston, a history professor at Rutgers University, wrote a Facebook post from a restaurant in his Harlem neighborhood about his growing frustration with gentrification. “OK, officially, I now hate white people,” he wrote. “I am a white people, for God’s sake, but can we keep them — us — out of my neighborhood?” He continued on to complain that the restaurant was “overrun with little Caucasian ***holes who know their parents will approve of everything they do.” He concluded his rant with, “I hereby resign from my race.”

Several news sources, including the Daily Caller, quickly picked up the post. Livingston was soon overwhelmed with a wave of death threats and hate mail. Moreover, Rutgers University launched an investigation into his post, concluding that he had violated the university’s policy against discrimination and harassment, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Livingston attempted to appeal, arguing that his post was satirical and was not intended to be racist. However, the school stuck to its decision and said it was entertaining the possibility of disciplinary measures against Livingston. The university’s position was supported by many, both inside and outside Rutgers, who complained that Livingston’s “I hate white people” post was offensive and inappropriate. The post was removed from Facebook, for instance, for violating its standards on hate speech.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported, “While Livingston’s words angered many, the ruling against him infuriated others, who felt it violated his constitutional rights. A petition supporting him was started, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that advocates for freedom of speech, called on the public university to overturn the finding.”

The president of the university, Robert Barchi, sided with those who supported Livingston’s right to post. On August 29, he wrote a letter to Dean Peter March, saying that “Like many in our community, I found that Professor Livingston’s comments showed especially poor judgment, were offensive, and, despite the professor’s claims of satire, were not at all funny.” However, he went on to argue, “At the same time, few values are as important to the university as the protection of First Amendment rights — even when the speech we are protecting is insensitive and reckless.”

Outcome

In his letter, Barchi asked the Rutgers Office of Employment Equity to “more rigorously analyze the facts and the assumptions underlying its conclusions.” In essence, he overturned the decision and ordered a new review.

Additionally, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported, the “university’s general counsel will also form a group to provide guidance on potential policy violations that involve academic freedom and the First Amendment.”

As of October 29, 2018, there has been no public indication of any further developments in the case.

External References

After a professor’s rant about white people, Rutgers president affirms free speech, SFGate

Rutgers President Seeks Additional Review of Professor’s Controversial Facebook Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Rutgers Considers Limits of Free Speech, The Washington Post

Prepared by Denna Nazem ‘20

Uploaded to tracker October 29, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Lone Star College Clarifies that Free Speech Is Permitted Outside Free Speech Zones – September 2018

Tomball, TX

On June 6, 2018, Lone Star College uploaded maps to its website after announcing its new “Free Speech Zones” policy. The maps indicated where on each of the school’s six campuses “Free Speech Zones” are designated. When a student called to see whether Free Speech would be protected outside of these zones, campus administrators evaded the question until public outcry prompted an answer, which was a revised “Speech and Conduct on College Premises” policy adopted by the Board of Trustees three months later.

Key Players

Lone Star College is a community college system in Texas, which has six campuses, all serving the North Houston metropolitan area; this incident occurred on the Tomball campus. Students and free speech activist groups criticized the college for its vague free speech policy, which, according to Campus Reform, protected freedom of thought, but did not mention freedom of speech outright.

Campus Reform is an online news source that describes itself as “a watchdog to the nation’s higher education system,” and was rated as having a “right bias” by a media fact-checking group.

Quade Lancaster is a student at Lone Star College, who was demoted from his position as student council president. Lancaster took the demotion as an attack on his First Amendment rights, because it occurred after administrators learned of a conversation he had with other student government members, in which he voiced support for the Second Amendment in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Parkland, Florida. Over the following months, he would push Lone Star College to revisit and revise its Free Speech policy.

Further Details

In early March 2018, Quade Lancaster expressed support for the Second Amendment in a conversation with fellow student government officials, but referred to his peers’ counter-arguments as “bullshit,” according to his account in Campus Reform. Subsequently, Shannon Marino, program manager for Lone Star College and the administrator responsible for student government, demoted Lancaster on the grounds of his use of profanity.  But Lancaster claimed he was demoted for his unpopular conservative views, since the students with whom he conversed had “dropped F-bombs” throughout the conversation.

When the college uploaded maps to its website on June 6 to accompany its new Free Speech Zone initiative, Lancaster contacted administrators multiple times to clarify where exactly Free Speech would be safeguarded on campus, but got no response. Although Lone Star’s policy says it protects “free speech rights” and the “free exchange of ideas,” the maps seemed to imply that only in those designated areas  would Free Speech be honored; Lancaster wanted to know if students were allowed to express themselves freely throughout the campus.  Campus Reform reached out to college officials and to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which helped pressure the administration to clarify Lone Star’s Free Speech policy.

On September 6, 2018, the Board of Trustees approved a new “Speech and Conduct on College Premises” policy. It said:: “All persons are permitted to engage in speech activities in Free Speech Zones. Designation of certain locations as Free Speech Zone does not diminish students’ or employees’ right of speech or expression on other premises.”

Outcome

FIRE lauds Lone Star College’s Policy Clarification

In a statement to Campus Reform, FIRE praised Lone Star College’s clarified policy on Free Speech. Lancaster expressed satisfaction with the change, but said he believed that the administration delayed taking action on the issue and should have had a better policy to begin with.

External References

Lone Star College Policy on Speech and Conduct on College Premises.

Lone Star College – Tomball Free Speech Zone Map.

College clarifies free speech zone policy amid mounting pressure, Campus Reform

Student claims he was punished for supporting gun rights, Campus Reform

School commits to ‘freedom of thought,’ but not speech, Campus Reform

Texas college touts confusing ‘free speech zone’ policy, Campus Reform

College hangs up on student asking about free speech policy, Campus Reform

 

Prepared by Gustav Honl-Stuenkel ‘20

Date uploaded to tracker October 9, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

Confederate monument felled at University of North Carolina, leading to arrests, university outcry – August 2018

Chapel Hill, NC

A Confederate monument at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) was toppled by a group of protesters, the culmination of decades-long tension surrounding the statue. University officials condemned the act as dangerous vandalism, and three people were arrested on misdemeanor charges. Seven more were arrested during clashes on the issue days later. The events led to topical dialogue at nearby Duke University, where a prominent donor is affiliated with the UNC statue.

Key Players

“Silent Sam” is the nickname for the toppled statue of a Confederate soldier at UNC. The name derived from his lack of ammunition and hence, his inability to fire his gun.

Originally commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to honor the nearly 300 UNC students who died fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War, the statue was approved by the university in 1908 and was unveiled in 1913, according to a history compiled by TIME magazine.

Over the past several decades, “Silent Sam” has been a source of tension and protest at UNC. Activity began in the 1960s, when student protesters covered the statue in red paint following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., according to TIME. The statue remained a gathering place for speeches and demonstrations by black student groups for decades.

In May 2018, UNC student Maya Little vandalized the statue with paint and her own blood to provide the “proper historical context” for it, she said. Little was also a leader in the August protest that toppled “Silent Sam.”

Julian Carr was a prominent industrialist and white supremacist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a pivotal donor at Duke University in nearby Durham, North Carolina. Among other things, Carr endorsed the Ku Klux Klan’s ideology and tactics and argued against suffrage for the black community, according to the Duke Chronicle, Duke University’s independent student newspaper.

Carr donated the land on which Duke’s East Campus would eventually sit. His contributions led to the building that houses the university’s history department being named for him.

At the dedication of “Silent Sam,” Carr, an alumnus of UNC, said the statue was a testament to the “welfare of the Anglo Saxon race,” according to TIME. In that speech, Carr also described an incident in which he had, just 100 yards away from where the statue was erected, heavily whipped a black woman for “publicly insulting” a white woman.

Further Details

Calls for the removal of “Silent Sam” escalated in tandem with the recent debate over Confederate monuments across the country. In particular, protests intensified after the August 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was sparked by the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a prominent location.

In September 2017, 22 faculty members sent an open letter to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt, calling for the removal of “Silent Sam,” according to the alternative newspaper IndyWeek. The letter came amid student protests, including a sit-in around the statue.

Last year, according to The New York Times. the university said that “removing the Confederate monument is in the best interest of the safety of our campus,” but that a North Carolina law made it impossible to do so on just the university’s authority, The 2015 law in question mandates that state-owned monuments, memorials, and artworks — including the “Silent Sam” statue at UNC, a public university — could not be “removed, relocated or altered” without the permission of a state historical commission.

Yet, the university also neglected calls, including one from Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, to use a legal loophole that would allow UNC to remove the statue because it allegedly presented “a threat to public safety.” Furthermore, the university chose not to pursue actively the legal process for removing it, according to the Times. The state historical commission said it had not received requests for action from the university or its governors.

The university’s continued inaction reached a tipping point when, on August 20, 2018, a group of some 250 protesters toppled “Silent Sam.” They draped the statue with several banners before taking it down, including one that read “Unnamed Black women beaten by Julian Carr,” according to TIME. Protesters tried to bury the severed head of “Silent Sam,” but university officials hauled away the statue’s remains before they could do that, according to the Times, and stored them in an undisclosed location.

Reactions to the downfall of “Silent Sam” were split. Onlookers to the event described it as historical, and characterized the atmosphere as celebratory and liberating. University officials, conversely, contended that the toppling of “Silent Sam” was a dangerous act of vandalism, but sought to reconcile that with the tensions the statue had ignited on campus.

In an open letter to the UNC community on August 21, chancellor Carol Folt acknowledged the statue had been “divisive for years” and that “its presence has been a source of frustration for many people.” Still, she noted that taking down the statue in such a manner was “unlawful and dangerous,” and that authorities were investigating the incident.

The president of the North Carolina statewide university system, along with the chair of its board of governors, echoed these sentiments, calling the events “unacceptable, dangerous, and incomprehensible,” according to the Times.

Days after the statue was pulled down, clashes broke out on UNC’s campus between protesters with Confederate flags and counter-protesters condemning white supremacy. Seven people were arrested, of whom several were charged with assault, according to The Washington Post.

Within weeks, the university reported that it was looking into a less prominent “alternative location” on campus where the statue could stand, according to CNN. One member of UNC’s Board of Governors tweeted that “Silent Sam” would be reinstalled within three months, “as required by state law.”

Outcome

Three face charges in felling “Silent Sam”

On August 24, police filed charges against three individuals accused of toppling “Silent Sam,” according to The New York Times. All three individuals, who were said to have no affiliation with UNC, faced misdemeanor charges of rioting and defacing a public monument, the Times said.

Duke history professors call to rename Carr Building

After “Silent Sam” was toppled, history professors at Duke renewed calls for the Carr Building to be renamed, citing Carr’s white supremacist past — including his words at the dedication of the statue at UNC. Professors had expressed concerns over the name in the past, which were intensified after the violent riots in Charlottesville, Virginia.

According to the Times, Duke’s history faculty voted unanimously at the end of the spring semester of 2018 to rename the Carr Building for Raymond Gavins, the first African American history professor at Duke, who taught there for nearly five decades. The faculty filed this request with the university at the start of the fall 2018 semester, according to the Duke Chronicle.

A Duke spokesman said the request for the name change was under review, according to the Times.

External References

UNC Faculty Members Call for the Removal of Silent Sam, IndyWeek

‘Silent Sam’ Confederate Statue Is Toppled at University of North Carolina, The New York Times

Silent Sam toppled in protest the night before classes begin, The Daily Tar Heel

3 Are Charged in Toppling of ‘Silent Sam’ Statue, The New York Times

Protesters clash, arrests mount after toppling of Confederate statue at UNC-Chapel Hill, The Washington Post

Why UNC’s Toppled ‘Silent Sam’ Statue Has Been a Focus Point of Protest for Decades, TIME

Duke history professors ask to rename building honoring white supremacist who dedicated ‘Silent Sam’ statue, The Washington Post

Duke history department files request to rename Carr Building, Duke Chronicle

UNC is looking into a new spot for the Silent Sam Confederate monument, school chancellor says, CNN

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded September 24, 2018

Free Speech in Civil Society graphic

New York Times hires, then fires, editorial writer who befriended neo-Nazis – February 13, 2018

New York, NY

On February 13, 2018, The New York Times announced it had hired journalist Quinn Norton to be the paper’s lead editorial writer on technology. Later that day, however, the Times said she would not be joining its editorial team after all. This announcement came after a flurry of activity on Twitter revealed that Norton had previously referred to a writer for a neo-Nazi website as a friend and had tweeted gay and racist slurs.

Key Players

Quinn Norton is a freelance journalist who has been active since 2006, when she began writing about the Internet, hacking, the organization Anonymous, the Occupy movement, and issues surrounding intellectual property. She wrote for the magazine Maximum PC for five years, and has contributed to publications such as WIRED, Gizmodo, and The Atlantic.

James Bennet is editorial page editor of The New York Times. He supervises a staff that has experts covering issues ranging from business, international affairs, and criminal justice to education and legal affairs. Norton would have covered technology for the editorial board.

Further Details

On the morning of February 13, 2018, the Times announced via Twitter that Norton would be joining its editorial team, tweeting that she would be covering “the power, culture, and consequences of technology.” After the announcement, reported the Chicago Tribune, Twitter users began circulating old tweets in which Norton used gay and racial slurs. According to the Tribune, she tweeted and retweeted the n-word on more than one occasion. Norton’s connection to neo-Nazi Andrew Auernheimer resurfaced as well. Famous for his identity as an internet troll, Auernheimer, who is known on the internet by the name “weev,” now works for The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website which, according to the Tribune, is “known for attacking Jews, women, immigrants and people of color.” Norton had tweeted in October 2017 that “weev is a terrible person, & an old friend of mine.”

Only six hours after the Times’ initial announcement, Norton responded to it, tweeting, “As I said so many times to the @nytimes, no harm no foul. I’m sorry I can’t do the work I wanted to do with them. I wish there had been a way, but ultimately, they need to feel safe with how the net will react to their opinion writers.” In a separate series of tweets, she attempted to explain and justify many of her controversial tweets that had resurfaced throughout the day.

Bennet responded to the situation with his own statement, writing, “Despite our review of Quinn Norton’s work and our conversations with her previous employers, this was new information to us. Based on it, we’ve decided to go our separate ways.”

Outcome

Norton no longer involved with The New York Times

After a firestorm on Twitter, Norton and the Times dissolved their agreement, and she did not join the editorial team. The editorial board announced on April 11 that it had hired writer Jeneen Interlandi to cover health, science, and education, but as of April 27 no one had been hired to fill the position Norton would have held.

External References

New York Times hired, then quickly unhired, writer who tweeted about befriending neo-Nazis, Chicago Tribune

The NY Times Fires Tech Writer Quinn Norton, and it’s Complicated, WIRED

After Storm Over Tweets, The Times anda New Hire Part Ways, The New York Times

Tweet by @NYTimesPR, February 13 2018

Tweet by @quinnnorton, February 13 2018

Quinn Norton Wikipedia entry

Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20

Uploaded April 30, 2018

Free Speech on Campus graphic

California State University, Fresno – April 17, 2018

Professor’s anti-Barbara Bush Twitter tirade draws ire

Fresno, CA

Just an hour after the death of Barbara Bush was announced, an English professor at California State University, Fresno, wrote a series of disparaging tweets about the former First Lady, calling her an “amazing racist.” The tweet storm quickly went viral and generated backlash from social media users, who called on Fresno State to fire her. After an investigation, the university announced she would not be punished for her comments, since it felt she had made them as a private citizen, not as a representative of the school.

Key Players

Randa Jarrar is an award-winning novelist and a tenured professor of creative writing in the Fresno State English department. Her work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Salon.com, and Guernica. She was on leave during the spring 2018 semester, when she posted a barrage of negative tweets about former First Lady Barbara Bush in the immediate aftermath of her death.

Barbara Bush was the wife of former president George H.W. Bush and mother of former president George W. Bush. She was known for championing the cause of literacy, both while her husband was in the White House and after he left office. She died at the age of 92 in her Houston home on April 17, 2018, after a long struggle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and other ailments.

Joseph Castro is president of Fresno State. He was roundly criticized for not taking disciplinary action against Jarrar for her online comments.

Further Details

On April 17, the Bush family announced that the former First Lady had passed away after electing not to receive further medical care. Just an hour later, Jarrar tweeted that “Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal.” She further called Bush a “witch” and said she was dancing “happily on the grave of someone I despise,” according to the Los Angeles Times. She also said she couldn’t wait for the rest of the Bush family to “fall to their demise the way 1.5 million [I]raqis have.”

When critics began reacting angrily on Twitter, Jarrar boasted online of her six-figure salary and said she would “never be fired” from her tenured faculty position. She added, “what I love about being an American professor is my right to free speech, and what I love about Fresno State is that I always feel protected and at home here.” Jarrar tagged Castro in her tweet, emphasizing her confident claim that her job was safe. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, she also provided a phone number in one of her tweets and asked users to air their criticisms by calling it; the supplied number ended up belonging to a student suicide help hotline, which was soon flooded with spam calls.

By the end of the day, Jarrar had set her Twitter account to private, meaning that her content could only be viewed by users she approves. She also changed her Twitter bio to say, “Currently on leave from Fresno State. This is my private account and represents my opinions,” reported The Fresno Bee. The contact page on her website displayed the statement, “I do not read or respond to messages about Barbara Bush” next to a red heart emoji.

Initially, Castro distanced himself from Jarrar’s tweets, saying she had expressed “personal views and commentary” that, while “obviously contrary to the core values of our University,” had been made “as a private citizen, not as a representative of Fresno State,” reported the Fresno State News. According to the Chronicle, Twitter users pushed back against Castro, arguing that Jarrar’s boasting of her salary and tenure demonstrated that her statements were made as a faculty member. The Chronicle also reported that the day after the tweets, “thousands of emails, phone calls, and tweets” opposing Castro’s statement began pouring into the president’s office.

Outcome

Fresno State president recants, provost announces investigation

At a news conference on April 18, Castro changed tack from his previous statement that Jarrar had commented about Barbara Bush as a private citizen, saying, “A professor with tenure does not have blanket protection to say and do what they wish. We are all held accountable for our actions.” He added, “All options are on the table.” Fresno State Provost Lynnette Zelezny said the university had begun to review Jarrar’s tweets. While she could not discuss the professor’s employment status, Zelezny said, the investigation would involve university lawyers, union representatives, and Jarrar herself. “We very much do want to hear the voices of others — we again want it to be in a climate of respect,” the provost said.

Fresno State announces no disciplinary action against Jarrar

On April 24, Castro announced the results of the investigation into Jarrar’s comments. The statement read, in part, “[W]e have concluded that Professor Jarrar did not violate any CSU or university policies and that she was acting in a private capacity and speaking about a public matter on her personal Twitter account. Her comments, although disgraceful, are protected free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, although Professor Jarrar used tenure to defend her behavior, this private action is an issue of free speech and not related to her job or tenure. Therefore, the university does not have justification to support taking any disciplinary action.”

External References

“Cal State Fresno professor under fire for tweets attacking Barbara Bush,” Los Angeles Times

“How Low Can a Tenured Professor Go on Twitter? Fresno Case Could Be a Test,” The Chronicle of Higher Education

“Professor’s Tweet That Barbara Bush Was an ‘Amazing Racist’ Ignites a Fury,” The Chronicle of Higher Education

“This professor bragged she can’t be fired for bad-mouthing Barbara Bush. She might be right,” The Washington Post

“Professor celebrating Barbara Bush’s death deserves to be fired,” Fox News

“Professor’s tweet about Barbara Bush was ‘beyond free speech,’ Fresno State president says,” The Fresno Bee

“‘Your kids masturbate’ and other provocative lines from Fresno State professor’s talks,” The Fresno Bee

“The Politically Incorrect Randa Jarrar,” The New York Times

“The controversy over a professor’s tweet calling Barbara Bush a racist, explained,” Vox

“President Joseph I. Castro Statement Regarding Faculty Member’s Tweet,” Fresno State News

“After calling Barbara Bush an ‘amazing racist,’ a professor taunts critics: ‘I will never be fired,’” The Washington Post

Randa Jarrar’s personal website

President Joseph I. Castro Letter On Conclusion Of Review Regarding Professor

Prepared by Jesus Rodriguez ‘19

Uploaded April 30, 2018

 

University of Minnesota – October 20, 2016

Pro-Trump mural at University of Minnesota painted over with “Stop White Supremacy”

Minneapolis, MN

In October 2016, the College Republicans at the University of Minnesota (UM) painted a mural with the words “Build the Wall” during an annual event that allows students to decorate the Washington Avenue Bridge. The mural sparked intense debate and criticism on social media, and it was spray-painted over with the words “Stop White Supremacy.” The vandalism was condemned by UM President Eric Kaler and State Senator Kari Dziedzic.

Key Players

UM President Eric Kaler released a statement supporting Free Speech on UM’s campus and condemning the vandalism of the mural.

State Senator Kari Dziedzic represents District 60 in the Minnesota Senate. Dziedzic, whose district includes UM’s campus, expressed discomfort with the College Republicans’ mural, citing her status as the granddaughter of immigrants as well as her political opinion on immigration. However, she too condemned the vandalism and spoke out in support of Free Speech.

Madison Faupel, then-president of the UM College Republicans, released a statement rejecting accusations that the group is racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant.

Further Details

The annual “Paint the Bridge” event allows student groups to promote their respective clubs by painting murals on a bridge that connects the East and West Banks of UM’s campus. The College Republicans incorporated the words “Build the Wall” into their mural, painted on Friday, October 20, 2016. That evening, a picture of the mural was posted on the Facebook page of NAVIGATE MN, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization that works to support undocumented students. In the Facebook post, the group wrote that the painting “echoes the anti-Mexican, anti-immigrant racist rhetoric” of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, reported the MinnPost. The next day, more than 150 immigration activists came to the bridge to protest the mural. After the mural was finished, it was graffitied multiple times, most notably with the words “Stop White Supremacy” in gold paint, reported the Star Tribune.

College Republicans President Madison Faupel defended the original artwork and the people responsible for creating it, saying, “We have received comments on the painting, falsely accusing us of being racist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant. Our party’s nominee supports building a wall on the Mexican border to stop the flow of illegal immigrants into this country. We understand that some students may disagree with this policy position. However, free speech is at the center of a functioning democracy, and the action taken against our panels runs contrary to free speech.”

The vandalism of the mural prompted State Senator Kari Dziedzic to comment on the controversy. “I don’t like vandalism. They have their free speech, and we have our free speech. But I think we can reach out and we can be louder,” she said. “As the granddaughter of Polish and Irish immigrants, I think we need to be building bridges … not walls. That’s kind of what America is. This is where people have opportunities. We don’t care what your background is, and we don’t care where you came from. We all came from someplace else.”

UM President Eric Kaler also released a statement concerning the mural to students and faculty members. It read, “The University of Minnesota supports a campus climate that welcomes all members of our community and our values of equity and diversity, but that also ensures the free flow of ideas, even those that are offensive to some,” reported the MinnPost. Kaler’s statement continued, “People in our community may disagree with the sentiment expressed. However, while the University values free speech, the subsequent vandalism of the panel is not the way to advance a conversation.”

Outcome

Free Speech supported by the administration and vandalism condemned

Though immigration activists protested the College Republicans’ mural the day after it was painted, UM’s president sent a statement to students and faculty members in support of the group’s right to Free Speech. He also condemned the vandalism of the mural.

External References

‘Build the Wall’ mural at University of Minnesota sparks protest, MinnPost

Vandalism of pro-Trump mural offers free-speech lesson at University of Minnesota, StarTribune

Protesters object to ‘Build the Wall’ mural on Washington Avenue Bridge, call it xenophobic, Minnesota Daily

Prepared by Bridget McElroy ‘18

Uploaded April 10, 2018

Florida: Legislature Considered Requiring Schools to Display “In God We Trust” – 2018

Bill requiring public schools to display state’s motto “in a conspicuous place” died in State Senate

Tallahassee, FL

A law that would have required public schools to display prominently Florida’s motto, “In God We Trust,” earned bipartisan support in the state’s House of Representatives before dying in the state Senate’s Committee on Education in March.

Key Players

Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a pastor and Democrat representing Duval County, sponsored the bill in the House of Representatives. Lawmakers approved it on February 21, 2018, the same day that students gathered in the state capitol to demand stricter gun laws in the wake of a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Daniels drew criticism for remarking on the House floor, “it is not a secret that we have some gun issues that need to be addressed, but the real thing that needs to be addressed are issues of the heart,” reported NPR. She also claimed that the legislation was inspired by a message she received from God. “I believe it was God, and I heard a voice say, ‘Do not politicize what has happened in Florida and do not make this a thing of division,’” she told fellow lawmakers.

Further Details

Motivated by animosity toward the Soviet Union, federal lawmakers adopted “In God We Trust” as the official motto of the United States in 1956. Though the phrase first appeared on Florida’s flag as part of the state seal in 1868, it became the official state motto in 2006, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Sue Woltanski, a Monroe County parent and public schools advocate, testified before the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee that the bill was unnecessary, reported the Times. “Current statute satisfies the requirement to display the state motto which is, of course, on the state flag,” she said. She suggested the committee focus on “real education issues.” However, the subcommittee unanimously approved the bill, which was then passed by the full House of Representatives on a vote of 97-10, reported NPR.

Atheists of Florida, an organization of non-religious citizens, offered to provide signs to Florida’s public schools if the measure was approved, the Times reported. These signs would have also included the line “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” a clause in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. “We want to help educate about the First Amendment and the establishment clause, as well as about the diversity in our country,” the group’s executive director told the Times.

Outcome

Bill Fails in Senate Committee

Though the bill earned bipartisan approval in the House of Representatives, it died in the Senate Committee on Education on March 10, 2018.

External References

SB 1158

HB 839

Florida lawmakers consider requiring schools to post “In God we trust”, Tampa Bay Times

Florida vote to post ‘In God we Trust’ in schools prompts a question: Whose God? Penn Live

Atheist group says it will offer alternative ‘In God We Trust’ signs to Florida schools, The Hill

Florida Lawmakers Advance Bill Requiring Schools To Display ‘In God We Trust’, NPR

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

Uploaded April 9, 2018

 

Brandeis University – October 2017

University postpones play after complaints about its depiction of black characters

Waltham, MA

Brandeis University postponed the on-campus performance of a play about comedian Lenny Bruce, called “Buyer Beware,” after students and alumni criticized its depiction of black characters and the Black Lives Matter movement. The author decided to have it produced professionally off-campus instead.

Key Players

Lenny Bruce was an American comedian and social critic who was active from 1947 until 1966, when he died at age 40 from a drug overdose. He was well-known for incorporating contentious topics like politics and sex into his comedy routines, which often took the form of stream-of-consciousness diatribes. He was also considered a Free Speech advocate, who was arrested on multiple occasions for alleged obscenity in his performances. After a trial in 1964, he was convicted of obscenity in a New York court for the first time and was sentenced to four months in a workhouse. He was freed on bail during the appeals process, however, and died before the appeal was decided, never having served any of his sentence. He was posthumously pardoned in 2003 by then-Governor George Pataki of New York.

Michael Weller is a 1965 Brandeis graduate who wrote “Buyer Beware” and more than 40 other plays. He was being honored with the university’s Creative Arts Award, and wrote this play while completing a residency at Brandeis, where the Lenny Bruce archives are housed. He dismissed criticisms of the work, saying in an interview that students “just don’t know how to read a play.” He added that he “was trying to show a broad cross-section of people under a lot of pressure.”

Further Details

“Buyer Beware” was originally scheduled to premiere at Brandeis on October 2, 2017, and run through October 6. According to The Brandeis Hoot, the play is about “the modern atmosphere of college protest movements at Brandeis.” “Buyer Beware” depicts a white Brandeis student named Ron listening to recordings of Bruce’s stand-up and repeating lines that contain the n-word and other racial slurs. The fictional Ron wants to perform a routine in the manner of Bruce’s comedy, but he is threatened with academic probation by the Brandeis administration. At the end of the play, Ron performs his stand-up despite student protests.

Andrew Child, a Brandeis theater student opposed to “Buyer Beware,” told The Boston Globe that he felt the play’s portrayal of its black characters was “ridiculous and vicious.” In an interview with WBUR, he said, “There are black characters who are written clearly by an older white person who doesn’t really understand the nuances of the Black Lives Matter movement. The white male protagonist, his whole story line was fleshed out and well thought out and carefully constructed.” According to the Globe, Child and other students familiar with the movement thought “Weller’s portrayal of Black Lives Matter read like an angry, Breitbart-esque caricature.”

Brandeis released a statement which explained that theater faculty members had “considered the challenging issues” the play raised, and concluded that “more time was needed to produce the play appropriately, and that its performance on campus should go hand-in-hand with more robust educational programming.” The statement also quoted Weller, who said that “rehearsals of the play, and growing sentiment among some students in the theater department, might not be conducive to the creative atmosphere desired for a premiere presentation of a new work.” Weller decided to have the play produced off-campus.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote a letter to Brandeis, expressing its concern over the university’s decision to “censor” the play. It read, in part:

“Americans have since recognized the injustices dealt to Bruce. He was the last comedian to be criminally prosecuted for obscenity in the United States. Today, Bruce is revered as a champion of free speech and First Amendment principles — so much so that he was posthumously pardoned by New York Governor George Pataki in 2003. His life story serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when we censor artistic expression.

“Given this history, the undersigned are sensitive to the possibility that Bruce’s words may again be censored. Our unease is amplified by the fact that such censorship may occur at Brandeis University, named after the staunch free speech advocate and United States Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. Our concern is all the greater insofar as the university is the institutional custodian of the Lenny Bruce archives and much of Bruce’s legacy.”

FIRE’s letter was signed by Bruce’s daughter, Kitty, who founded the Lenny Bruce Memorial Foundation, and a group of other “free speech advocates with a resilient interest in comedian Lenny Bruce’s life and legacy.”

Outcome

University Postpones Play, Author Chooses to Premiere it Off-Campus

Brandeis announced that the performance of “Buyer Beware” would be postponed. Michael Weller, the author, withdrew the work and decided to have it performed by professional actors.

External References

University statement related to the Creative Arts Award and ‘Buyer Beware’

Brandeis cancels play about Lenny Bruce after protests, The New York Times

Brandeis cancels staging of play after students oppose its “wallpaper” minority characters, WBUR

Brandeis cancels play amidst protests over racism—and gets more backlash, The Boston Globe

An open letter to Brandeis regarding the cancellation of Lenny Bruce-inspired play, ‘Buyer Beware,’ FIRE

Brandeis cancels campus play amid student protest, The Boston Globe

Lenny Bruce, wikipedia

Play canceled following student and alumni dissent, The Brandeis Hoot

Prepared by Graham Piro ‘18

Uploaded April 9, 2018

State Judiciary Committee prohibits citizens from wearing shirts, buttons, or stickers with political messages at hearings – 2018

Connecticut: Judiciary Committee Bans Political Messages at Hearings (2018)

Hartford, CT

Lawmakers in Connecticut decided to prohibit members of the public from wearing shirts, buttons, or stickers that express political messages inside the hearing room. This decision drew sharp criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

Key Players

David McGuire serves as the executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut. The organization released a statement in which McGuire expressed concern about the committee’s decision. “The Connecticut capitol is supposed to be the people’s house. When people walk into that house to lobby their legislators, they don’t leave their First Amendment rights at the door,” he said.

Further Details

In February 2018, the Connecticut Judiciary Committee, a committee on which state Senators and Representatives jointly serve, announced during a hearing that political messaging on shirts, buttons, or stickers would not be permitted inside the hearing room. On March 23, 2018, the committee heard testimony regarding House Bills 5540 and 5542, which would ban ghost guns and bump stocks, respectively, in an effort to reduce gun violence in Connecticut. The hearing attracted a large crowd of both supporters and opponents of gun control, including members of Moms Demand Action, Connecticut Against Gun Violence, Newtown Action Alliance, and Connecticut Citizens Defense League. Many members of these organizations wore shirts or buttons that expressed their opinion on gun control. Committee members asked that attendees turn their shirts inside out and refrain from displaying their signs in the room.

The ACLU of Connecticut strongly criticized this decision, noting that “wearing a shirt, button, or sticker at a legislative hearing is a basic component of today’s political discourse. Buttons, shirts, and stickers do not interfere with other people’s abilities to lobby, testify, or otherwise participate in democracy. Buttons, shirts, and stickers with political messages help people to make their views known—something that legislators should encourage, not dismiss.”

In a related but separate matter, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky on February 28, 2018. This case examined whether or not states may prohibit clothing with ideological messaging inside polling places. According to the petitioner’s brief, there are nine states in addition to Connecticut that have similar laws in place regarding political messaging at voting locations. The Court’s decision is pending.

Outcome

Political Messages Banned From Judiciary Committee Hearings

Since February 2018, shirts, buttons, and stickers with political messages have not been permitted in Connecticut’s judiciary hearings.

External References

ACLU Statement

Lawmakers receive mixed message on bump stocks, ghost guns, CT Post

Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, SCOTUS Blog

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

Uploaded April 9, 2018

Drexel University – December 29, 2017

Drexel University professor resigns after death threats

Philadelphia, PA

Professor George Ciccariello-Maher resigned from Drexel University after a year of alleged death threats over his controversial tweeting. Following his resignation, he joined New York University’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics as a visiting scholar.

Key Players

George Ciccariello-Maher was a tenured associate professor of politics and global studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, until his resignation late in 2017. He claimed in an op-ed in The Washington Post that he had received death threats for his provocative tweets, especially after various conservative media outlets ran segments on them. It was allegedly because of these threats that Drexel decided to place Ciccariello-Maher on leave in October 2017, citing concern for the safety of the professor and Drexel’s students.

Further Details

Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets were often critical of whiteness, and especially white masculinity. In December 2016, he tweeted, “All I want for Christmas is white genocide.” In an email to Inside Higher Ed (IHE), he explained that this was a “satirical tweet about an imaginary concept … invented by white supremacists.” According to The Washington Post, the threats against the professor began after this tweet. A few months later, in April 2017, he tweeted, “Some guy gave up his first class seat for a uniformed soldier. People are thanking him. I’m trying not to vomit or yell about Mosul.” After receiving blowback, Ciccariello-Maher clarified that he had not meant to criticize the soldier, but instead question how many Americans make symbolic gestures of support for Army members while ignoring military abuses and lack of healthcare for veterans, reported IHE.

After the Las Vegas mass shooting in October 2017, he again took to Twitter. “White people and men are told they are entitled to everything. This is what happens when they don’t get what they want,” he tweeted. He also criticized current gun control measures for not being sufficient to prevent mass shootings. According to the Post, conservative media outlets—including the Daily Caller, Breitbart, and Milo Yiannopoulos’ website—widely cited his tweets. Soon after, IHE reported that Drexel had placed Ciccariello-Maher on leave.

The university released a statement explaining its decision: “The safety of Drexel’s students, faculty, professional staff and police officers are of paramount concern to Drexel. Due to a growing number of threats directed at Professor George Ciccariello-Maher, and increased concerns about both his safety and the safety of Drexel’s community, after careful consideration the university has decided to place Professor Ciccariello-Maher on administrative leave.” The university had previously condemned his tweet concerning white genocide.

Following these developments, Ciccariello-Maher authored an op-ed in the Post, titled “Conservatives are the real campus thought police squashing academic freedom.” In it, he defended his tweets, saying that they were based on years of research that indicated white males are “subject[ed] to a potent cocktail of entitlement to economic and political power, and to dominate nonwhite and female bodies.” He continued, “professors like me are being targeted by a coordinated right-wing campaign to undermine our academic freedom—one that relies on misrepresentation and sometimes outright lying, and often puts us and our students in danger.” Ciccariello-Maher also described the death threats he and his family had been receiving, and claimed he was not the only professor to receive this type of criticism and threats from the right. He concluded by criticizing Drexel for “bowing to pressure from racist internet trolls” and therefore sending “the wrong signal: That you can control a university’s curriculum with anonymous threats of violence.”

The professor continued to teach his courses via video conference after being placed on leave. “I have 800 unread voicemails in my inbox right now that have been building up over the past few weeks,” he told CNN. “Threats that involve my child are, of course, the ones that are the most frightening to me.” The administration decided he would need a police escort in order to come to campus. In November 2017, a group of his students walked out of his classroom, carrying signs that read, “Bring Back GCM” and “Where’s Our Professor?” reported CNN.

Ciccariello-Maher announced his resignation on Twitter on December 28, 2017. He included a picture of a Facebook post in which he wrote that he was resigning because of harassment from “right-wing, white supremacist media outlets and internet mobs” and “death threats and threats of violence directed against [him and his family].” He characterized the current tension surrounding free speech on college campuses by saying, “We are at war, and academia is a crucial front in that war,” adding that “the Right is targeting campuses with thinly veiled provocations disguised as free speech.” He also urged tenured faculty to defend all faculty from attacks from the “racist Right” and white supremacists, and concluded by praising his students and calling on campuses to become “unsafe spaces for white supremacists.”

Outcome

Ciccariello-Maher resigns from Drexel, joins NYU institute

After receiving death threats concerning his tweets and being placed on administrative leave, Ciccariello-Maher resigned from Drexel University. According to The Philly Voice, he joined NYU’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics shortly thereafter as a visiting scholar.

External References

Controversial professor placed on leave, Inside Higher Ed

Death threats are forcing professors off campus, CNN

Professor who tweeted, ‘All I want for Christmas is white genocide,’ resigns after year of threats, The Washington Post

George Ciccariello-Maher Statement of Resignation on Twitter

Ex-Drexel prof behind ‘white genocide’ tweet gets appointment at NYU, Philly Voice

Professor who called for ‘white genocide’ says he’s been hired by NYU, The Washington Examiner

Drexel professor resigns amid threats over controversial tweets, CNN

Conservatives are the real campus thought police squashing academic freedom, The Washington Post

Prepared by Graham Piro ‘18

Uploaded April 9, 2018