Free Speech

University Investigating Music Theory Journal for Issue It Published


The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports:

UNT's Journal of Schenkerian Studies is under investigation following calls from around the country for it to be shuttered and for one of its advisers, UNT music theory professor Timothy Jackson, to be fired. The journal's sin? Following criticism by scholar Philip Ewell that 19th century music theorist Heinrich Schenker, whose influence on music theory is "hard to overstate," was an "ardent racist and German nationalist," the journal presented an edition including debate among scholars on racial issues and music theory.

The issue led a group of graduate students to write to UNT College of Music Dean John Richmond on July 29, expressing concerns about the journal and, in particular, Jackson's involvement in the issue. The students called for the journal to be dissolved, Jackson investigated and potentially fired from his teaching position, an anonymous contributor to be unmasked, and the issue to be publicly condemned by the university….

The graduate students claimed that Jackson had used the journal "to promote racism" by defending the music theorist after Ewell wrote that Schenker's "racist views infected his music theoretical arguments." Jackson's article, one of several defending the composer in the 2019 edition of the journal, contextualized Schenker and his changing views on race, which were partially due to the rise of Nazi Germany. (Schenker was Jewish; his wife was arrested by the Nazi regime and died in Theresienstadt concentration camp.)

On July 31, after receiving similar calls for investigation and punishment from a group of faculty members, Richmond announced "a formal investigation" into the journal.

"Students and faculty can challenge the journal's assertions and criticize Schenker as much as they want, and the journal is free to resolve internal disputes as it pleases — and we'll defend its right to do so," said Lindsie Rank, author of FIRE's [letter to the university]. "But UNT is violating core principles of academic and editorial freedom — and the First Amendment — by initiating an investigation into the journal. Rigorous debate and discussion, not administrative censorship, is how we find truth."

FIRE's letter to UNT President Neal Smatresk reminds him of the public institution's unassailable responsibilities to uphold the First Amendment rights of its faculty and students, and demands the immediate cessation of the investigation into the journal. FIRE also reminds Smatresk that the freedom to publish is protected not only by the First Amendment, but also by UNT's own policies. If any editors acted in contrast to the journal's editorial structure or internal policies, the resolution must be handled internally within the journal to preserve its right to editorial independence, but the university may not step in without violating its First Amendment obligations.

Even without formal punishment, an investigation can chill expression in violation of the First Amendment. Recent months have seen an alarming spate of such investigations. Last week, Auburn University announced it is "considering options" on how to respond to a lecturer's anti-police tweets. On July 14, Fordham University investigated and punished a student for holding a legally-obtained gun in an off-campus Instagram memorialization of the Tiananmen Square massacre. On July 7, FIRE called on UCLA to end its investigation of a professor for quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.'s use of a racial slur in "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

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  1. Of course speech and expression is chilled; that is one of the goals of the “cancel” movement.
    As the number of such incidents increases one sees that the fascist left is in dress marching uniforms.They will not be put back into the box especially after November.

    1. It’s not like the instinct is limited to the left. I just saw this article in National Review yesterday, taking Notre Dame to task for having the temerity of hiring Pete Buttigieg since apparently the author doesn’t agree with his position on abortion. You’ll see that most of the commenters agree that apparently having this opinion disqualifies someone from such a job:

      1. “It’s not like the instinct is limited to the left.”
        True enough. Fascists of all stripes manifest the same disease. However, at present thanks to the reaction to “me-too” denunciations, the killing of Floyd, the widespread repugnance of DJT, the left enjoys a far greater power in many academic circles.

      2. 1. Norte Dame is private and does not have the same obligations under 1A.
        2. Norte Dame is a religious institution and presumably makes some decisions based on that. Is it not understandable that some would want Norte Dame to put their religious aims above some imputed secular free expression aims?
        3. Random comments of a blog post are hardly an official investigation by authorities. Being complained about on the Internet is not chilling.
        4. Someone else arguably isn’t perfectly correct either does not excuse violations of free speech/free press rights

        It’s a stretch to say the two things are alike in any way.

        1. Ben,
          Are up at a top academic institution that routinely has been vociferous in championing free inquiry?
          How can you say that the strong peer pressure to respond to various pressures from grievance groups is not chilling?
          That ND is a Catholic University is irrelevant to whether its new found “sensitivity” is or is not hypocritical.

          1. I mean to ask “are you at…”
            In other words “are you speaking from direct experience or is you comment just spun out from the top of your head?

          2. Blog comments are “pressures from grievance groups” now?

            1. No, demands from members of grievance groups to university administrators are.
              You seem to misunderstand intentionally.

              1. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was responding to a post criticizing blog comments.

        2. My point was simply responding to the notion that “cancel culture” is somehow a left-wing phenomenon. It’s not. Plenty of people on the right are perfectly happy to shut up people who disagree with them rather than engaging with their ideas.

          That’s not intended as an endorsement of what’s happening at UNT. I largely agree with the concerns raised by Professor Volokh in this and other similar posts.

          1. jb,
            I agreed that the disease is a common feature of fascist tendancys across the spectrum-right and left.

        3. By the way where did Notre Dame come in. This issue was about the University of North Texas.
          Your introduction of Notre Dame is either deliberately deceitful or plain ignorant

      3. Notre Dame purports to be a Catholic entity, and expecting it to maintain compliance with Catholic theology is not unreasonable.

        1. Try again:

          As a Catholic university one of its distinctive goals is to provide a forum where through free inquiry and open discussion the various lines of Catholic thought may intersect with all the forms of knowledge found in the arts, sciences, professions, and every other area of human scholarship and creativity.

        2. Ed,
          This post had nothing to do with UND. That was just Ben’s bogus blah-blah.
          UNT is a public University.

    2. This is not going to end well….

      1. Another area where you worry about right-wingers getting fed up and shooting the bad liberals?

        Whatta surprise.

          1. Yep. I blame that guy, not those dastardly Republicans for pushing him into it.


        1. Why do you always read “shoot liberals” into any time someone says “oh boy all this liberal intolerance isn’t going to end well.” Could it be projecting?

          1. Dr. Ed has predicted inevitable violence against the liberal bogeymen in his head. It’s only reasonable to treat his more general wishcasting as consistent with the specific.

          2. Because I have read and remember Ed’s posts.

          3. Projecting?

            You think I secretly want to start killing Republicans, Jimmy?

            1. You are mad all the time and delusional with some of your posts. So….

              1. Maybe don’t accuse your fellow posters of wanting to murder people.

                1. And when did I do this? Again seems like you are projecting a lot recently.

                  1. Do you know what projecting means?

  2. F.I.R.E’s letters are getting to be on the boring side. I loved the old ones that were like two pages long and full of great prose. Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate really knew how to write a compelling piece of advocacy. This letter reads like BORING. Needs a TLDR line to go with its 8 pages of heavier than necessary analysis.

  3. Isn’t there anyone here who knows diddly about Schenker? Sheesh.

    Short version: Schenker had a way of analyzing music that (as the wags put it at Cal) reduced all of music to “Three Blind Mice.” It wasn’t quite as bald as that, of course; but it did involve reducing the top line to a descent to the tonic, and the bass line to a I-V-I. The idea was that the small diversions from this grand plan were piled up hierarchically, so that if you’d done a Schenkerian graph of a movement, you knew which parts of the texture were primary, which secondary, which … well, piffle. It was a way, basically, at getting to the skeleton of the music, so that you could see what was part of the bones and what the various layers of superstructure.

    It’s Germanic, obviously, and best suited to German music; other sorts of 19th-c. music (to say nothing of music after the 19th c.) don’t really work like that. But that’s the only conceivably “racist” thing about it, and there’s nothing specifically “White” about being German in particular; you’d have a hard time Schenkerizing much of Debussy, but Debussy was as “White” as Beethoven. Whiter, even, to hear some tell it.

    This was a few North Texas graduate students trying to “cancel” an entire journal for the entirely justified publication of one scholar’s work, and to investigate, on suspicion of bigotry, everyone connected with the publication. You folks upthread having yuk-yuks about Notre Dame (which has zero to do with this case) ought to think about what is actually involved here; it looks more like the Cultural Revolution, frankly, than anything I’ve yet seen this year.

  4. “But UNT is violating core principles of academic and editorial freedom — and the First Amendment — by initiating an investigation into the journal. Rigorous debate and discussion, not administrative censorship, is how we find truth.”

    And this is why FIRE will ultimately lose. Neither academic and editorial freedom nor truth is the goal of the cancel inquisition. Ideological homogeneity by force is the only goal the inquisition values. Freedom must be sacrificed and truth is defined as whatever the inquisition says it is.

  5. Am I the only one who thought this was going to be about the Scorpions?

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