Dan Johnson is an associate professor at the School of Health and Applied Human Sciences at University of North Carolina Wilmington with apparently equal interest in politics and polytechnics. He posted a short but clear message on Facebook: “Blow Up Republicans.”
As will come as little surprise to many on this blog, I do not believe Johnson should face discipline for his violent political ideations.
Campus Reform reports objections to the handling of the controversy by the school, which only stated that “[t]he university was made aware of the post and has appropriately addressed it.” Johnson took down the posting.
Haylie Davis, a former student of Johnson’s, is quoted as objecting to the lack of more serious action and notes that the school would not be so circumspect “if the word ‘Republican’ was replaced with any other word. If the post stated ‘Blow up women,’ ‘Blow up homosexuals,’ ‘Blow up Catholics,’ etc.”
That is a good point.
We have discussed the sharply different treatment given statements by faculty depending on their political or social perspectives.
I have defended faculty who have made similarly disturbing comments denouncing police, calling for Republicans to suffer, strangling police officers, celebrating the death of conservatives, calling for the killing of Trump supporters, supporting the murder of conservative protesters and other outrageous statements. These comments were not protested as creating an “unsafe environment” and were largely ignored by universities. However, professors and students are routinely investigated, suspended, and sanctioned for countervailing views. There were also controversies at the University of California and Boston University, where there have been criticism of such a double standard, even in the face of criminal conduct. There was also such an incident at the University of London involving Bahar Mustafa as well as one involving a University of Pennsylvania professor. Some intolerant statements against students are deemed free speech while others are deemed hate speech or the basis for university action. There is a lack of consistency or uniformity in these actions which turn on the specific groups left aggrieved by out-of-school comments. There is also a tolerance of faculty and students tearing down fliers and stopping the speech of conservatives. Indeed, even faculty who assaulted pro-life advocates was supported by faculty and lionized for her activism.
As we have previously discussed (with an Oregon professor and a Rutgers professor), there remains an uncertain line in what language is protected for teachers in their private lives. A conservative North Carolina professor faced calls for termination over controversial tweets and was pushed to retire. Dr. Mike Adams, a professor of sociology and criminology, had long been a lightning rod of controversy. In 2014, we discussed his prevailing in a lawsuit that alleged discrimination due to his conservative views. He was then targeted again after an inflammatory tweet calling North Carolina a “slave state.” That led to his being pressured to resign with a settlement. He then committed suicide
The efforts to fire professors who voice dissenting views on various issues including an effort to oust a leading economist from the University of Chicago as well as a leading linguistics professor at Harvard and a literature professor at Penn. Sites like Lawyers, Guns, and Money feature writers like Colorado Law Professor Paul Campus who call for the firing of those with opposing views (including myself). Such campaigns have targeted teachers and students who contest the evidence of systemic racism in the use of lethal force by police or offer other opposing views in current debates over the pandemic, reparations, electoral fraud, or other issues.
It is not just universities. Almost on the one-year anniversary of its condemning its own publication of a column by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. (and forcing out its own editor), the New York Times published an academic columnist who previously defended the killing of conservative protesters. Over at the Washington Post this week, the newspaper promoted a columnist, Karen Attiah, who last summer caused an outrage after she tweeted “White women are lucky that we are just calling them Karens. And not calling for revenge.”
Despite the bias and hypocrisy shown by universities, I still would defend Johnson and his right to express such views on social media. Unfortunately, such hyperbolic and violent language is common today. While academics should be examples of greater tolerance and civility, the danger of such regulation is greater than the cost of such speech. Indeed, this week, the free speech community secured a significant victory in the ruling in Mahonoy on out-of-school speech by a high school student.
The failure of many on the left to support diversity of viewpoints does not mean that the rest of us are relieved of our own obligation to support free speech. While many of us are repulsed by Professor Johnson’s dreams of blowing up Republicans, sanctions on such speech could easily become a nightmare for free speech.