“My intent was to emphasize that the individuals who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting have my full support…several African-American faculty, students and statewide representatives … bravely shared their feelings of fear based on the actions of a small group of faculty members and their feelings of disappointment in the district for allowing these actions to continue.”
Notably, however, the video of the Dec. 13 meeting does not give details on the specific racial incidents. There is reference to an ongoing investigation. However, there are references to faculty who have opposed DEI measures.
That would likely include a group called the Renegade Institute for Liberty with history Professors Matthew Garrett and Erin Miller, who teach at Bakersfield College. The group filed a federal lawsuit against the district after they were allegedly threatened with termination for questioning the use of grant money to fund social justice initiatives at their college. They are both tenured.
The opposition to DEI measures has led some to object that the group makes them feel unsafe on campus. That reportedly included calls to terminate faculty who oppose DEI to create a safer environment.
While apologizing for calling for the killing of such faculty, Corkins does not address why faculty should be targeted if they oppose DEI measures. The hearing and the statements made against these faculty members creates a chilling environment for academic freedom. The message is clear that these professors are viewed as a dangerous element on campus.
The Board has an obligation to address this uncertain line. Corkins apologizes for calling for the killing of critics but not why criticism of DEI itself is a matter for action. There may be conduct that is threatening or violent. There is no indication of any criminal complaint, but there is a need to preserve an open and tolerant environment. However, that also includes tolerance for opposing views on issues like DEI.
There is no major campaign to remove Corkins. I am less inclined for such removal as I am interested in greater clarity on the rights of free speech and academic freedom. Everyone makes dumb comments in unguarded moments. I accept that Corkins was carried away by the emotion of the moment. Moreover, Corkins was referencing “abusive” faculty and not necessarily putting all DEI critics in that category. That is precisely what should be clarified.
However, it would likely be a different story if a board member called for the “culling” of DEI supporters or groups on the left. There remains a double standard in how such controversies are handled in academia.
The support enjoyed by faculty on the far left is in sharp contrast to the treatment given faculty with moderate, conservative or libertarian views. Anyone who raises such dissenting views is immediately set upon by a mob demanding their investigation or termination. This includes blocking academics from speaking on campuses like a recent Classics professor due to their political views. Conservatives and libertarians understand that they have no cushion or protection in any controversy, even if it involves a single, later deleted tweet. At the University of North Carolina (Wilmington) one such campaign led to a professor killing himself a few days before his final day as a professor.
I have defended faculty who have made similarly disturbing comments on the left, including “detonating white people,” abolish 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. I also defended the free speech rights 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. (Loomis was later made Director of Graduate Studies of History at Rhode Island).
Even when faculty engage in hateful acts on campus, however, there is a notable difference in how universities respond depending on the viewpoint. At the University of California campus, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display.
When these controversies arose, faculty rallied behind the free speech rights of the professors. That support was far more muted or absent when conservative faculty have found themselves at the center of controversies. The recent suspension of Ilya Shapiro is a good example. Other faculty have had to go to court to defend their free speech rights. One professor was suspended for being seen at a controversial protest.
The message from this hearing could be viewed by some as affirming that criticism of DEI is now viewed a threatening language. For conservative, libertarian, or contrarian faculty, it is not clear if such views will now be tolerated or viewed as grounds for termination (or a barrier to hiring).
This comes at a time when many faculties have indeed “culled” their ranks of conservatives. A new survey of 65 departments in various states found that 33 do not have a single registered Republican.
In a recent column, the editors of the legal site Above the Law mocked those of us who objected to the virtual absence of conservative or libertarian faculty members at law schools. Senior editor Joe Patrice defended “predominantly liberal faculties” based on the fact that liberal views reflect real law as opposed to junk law. (Patrice regularly calls those with opposing views “racists,” including Chief Justice John Roberts because of his objection to race-based criteria in admissions as racial discrimination). He explained that hiring a conservative academic was akin to allowing a believer in geocentrism (or that the sun orbits the earth) to teach at a university.
It is that easy. You simply declare that conservative views shared by a majority of the Supreme Court and roughly half of the population are invalid to be taught.
It is not limited to faculty. Polls now show that 60 percent of students fear sharing their views in class. Various polls have shown the same fear with some showing an even higher percentage of fearful students. There is a growing orthodoxy taking hold on our campuses with growing intolerance for dissenting faculty and students alike.
There are faculty who have raised concerns over DEI initiatives, land acknowledgment, and other policies. Even with the apology, the Board has allowed the underlying threat to linger. It should state why the opposition of faculty members, including filing in court, could be deemed as threatening or unacceptable viewpoints.