First Amendment

Rutgers University Reverses Course, Affirms Free Speech Rights for Professor Accused of Anti-White Racism

"Any other result would have undermined the free speech and academic freedom rights of all Rutgers faculty members."


Tomwsulcer / Wikimedia Commons

A Rutgers University professor is no longer facing punishment for writing, "Okay, officially, I now hate white people," on social media.

Administrators had initially determined that this post violated university policy forbidding harassment and discrimination. But thanks to the efforts of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Rutgers has backed off.

History Professor James Livingston had complained that white people were overrunning a hamburger joint in Harlem, and about gentrification in general. (Livingston is white.) Facebook took down the post, and Rutgers found him guilty of breaking the faculty code. This could have resulted in suspension, or even termination.

Offensive or not, Livingston's statements were unquestionably protected under the First Amendment. Rutgers is a public university, and it can't discipline a professor for exercising his free speech rights. FIRE sent a letter to Rutgers President Robert Barchi reminding him of this, and the president ordered a review of the matter. The university has now reversed its finding of guilt, a spokesperson for FIRE told me.

"FIRE is pleased that Rutgers did the right thing and reversed the charge of racial discrimination against Professor Livingston," said Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, FIRE's director of litigation. "Any other result would have undermined the free speech and academic freedom rights of all Rutgers faculty members."

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  1. Good work by FIRE. Also, why would anyone go to Rutgers?

    1. “why would anyone go to Rutgers”

      Bad at sports and everything else.

    2. Good work by FIRE.

      Man, I don’t know. “We’ll see.” might be the best description. I could see FIRE winning 100% selectively against all the anti-white bigotry that comes up and them, genuinely or not, shrugging their shoulders and saying “A win is a win.” Not to imply malice on the part of FIRE, but it wouldn’t be the first time an organization nominally against defamation turned on its principles and effectively defamed whole races of people.

    3. Good work?

      They facilitated the double standard.

      Understand, had the professor written ‘okay, now I hate black people’ nothing would have made Rutgers change their tune. NOTHING.

      Rutgers had been forced to treat anti-white racism the way they treat anti-black racism.

      And FIRE stopped that.

      They fought for the wrong principle.

      1. “They facilitated the double standard.”

        Yeah man… Do the flipperoo…

        ‘”Okay, officially, I now hate white people,” on social media.’ … Do that to black or Islamic or purple or green or Native American folks, instead, and see what happens!!!!

      2. If they’re fighting for the principle then eventually they’re going to have to sit on both sides of the standard. They fight enough for free speech without disclaimer or reservation that I can’t fault FIRE here.

        That said, Rutgers should not have reversed course to my mind. You’re either against hatred & bigotry or you are not. If it’s all cool but only if it goes one way then being against those things isn’t actually part of your core values without further modifiers they probably don’t want to come out and say.

    4. Rugters is ranked high nationally and internationally. It’s a bargain if you live in New Jersey and want to visit the hometown on the weekends or hang out with your old friends who went to high school with you before going to Rugters.

  2. So…

    Is Rutgers repealing its policy forbidding harassment and discrimination?

    1. Excellent question.

    2. Excellent question.

    3. Yeah… “Reverses course” seems a bit strong a description, given the selective enforcement of such things generally. I think there’s a good argument that not dropping the charges would have been a broader victory for free speech, in that it would make everyone suffer equally under a bad policy.

  3. This is good news for the professor and for Freedom of Speech, but I have this nagging voice whispering to me that if this white professor posted the statement, “Okay, officially, I now hate black people”, this story would have a much different ending.

    1. Exactly.

  4. As long as it applies for the same thing said about other races.

    1. Yeah, sure it does Mickey. Sure it does.

    2. LOL. You’re a riot!

  5. How is a white person supposed to trust the treatment they recieve in this guy’s class? I don’t see how blatent statements of racism can not be considered something a University can prohibit as a term of employment. This is not him holding controversial or whacky political view. This is him saying he hates an entire race of people. Given the need for not only professors to treat their students fairly without discriminating and for the students to percieve that they are being treated fairly, I don’t see how you can allow an avowed racist to be a college professor.

    1. I honestly do not see why universities cannot sack whoever they want. If this was a corporate setting dude would be out already. If this was the military then I hope he enjoys being brought up on charges, reduction in rank. Not sure how universities have managed to create (selectively leftist) consequence free zones.

      1. The claim is that they are run by the government and therefore restrained by the BOR. And I think that is correct. That, however, doesn’t mean that Universities can never fire anyone even when they have a valid reason and have given the person due process. Here, I don’t see how being an avowed racist of any kind is not a valid reason to fire someone whose job it is to give often subjective grades to students. If this guy were a researcher in a lab somewhere, it might be different. But he is a liberal arts professor.

        1. If he worked for Treasurery or was a police dude I’m pretty sure he would be dropped. Probably not be out within a day but would be gone I bet. Not sure why Universities are more (consequence) free than anywhere else. Shit, I went to a school (Colorado) that had a Professor named Ward Churchill who faked being a Native American and called the people killed in WTC “little Eichmans.” Took years to fire his ass.

      2. Rutgers is a public university. As such, it “at least in theory” has to uphold constitutional principles. This is why (public) universities cannot sack whoever they want.

        And, if I remember this story correctly, there is no evidence that the professor discriminated against his students or any students on the basis of color. Granted, he made this stupid/idiotic tirade, but there is no evidence that this influenced his classroom. Now, yes, I know some people are going to likely argue that where there is smoke there is fire, but if we go down that path then people have every right to fire faculty for making statements against gay marriage (he is discriminating against his LGBT students), supporting Republican candidates (he supports white supremacy, so he must discriminate against his non-white students), libertarian faculty (he wants to destroy the publicly funded university), etc. etc.

    2. You can’t sack a professor for being racist off the clock, because the alternative is following professors around with a camera all the time to record any possible bias. (But enough about TL.) You can have someone not employed by the university monitor off the clock activity to identity professors to watch on the clock. If anyone finds bias on the clock, that is grounds for termination. Any professor bold enough to say, “I hate White people,” on social media probably has enough problematic papers published in academic journals to get him fired if normal people actually read his work.

  6. Guy sounds like a complete tool bag. And of course he has every right to be a complete tool bag.

    1. My right to be an asshole shall not be infringed! / not sarc

      1. My neighbor is a dick and agrees with you on this point.

  7. I agree.

    Though I think they ought to fire him for being stupid and thinking of people only as categories, not individuals.

    Because those two things make him bad at his job.

  8. white guy gets racist-ed for racist-ing white people, then doesn’t. beautiful.

  9. Back when I taught high school, the union rep told us we had the right to say and publish anything we wanted off the clock provided we did not present the statement as coming from the school.

  10. “History Professor James Livingston had complained that white people were overrunning a hamburger joint in Harlem, and about gentrification in general. (Livingston is white.)”

    White people other than him, no doubt.

    1. Yeah, that part is really weird.

      1. …but he probably thinks he’s one of the *good* white people, you know, the ones who don’t want black businesses to have too many white customers.

  11. I think FIRE was probably pushing against an open door, demanding the right for professors to be racist against white people.

    I’m surprised the professor even got in trouble in the first place.

    The complaint from FIRE probably gave them the chance to back away from a stance they felt uncomfortable taking in the first place.

    1. I’m aware that the remark was probably meant to be, by his standards, light-hearted, but that excuse usually doesn’t work. I mean, “ha ha I hate black people now” probably wouldn’t be written off as just a harmless joke.

      I guess maybe he could invoke the Chris Rock defense, that he’s making fun of his own group. That defense also gets Jewish comics, for example, off the hook for what might be a blacklisting* offense for a gentile comic.

      *no pun intended

  12. What about Professor Michael Chikindas who was disciplined for anti semetic Facebook posts last year FIRE was silent in that case at the same university no less.

  13. A Rutgers University professor is no longer facing punishment for writing, “Okay, officially, I now hate white people,” on social media.

    I wonder what kind of repercussions this white professor would be facing if he had said ‘Okay, officially, I now hate black people’ on social media.?

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