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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