After penning an op-ed for The New York Times decrying the ideological homogeneity of his campus administration, a conservative-leaning professor at Sarah Lawrence College discovered intimidating messages—including demands that he quit his job—on the door of his office. The perpetrators had torn down the door's decorations, which had included pictures of the professor's family.
In the two weeks since the incident, Samuel Abrams, a tenured professor of politics at Sarah Lawrence, has repeatedly asked the college's president, Cristle Collins Judd, to condemn the perpetrators' actions and reiterate her support for free speech. But after sending a tepid campus-wide email that mentioned the importance of free expression, but mostly stressed her "commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence," Judd spoke with Abrams over the phone; according to him, she accused him of "attacking" members of the community.
"She said I had created a hostile work environment," Abrams said in an interview with Reason. "If [the op-ed] constitutes hate speech, then this is not a world that I want to be a part of."
What's more, when the two met in person, Judd implied that Abrams was on the market for a new job, he said.
"I am not on the job market," he said. "I am tenured, I live in New York. Why would I go on the job market?"
Abrams interpreted Judd's remarks as a suggestion that he might be better off leaving the school. Judd did not respond to a request for comment.
Abram's op-ed criticized the "politically lopsided" events hosted by the college's Office of Student Affairs, including seminars on microaggressions, understanding white privilege, and "staying woke." It also included original research: a nationally representative survey of 900 administrators. According to this data, liberal administrators outnumber conservatives 12 to 1. This would mean the ranks of the administration are even more uniformly liberal than the faculty.
"While considerable focus has been placed in recent decades on the impact of the ideological bent of college professors, when it comes to collegiate life—living in dorms, participating in extracurricular organizations—the ever growing ranks of administrators have the biggest influence on students and campus life across the country," wrote Abrams.
Many Sarah Lawrence students and alumni did not appreciate Abrams calling attention to this issue.
"There was an emergency student senate meeting, to my knowledge," said Abrams. It was his understanding that the meeting produced a declaration calling for him to be stripped of tenure and dismissed from the college. Judd sent a campus-wide email about the meeting, which she described as "not only thoughtful, but thought-provoking."
"The Senate asked me to publicly affirm that Black Lives Matter, that LBGT+ Lives matter, and that Women's Justice matters," wrote Judd in the email. "I emphatically did."
The student senate did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Abrams' office door was vandalized on October 16, hours after the op-ed's publication. The perpetrators posted a sign on the door that read, "Our right to exist is not 'ideological,' asshole," and was signed "transsexual fag." Another flyer demanded that he apologize to residence life staff and the director of campus diversity, students of color, queer students, trans students, and other marginalized persons. Multiple messages instructed Abrams to "quit," and one told him to "go teach somewhere else, maybe Charlottesville."
— The Phoenix (@SLCPhoenix) October 16, 2018
Abrams believes the perpetrators tried to break into his office; some of his books had fallen off their shelves as if the sign-posters had slammed the door and the walls.
"I'm really shaken," he said.
Abrams' dealings with Judd have further unnerved him. During their conversation, she implied that he should have cleared his public writings with her before submitting them, something he described as unacceptable.
Several of Abrams' colleagues met with Judd to discuss the vandalism and express their view that such acts could not be tolerated. Judd agreed, but did not pledge to take any further actions. These professors thought she seemed scared that the students might hold more protests, creating a public relations disaster, according to Abrams.
This incident is an example of a concerning phenomenon: college administrators going soft on free speech in an effort to appease a handful of extremely aggressive students. Administrators should take greater care to avoid explicit ideological bias, and they must defend the free speech rights of professors who speak out against it. A college that attempts to muzzle, discourage, or rid itself of speech that offends the far left is failing its mission.