You see it very often now. Some imbecilic professor or student says or writes something beyond the bounds of sanity and the conservative media machine jumps into action. Campus Reform, The College Fix, and Fox News’ Campus Craziness all capitalize.
The latest iteration? Trinity College professor of sociology Johnny Williams’ Facebook posts on June 18th calling for the confrontation of the “inhuman assholes” (self-identified “whites” according to Williams) for their daily violence directed towards “Immigrants, Muslim, and sexually and racially oppressed people.”
For his use of the hashag #letthemfuckingdie which was affiliated with the article he posted, Williams was paraded across conservative media. After Williams’ status surfaced, Trinity College closed its campus on Wednesday 21st June due to security concerns and Williams went into hiding.
I read the article that Williams shared. It’s by a writer named Son of Baldwin. It’s as terrible as you’d expect and reads like the sanctimonious self-righteous dribble of someone who’s drunk the critical theory kool-aid. It’s no surprise that Son of Baldwin also references La Sha of Kinfolk Collective who took the opportunity to increase her victim status when Otto Warmbier was sentenced by North Korea to 15 years of hard labor by writing the infamous article, “North Korea Proves Your White Privilege Is Not Universal.”
But by sharing Son of Baldwin’s article, Williams is well within his rights. It is not a call to violence.
While being outrageously callous, insensitive, and asking for people of color and various sexual identities (I’m assuming) to avoid aiding those in need (read: cis, white, male), the article that Williams shared does not cross the line into incitement. The closest it comes is when Son of Baldwin writes:
“I may not be suggesting that we go out and start a war that we are certain to lose if only because the bigots have all the armaments, all the firepower, all the militaries, all the institutions…”
The matter really comes down to whether Johnny William’s actions were calls to immediate violence and whether he has a right to share his opinions on social media.
In his segment, Campus Craziness, Tucker Carlson tries to point out that William’s actions were incitement. But as Will Creely, a representative for the Foundations for Individual Rights in Education (a non-partisan organization) notes:
” [Johnny Williams and other professors in similar positions] who received threats had engaged in plainly protected political speech, typically involving contentious issues like race relations. If our nation’s faculty members cannot evaluate and express opinions on the issues of the day without being subjected to violent threats, the Supreme Court’s stark warning in Sweezy v. New Hampshire will prove prophetic: ‘Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.'”
We could debate the scholarly merits of what Williams engaged in, however, I find Carlson (or his writers) hypocritical. Carlson regularly spends a segment of his show defending the rights of conservative speakers to speak on college campuses (laudable) but then when a progressive (albeit possibly deluded) professor asserts his own rights and makes protected political speech Carlson asks why he wasn’t fired from his position?
Carlson also makes the point that Williams is creating a hostile environment for his students by highlighting the views of “students I [he] spoke to.” For someone who ridicules students and professors whining about “dangerous environments” on campus, isn’t Carlson engaging in the same methods? If a number of students do come forward and say that learning from Williams is difficult because of his attitudes, that would be grounds to challenge his views or even dismiss him. But comments made outside his job should not affect his job. And that’s what’s happening here.
Joanne Berger-Sweeney, the president of Trinity College, also gets a bad rap. Here she is just a few months earlier defending the ideals of free expression and against the idea of “Safe Spaces.” As an aside the fact that Berger-Sweeney is a neuroscientist is probably tied to her positions. If she worked in another academic field I’d be genuinely surprised to see her espousing this view.
Now objectors might say: “That’s not fair, the left engages way more in rabid reactions to what people might say and conservative speakers on campus are regularly shut down and intimidated out of speaking,” or “Imagine if the situation had been reversed. There would be national outrage!” or even, “Funny the people who say ‘free speech doesn’t mean you’re free from its consequences’ are now learning the effects of their maxim.” Yes. I agree that’s true. I do believe this trend is skewed in an unfavorable way towards the left.
My issue is that if you claim to believe in the principle of free speech, you have no right to say that Johnny Williams should be fired or removed from his position for what he said. His post falls under politically protected speech.
If we continue down this track and Williams is let go, I forecast a culture hostile to academic freedom of any type, firings, and heckler’s vetoes from both sides. Currently the left has a head start on this game. This is not to say that conservatives don’t engage in their own form of thought and action policing. Try burning an American flag or insulting Ronald Reagan and face “conservative P.C.” But on most college campuses, at least the ones afflicted, I’d say the left has a monopoly. And I’d rather that others not join in. Better to fight for the right to free expression for all.