A Tweet Too Far

When Drexel University political science professor George Ciccariello-Maher tweeted “All I want for Christmas is white genocide” on Christmas Eve, he handed the Philadelphia school an opportunity to play an integral role in our national intellectual dialogue. Drexel could have helped to clarify an important academic freedom issue and, in doing so, earned a reputation for upholding standards.

Instead, the university is showing itself to be just one more academic dinosaur, joined at the hip to modern academia’s failing radicalism and afraid of its own faculty.

When the inevitable firestorm of disapproval from the first tweet arose, Ciccariello-Maher doubled down with a second tweet: “To clarify: when the whites were massacred during the Haitian Revolution, that was a good thing indeed.”

Initially, Drexel’s leadership seemed appalled, declaring “Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s comments are utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing, and do not in any way reflect the values of the university.” But the possibility that university officials would take the lead nationally in dealing with radicalized professors ended with a second statement:

The university vigorously supports the right of its faculty members and students to freely express their opinions in the course of academic debate and discussion. In this vein, we recognize Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets as protected speech.

Drexel suggests that protecting academic freedom is the main justification for letting Ciccariello-Maher escape serious punishment. A secondary justification, offered by the professor, is that the tweets are not really a call for white genocide, but sarcasm toward a paranoid strain of right-wing thought that fears potential ethnic cleansing of European Americans.

White genocide, Ciccariello-Maher claims, only exists as a fearful fantasy in the fevered swamps inhabited by white nationalists. And therefore, since his sarcasm was directed at political extremists fearing imaginary bogeymen, it was really not beyond the pale of decency and morality. But his explanation is clearly disingenuous, for his second tweet refers to an actual white genocide that occurred in Haiti in 1804—not a hypothetical invention.

In that light, his excuse appears to be nothing more than an embellishment concocted to avoid punishment. Or perhaps he believed it offered a rhetorical “sweet spot” from which he could simultaneously elevate his reputation among academia’s growing radical anti-white contingent and avoid any blowback from the reasonable majority in the rest of society.

At any rate, this was not an isolated incident for Ciccariello-Maher, who has long demonstrated a fascination with the subject in his scholarship. For example, in his article “‘So Much the Worse for Whites’: Dialectics of the Haitian Revolution,” he rejects one revolutionary leader’s moderation (Toussaint L’Overture) for the more extreme actions of another (Jean-Jacques Dessalines). In doing so, as Blake Neff explained in this Daily Caller article, “Ciccariello-Maher is praising the wholesale extermination of Haiti’s whites.”

Nor is that article the only indication that Ciccariello-Maher’s interest in white genocide is neither incidental nor comedic. His curriculum vitae reveals that the French-Caribbean anti-colonialist writer Frantz Fanon is a key influence on his scholarship. This is hardly irrelevant: Fanon aggressively promoted anti-white violence. One of his most famous quotations is:

Violence is a cleansing force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction; it makes him fearless and restores his self-respect.

Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver, who fled the country in 1968 to avoid prosecution for wounding two Oakland police officers in an ambush, wrote that ”every brother on a rooftop can quote Fanon.” Cleaver was referring to black rioters taking to rooftops to shoot police.

And white genocide is not a thing of the past. Ethnic cleansing of whites occurs today in much of Africa—perhaps not always as official policy but with governments looking the other way.

In light of the real-world situation, influences such as Fanon, and scholarship such as “‘So Much the Worse for Whites,’” Ciccariello-Maher’s claim that his tweets were sarcastic and benign falls apart. Academia’s increasing anti-white sentiment is starting to resemble anti-Semitic rhetoric that percolated through Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And Ciccariello-Maher obviously identifies with and panders to those who voice animosity toward whites.

Without Ciccariello-Maher’s sarcasm defense, academic freedom protection for his tweets rests on a less stable foundation. There is a long tradition in such cases of questioning the professor’s “fitness” to teach, with a considerable record of academic freedom legal cases to provide guidance. Calling for genocide of an entire race would certainly raise the question whether Ciccariello-Maher should be in a position of influence with young people.

Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets are an example of “extramural” commentary, which deals with issues beyond the campus; such commentary has broad—but not infinite—academic freedom protection. His tweets may also be classified as an attack on a broad grouping of people. Several recent high-profile cases involving this type of extramural comment, though not directly relevant to the Drexel controversy, may help to provide clarity.

The University of Illinois’s conflict with Steven Salaita’s offensive tweets about Jews, for which the University of Illinois rescinded his job offer, is one.

However, Ciccariello-Maher is a tenured assistant professor who has worked at Drexel for years. Salaita, on the other hand, was not fully through the school’s hiring process; therefore academic freedom was not yet applicable.

Another related case is that of outspoken Holocaust denier Arthur Butz at Northwestern. Many at his school and elsewhere have called for his removal. Northwestern rejected that course of action, citing Butz’s academic right to espouse unpopular opinions. A key reason for protecting Butz’s bogus scholarship is that he is an electrical engineering professor who scrupulously refrains from discussing his historical theories in class.

Ciccariello-Maher, on the other hand, is a political science professor; it would appear that, given his extremist perspective and lack of intellectual restraint, he is quite likely to bring his opinions into the classroom.

More important in regards to Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets are two cases that occurred in the early 1990s at the City University of New York. The first was Levin v. Harleston in 1991, in which professor Michael Levin publicly noted that average white IQs were much higher than those of blacks. The second was Jeffries v. Harleston in 1993; professor Leonard Jeffries gave a speech in which he described whites in demeaning ways, calling them “ice people” and suggesting they were intrinsically “egotistic, individualistic, and exploitative.” Both taught humanities, so there was some concern that their controversial opinions could make their way into their teaching.

Levin won his case; an important factor was that his theories on IQ were supported by an overwhelming preponderance of empirical evidence. Jeffries, on the other hand, was essentially spouting pure conjecture; the court decided against him and he was given minor punishments (although not fired).

Jeffries v. Harleston most closely resembles the situation at Drexel, with one small but important difference. That is, Jeffries made unfactual and unscholarly claims, whereas Ciccariello-Maher prescribed a disturbing course of action. Still, it appears that Drexel has at least as strong a case for punishing Ciccariello-Maher as CUNY had with Jeffries, and possibly stronger.

If Drexel were to act against Ciccariello-Maher, Ciccariello-Maher would likely sue. That would not necessarily be bad for Drexel; although there would initially be legal fees and perhaps a settlement, it would position Drexel as a common sense university that does not permit unfit individuals to teach. Not pursuing disciplinary action, or even termination, against Ciccariello-Maher may result in a drop in donations from angry alumni, whereas showing that the university maintains high standards could bring in more students and gifts.

More important for academia as a whole, a court case would help clarify a lack of fitness in this particular situation; hopefully, it would build upon Jeffries v. Harleston and give schools a powerful tool for dealing with professors who lack the judgment to be educators.

For the fitness question is the basis for an extremely important standard. Academia greatly influences the nation’s intellectual and political life, deciding which ideas to teach to new generations of leaders, educators, and professionals. And individual academics are central to forming the consensus of ideas by participating in curricular and personnel decisions; their opinions matter.

If Ciccariello-Maher does not define a lack of fitness, then who does? Would a professor who tweeted “All I want for Christmas is black (or Jewish) genocide” receive such blanket protection by Drexel or any other university? Would somebody in another position of influence—a member of the media, a politician, or a corporate leader—receive a pass for such a statement?

It appears, sadly, that the Drexel administration is unable to grasp that academic freedom is not infinite license, and that it has a right—and responsibility—to demand appropriate conduct from the faculty. A great opportunity lost.

  • Jane S. Shaw

    An excellent analysis, Jay. I’m glad that the Martin Center is bringing some intellectual rigor to this issue, clarifying that “academic freedom is not infinite license.”

  • DrOfnothing

    It is incredible to me that anyone would find equivalency in, on the one hand, a professor’s quips about a phenomenon that does _not_ exist historically (white genocide) outside of the paranoid fantasies of the alt-right, to the sincere and forcefully-expressed opinions of another professor about Israel (a real country) and one of the most volatile political and social issues of our time (the West Bank settlement issue). That having been said, this is not a place to debate Israel, the settlement movement, and the rights of the Palestinian people. Though it is curious that, for all the opposition expressed by authors here to the BDS movement, there is no commensurate support ever voiced for Palestinian liberation.

    Regardless, the author clearly has no familiarity whatsoever with Fanon, whose engagement with violence is much more complex than is suggested here. Fanon did not “aggressively promote anti-white violence.” Instead, he argued that revolutionary violence was a justifiable response to the brutality of colonialism. Since America is founded on the very idea of justifiable revolution against colonial oppression in the name of liberty and justice, it is profoundly hypocritical to support the Founders while dismissing, out of hand, a more modern articulation of the idea simply because the author in question was talking about 1950s Algeria instead of 1770s Connecticut. If gun-rights advocates can demand arms to protect their liberty from the _potential_ for government oppression, why can an Algerian not claim that violent resistance to _actual_ oppression by the government is not a just and moral defence of liberty?

    If we are to have a sincere discussion about the content and influence of post-colonial theory, let’s at least be passingly familiar with the authors under discussion. And let’s apply the same standard to their writing that is applied to those praised by the right (e.g. Hayek), rather than simply cherry-picking a few widely-circulated quotes to make facile and moralized assumptions about their ideology in comparison to our own. Taking Fanon’s work out of context in an attempt to demonize him and, by association, those who list him as an influence on their CV is callow and parochial.

    • evianalmighty

      Are you saying there is no genocide in Zimbabwe or South Africa against whites? I would call what the Soviets did to Ukraine was certainly a genocide against white people. Population replacement is a form of genocide and Europe is a good example of this.

      • DrOfnothing

        Yes, I am saying categorically, that there is no genocide against white in South Africa. It is an absolutely nonsensical assertion to say otherwise, and I won’t even dignify it with any further response beyond this. As for the Soviet Union, “Ukrainians” are not an ethnicity, they are a nationality (now, not then) and a language group. And they were starved into submission, but not targeted as a “race” for extermination.

        None of these claims hold any water, and stretch the very term of genocide to the point where it loses all analytical meaning. “Population replacement is a form of genocide?” Absolutely not, it is merely demographic change. Will you also argue that Spanish-speaking people are committing “genocide” in Texas, Arizona, and Southern California? This is alt-right garbage.

        • evianalmighty

          Just to clarify, what the Chinese are doing in Tibet is not genocide? What Mugabe did in Zimbawbe was and is not genocide? The murders and the laws passed to bar white people from working in South Africa are not genocide. Then you must disagree with the lie that Europeans committed genocide against the people of the Americas. Population replacement is considered genocide by the U.N. but I consider the U.N. to be one of the biggest jokes ever performed.

          • DrOfnothing

            Just to clarify, you are comparing the laws that are trying to, in some small way, address the cumulative effect of decades of apartheid rule (don’t kid yourself, white South Africans still dominate the professions in a vastly disproportionate manner), to the systematic slaughter and forced relocation of tens of millions of indigenous Americans. I’m sorry, but that is absolutely ridiculous. You have also departed completely from your original point, and are trying to cloud the issue, which was about the non-existence of “white genocide.” I never said there is no genocide, nor did I mention Tibet. You are swinging wildly between topics and examples that have almost nothing in common besides that they are historical examples of genocide that are definitively not, by any reputable analyst or historian, defined as “white genocide.” Historians do not discuss “white genocide” because it has never actually happened. It’s a paranoid, alt-right fantasy used as a scaremongering tactic, and only someone with a profound ignorance of history and genocide would buy into it. And the UN is not defining population replacement “in Europe” as a form of genocide. I assume you are referring to “replacement migration.” http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/migration/migration.htm

          • evianalmighty

            Well,thanks for your reply. However what is being done to farmers in South Africa and what is being done in Zimbabwe is genocide. What the Turks did and are still doing in Cyprus is genocide. But again thanks for staying civil in your response. It is not all that common these days.

          • Stanley1

            Might as well give up, Evian. Engaging with DrOfPomposity is like the proverbial wrestling with a pig. (O’ Doc enjoys the attention, typing away there in his mom’s basement …)

          • DrOfnothing

            There it is again with the personal insults. I suppose when you have nothing intelligent to add, that’s your only option. Funny that you have to stoop to that low level when the OP and I were having a fairly civil discussion. So who’s really the pig throwing muck here, then?

            And it’s my mom’s _attic_ I’ll have you know!

  • JWJ

    This is a very informative and well-written article on this topic. Definitely did not know the two applicable legal cases and having a concise summary was quite useful. As noted by Ms. Shaw, a key point is that “academic freedom is not infinite license”

    I find it interesting to see the lack of any action by Drexel about a unabomber wannabe on their faculty who publicly fantasizes about killing white folks (who else does he dream about murdering?) and comparing it to what happened to Nancy Shurz, a tenured professor at the U of Oregon Law School.
    (http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2016/12/tax-prof-nancy-shurtz-blasts-university-of-oregon-for-improperly-releasing-error-filled-report-as-pu.html)

    From another article “Nancy Shurtz wore black face to a halloween party. Her costume, which also included a white lab coat and stethoscope, was meant as some sort of social commentary about the book “Black Man in a White Coat.”
    “…the costume had a devastating impact on the law school, offending students and sparking outrage and angry discussions and tears among the faculty, in such a way that it outweighed any right that Shurtz had to free speech and academic freedom, the school report notes.”

    She is on administrative leave and the Oregon admin is trying to fire her.

    Now granted two different universities, but one is suggesting that 60-70% of his students be killed, and that doesn’t rise to the level of having a devastating impact on Drexel, or offending students that outweighed any right to academic freedom? Or were the concerns of offended/physically threatened students simply dismissed?

    I believe it was Thomas Sowell who first introduced me to the concept of thinking about leftism as a religion. Possibly useful in looking at these two cases. Drexel will do nothing because the homicidal professor words fits within leftism’s liturgy. As long as a professor is within leftist dogma, there IS infinite license.