Campus Free Speech

NYU Professor Criticized Trigger Warnings. Now He's on Leave for the Semester.

University denies punishing him for expressing unpopular views.



New York University liberal studies professor Michael Rectenwald is on paid leave for the rest of the semester, and his vociferous criticisms of trigger warnings and far-left social justice activism may have something to do with it.

Back in September, Rectenwald created a Twitter account—Deplorable NYU Prof—in order to anonymously tweet attacks on PC culture.

"Why don't you go to a safe space and tend to your obvious psychic wounds?" he wrote, directing the question to "social justice warriors."

"The scariest thing about Halloween today is now the liberal totalitarian costume surveillance," he also observed (not incorrectly).

Last week, Rectenwald succumbed to temptation and outed himself in the pages of Washington Square News. He maintained that he was neither a sincere member of the alt-right, nor an actual Trump supporter. In fact, he described himself as a left communist:

I don't support Trump at all. I hate him — I think he's horrible. I'm hiding amongst the alt-right, alright? And the point is, this character is meant to exhibit and illustrate the notion that it's this crazy social-justice-warrior-knee-jerk-reaction-triggered-happy-safe-space-seeking-blah, blah, blah, blah culture that it's producing this alt-right. Now, I'm not dumb enough to go there. And my own politics are very strong — I'm a left communist. But I think that in fact, the crazier and crazier that this left gets, this version of the left, the more the more the alt-right is going to be laughing their asses off plus getting more pissed. Every time a speaker is booed off campus or shooed off campus because they might say something that bothers someone, that just feeds the notion that the left is totalitarian, and they have a point.

His comments quickly drew the attention of something called the Liberal Studies Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Working Group at NYU. The group published a letter critical of Rectenwald: it's members contended that he was guilty of "illogic and incivility."

And that's fine. Rectenwald gets to say what he thinks, and his critic get to say what they think.

But according to The New York Post, Rectenwald was also summoned to appear before his department head and an HR representative. He told The Post that the administrators accused him of having mental health problems and gave him no choice but to take a leave of absence.

A spokesperson for the university denied Rectenwald's account, telling the Gothamist that his leave was "voluntary."

"We look forward to having him back when he's ready," said the spokesperson.

Rectenwald is a popular teacher, according to

I don't know whether Rectenwald embellished his tale of persecution, or whether NYU is being dishonest about punishing him. But it's concerning to see an academic complaining about safe space culture one moment and run off campus the next. Perhaps Rectenwald's exile is his own doing, but if the university permits no criticism of the regime of coddling its far-left students demand, it's just as illiberal as he claims.