Drexel’s hypocrisy on Ciccariello-Maher

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George Ciccariello-Maher

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.”

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Lukas Mikelionis

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.  

George Ciccariello-Maher, tenured radical

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George Ciccariello-Maher

Until just a few weeks ago, George Ciccariello-Maher had a dream career in the academy. In 2010, after studying government and political science at St. Lawrence University, Cambridge, and Berkeley, he had neatly settled into a sinecure at Philadelphia’s Drexel University, where he was Associate Professor of Politics and Global Studies.

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One of Ciccariello-Maher’s books

He’d published precisely the kind of stuff you need to produce in order to attain such an exalted position: in addition to articles for such far-left journals as Monthly Review and Radical Philosophy Review and for such equally “progressive” general-audience outlets as The Nation, Salon, and Counterpunch, he’d written a couple of book-length billets-doux to chavismo entitled We Created Chávez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution (2013) and Building the Commune: Radical Democracy in Venezuela (2016). He also had a third tome – ready to be published this year – with the delectably postmodern title of Decolonizing Dialectics. As if all this weren’t impressive enough, he was co-editor of a new book series called Radical Américas. And most of this stuff bore the colophon of the today’s top academic publisher, Duke University Press, which may well be responsible for the dissemination of more pretentious, politically radical gibberish than any other such establishment on the planet.

As indicated by his choice of book topics, Ciccariello-Maher was especially enamored of Venezuela – or, more specifically, of what Hugo Chávez did to it. His several articles on the subject in Jacobin Magazine (self-described as “a leading magazine of the American left”) have offered little in the way of original reporting, acute observation, or incisive analysis, but have made up for those failings by being fervently on the right – which is to say, the left.

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Frantz Fanon

His formula: one part glib mockery of hard-working, middle-class Venezuelans who were justifiably alarmed to see an economically illiterate socialist ideologue dragging their country’s economy into the toilet (and whom Ciccariello-Maher ridiculed, perversely, for their excellent, unaccented English); one part equally glib enthusiasm for working-class chavistas rooted not in any real concern for or understanding of their specific plight but, rather, in his own coldblooded ideological imperatives and in an inane romantic association of their role with that of the sans culottes in the French Revolution of 1789 (without a trace of irony, Ciccariello-Maher praised these revolutionaries as “proudly violent”); all tossed lightly and mixed in with plentiful admiring references to Frantz Fanon, whose 1961 book The Wretched of the Earth, with its sympathy for underclass violence and the wholesale destruction of bourgeois values and wealth (not to mention bourgeois men and women) influenced such heroes of the earth’s wretched influenced (among others) Che Guevara and Black Panthers leader Eldridge Cleaver and is one of the founding texts of today’s pernicious academic postmodernism.

In short, Ciccariello-Maher had made splendid use of his sympathy (faux or not) for the downtrodden peasants of Venezuela to make a lucrative career for himself in the academia norteamericana. But then he did something that put all of it at risk.

He sent out a tweet.

More tomorrow.