Texas A&M University – May 2017

University president defends professor’s academic freedom

College Station, TX

Michael K. Young, the President of Texas A&M University, defended the academic freedom of a philosophy professor who had made controversial remarks on a podcast that were construed as promoting violence against white people. The professor, Tommy Curry, became the target of criticism from The American Conservative. The magazine resurfaced a podcast interview from 2012 in which Curry had commented on Quentin Tarantino’s film Django Unchained and remarked, “In order to be equal, in order to be liberated, some white people have to die.” Young initially described Curry’s comments as “disturbing” and “in stark contrast to Aggie core values…” However, after receiving ridicule from students and faculty in the Philosophy Department for not defending Curry, Young clarified his statements by describing some reactions as “misunderstandings” and affirming his support for academic freedom.

Key Players

Dr. Tommy Curry is an associate professor of philosophy at Texas A&M. He participated in a regular segment called “Talking Tough With Tommy” on Redding News Review, a radio show hosted by writer Rob Redding. The show, which previously aired on SiriusXM 128, featured Curry discussing issues of race in contemporary America, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports. During one segment in December 2012, Curry discussed the film Django Unchained shortly after its release. He intended to frame the discussion in the context of increased gun violence against African Americans and the relationship between the Second Amendment and black communities, according to Inside Higher Ed. During the podcast, Curry spoke about his belief that white people were “uneasy” about allowing black people to own guns. The following quote drew the ire of The American Conservative:

“And the fact that we’ve had no one address, like, how relevant and how solidified this kind of tradition is, for black people saying, ‘Look in order to be equal, in order to be liberated, some white people may have to die.’ I’ve just been immensely disappointed, because what we look at, week after week, is national catastrophe after catastrophe where black people, black children, are still dying.”

The publication focused on one quote. Rob Dreher wrote the article after he received a tip about the statements via email from an individual using a pseudonym. After Dreher’s story was published in The American Conservative, Curry began receiving death threats and had to be accompanied around campus by a police officer.

Rob Redding is a friend of Curry’s from high school. He reconnected with Curry in 2012 and created the segment “Talking Tough With Tommy,” providing him a platform to comment on contemporary racial politics.

Rob Dreher is a writer for The American Conservative. He received an anonymous tip about Curry’s comments in May 2017, researched Curry’s work, and found an essay Curry had authored in 2007 that discussed “violence against whiteness.” Dreher published an article titled When is it OK To Kill Whites in which he discussed Curry’s work on racial violence. The post was published on May 8, 2017. The article was picked up on Reddit by a forum associated with the alt-right called /r/The_Donald. The article gained traction there and was eventually posted to Infowars, a conservative online publication.

Michael K. Young has been president of Texas A&M University since May 1, 2015. On May 10, 2017, Young released a statement regarding Curry’s comments titled “Standing For Our Core Values,” in which he drew a distinction between Curry’s words and the university’s values. The statement, which was emailed to the entire faculty and student body, effectively condemned Curry’s remarks. He wrote that, “The interview features disturbing comments about race and violence that stand in stark contrast to Aggie core values — most notably those of respect, excellence, leadership and integrity — values that we hold true toward all of humanity.” The email was received well by most of the recipients, including alumni associations that had written to the administration to complain about Curry’s statements. However, the reaction on the right was mixed: one head of an alumni association said that he had received calls complaining that Young did not go far enough and should have condemned Curry more intensely, The Guardian reports.

Further Details

Some members of the Texas A&M University community were angry with Young’s decision not to defend Curry. Students started an online petition in support of Curry that garnered over 1,000 signatures. The petition read:

“As members of the Texas A&M community, Aggies, and former students, particularly those of us who identify as Aggies of color, we are deeply alarmed and saddened by President Young’s decision to not support Dr. Curry in the face of these attacks. President Young’s response has not only exacerbated the situation but has legitimized dangerous and harmful rhetoric against a black professor at Texas A&M University.”

Curry defended himself by saying that the article was an attempt by the alt-right and conservatives to “demonize a black professor.”

In a statement titled “Affirming Our Values,” released on May 17, 2017, Young emphasized his commitment to academic freedom, and also disassociated his statement from the threats of violence Curry had received, as well as the conservative media headlines concerning the controversy. Young concluded his statement by reinforcing his previous comment that it is not consistent with the values of the university to promote violence against any group due to its race, and that racism is “unacceptable.”

Outcome

Michael Young Affirms Support for Curry

After he initially sent an email to students and faculty at Texas A&M distancing the university from Curry’s statements and condemning any calls to violence, Young clarified his position by affirming his support for academic freedom.

Curry Receives Threats

Professor Tommy Curry reported receiving death threats and for a time had police protection while walking around the Texas A&M campus.

External References:

Texas A&M Softens Tone Toward Professor, Inside Higher Ed

Furor Over Texas A&M Philosopher’s Comments on Violence Against White People, Inside Higher Ed

When Is It OK to Kill Whites? The American Conservative

Who’s Left to Defend Thomas Curry? The Chronicle of Higher Education

Faculty and Students Assail Texas A&M President’s Criticism of Professor, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Affirming Our Values, Office of the President, Texas A&M

An Open Letter: Statement of Support for Dr. Tommy Curry, Change.org

Prepared by Graham Piro ‘18

August 22, 2017