Prof Suspended After Declaring It's "More Admirable" To Shoot Down Than Shout Down Conservative Speakers
A professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, has been suspended after posting threatening statements on social media posts that suggested that people would be justified in killing speakers who hold opposing views on issues like transgender policies.
Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson released a statement saying that an unnamed professor in the school’s English department made a social media post that is “at best, morally reprehensible and, at worst, criminal.”
College Fix identified that professor as Steven Shaviro, who writes in the areas of film, music videos, and science fiction literature.
“This morning, I was made aware of a social media post by a Wayne State University professor in our Department of English. We have on many occasions defended the right of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but we feel this post far exceeds the bounds of reasonable or protected speech. It is, at best, morally reprehensible and, at worst, criminal.”
On one level, a suspension could be viewed as a necessary proactive step to guarantee that there is no real danger in this circumstance. Indeed, we have seen a strikingly different treatment given to academics on the right as opposed to the left in such actions.
Many conservative or libertarian professors find themselves suspended or under investigation for controversial tweets or jokes. Conversely, it is comparably rare to see such action against those on the left who use inflammatory language including professors advocating “detonating white people,” 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.
The most analogous case is that of University of Rhode Island professor Erik Loomis, who defended the murder of a conservative protester and said that he saw “nothing wrong” with such acts of violence. Yet, those extreme statements from the left are rarely subject to cancel campaigns or university actions.
I have generally supported academics on both sides on free speech and academic freedom grounds.
Loomis and Shaviro are examples of the violent rhetoric and intolerance of some in academia.
However, as will come as little surprise to many on this blog, I have concerns over more than a temporary suspension to investigate the matter. The intent of Dr. Shaviro is actually less clear than has been suggested in the press.
At the start, Shaviro insists that he does not advocate “violating federal and state criminal codes.” He then makes the violent reference as being better than shouting down opposing speakers. He warns that the left is being attacked for cancelling speakers when the debate should be over what Shaviro calls their own “reprehensible views.” He insists that these are efforts to trigger such responses to provoke an incident that discredits the left.”
Shaviro makes the extreme argument that “it is more admirable to kill a racist, homophobic, transphobic speaker than to shout them down.” He then makes this point even more menacing by referencing the assassination of Symon Petliura by Jewish anarchist Sholem Schwarzbard in 1926. Petliura was blamed for the killings of thousands of Jews during pogroms and Schwarzbard was acquitted.
Shaviro’s main point appears to be that the continued use of “deplatforming” or cancelling conservative speakers is ill-advised. He notably does not oppose such anti-free speech efforts as inimical to higher education, but only because they backfire in the press. In that sense, Shaviro appears no ally to free speech.
However, his rhetoric may be more reckless than intentional in encouraging violence.
The question is how the university should handle such extreme and chilling language.
This was not expressed in class and was done through Shaviro’s personal social media.
Like Ilya Shapiro at Georgetown, it was a poorly considered tweet, though (unlike Shapiro) Shaviro has not taken down the tweet. In Shapiro’s case, he was put through a long investigation and the university effectively forced him off the faculty.
There is one difference between Shapiro and Shaviro (beyond a single letter):
Wayne State University is a state school and subject to the full weight of the First Amendment.
Shaviro could challenge the action as a denial of his free speech rights.
Once again, I believe an initial suspension could be upheld as the university assesses a danger. However, Shaviro does not appear a direct threat to others. Moreover, he can point to his precatory language on complying with state and federal law as negating the violent interpretation of his critics. He can also point to the word “more” as reflecting his point. He says it is “more admirable” than shouting down speakers. That does not mean that it is admirable or commendable (though his reference to Schwarzbard remains concerning). He was engaging in what I have called in my academic writings “rage rhetoric.” In my view, this is protected speech.
Shaviro’s words are worthy of our condemnation. However, a federal court could well order reinstatement if anything other than a temporary suspension for investigation is ordered by the university.