This week we’ve been looking at the tragic ordeal of Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher. Taking to Twitter this past Christmas Eve, he made what he later defended as an innocent joke – to be specific, he said that all he wanted for Christmas is the genocide of whites (what could be funnier?) – and, inexplicably, all kinds of people actually got upset. For a minute there, it looked as if poor George might actually lose his job as a punishment for his charmingly humorous tweet. How could the students at Drexel survive without his wit?
As it turned out, however, Ciccariello-Maher had nothing to worry about. After all, as an incendiary far-left ideologue, he was – so far as his profession was concerned – on the side of the angels. We’ve already seen the vigorous defenses of him by writers at Slate and elsewhere. In addition, over 9,000 people signed a petition telling Drexel “that racist trolls deserve no platform in dictating academic discourse, let alone the off-duty tweets of academics.” Unsurprisingly, then, only four days after promising an investigation, Drexel backed down. University president John A. Fry and provost M. Brian Blake signed their names to a statement describing Ciccariello-Maher’s “joke” as an example of “protected speech” and declared that he was in the clear. Such episodes, affirmed Fry and Blake, “both test and strengthen Drexel’s fundamental dedication to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression.”
We don’t disagree with Drexel’s decision. Freedom of speech is a paramount American value. What’s deplorable is the university’s utter lack of consistency – its absolute hypocrisy – on this question. As Lukas Mikelionis pointed out at Heat Street, “While Drexel insists on granting free speech privileges to its professors, the faculty has been applying a different set of rules for their students.” For example, Drexel students aren’t allowed to post items on campus that, in the university’s own words, “may be viewed as demeaning or degrading to a person or group of persons.” Among the kinds of student behavior that Drexel views as actionable harassment are the telling of “denigrating jokes” or “written or graphic material” that “shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group.” Even “inappropriately directed laughter,” whatever that may be, is considered a kind of harassment. Mikelionis further noted that Drexel is “one of the few universities in the country that expects trigger warnings in classes. According to the policy, ‘It is expected that instructors will offer appropriate warning and accommodation regarding the introduction of explicit and triggering materials used.’”
So Ciccariello-Maher’s career is safe. Indeed, all this fuss will probably end up having been a plus. His name recognition in the academy has skyrocketed, and he’ll now be able to label himself as a victim of today’s McCarthyites. On January 3, his latest book, Building the Commune, received a glowing review at Venezuela Analysis, a website that claims to have been providing “continuous, nuanced, grassroots-based reporting analysis from the ground” in the Bolivarian Republic while “the international media” has been “projecting a hysterical narrative of Venezuela’s catastrophic collapse.” Venezuela may be going down the tubes, but for Ciccariello-Maher everything’s coming up roses.