Campus Free Speech

A Good Statement on Faculty Speech from Syracuse


I'm a believer in positive reinforcement, and when university leaders do the right thing they should get credit for doing so. Kent Syverud, the president of Syracuse University and a former law professor, did the right thing. Other university presidents should take notes.

An assistant professor of political science at Syracuse chose to use the anniversary of September 11th to make a point about "heteropatriarchal capitalist systems." Her tweet generated some backlash. The university responded as universities should in such cases—by defending free speech and avoiding any temptation to praise or condemn the professorial speech in question. The full statement:

This weekend marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It was a time to reflect on the senseless loss of life, the heroism of many and how that event shaped our country and the world.

Recently, one of our professors shared thoughts on 9/11 on social media. These comments have been the subject of much scrutiny and vehement disagreement by critics. That is their right, just as our professor has the right to free speech, however uncomfortable it may make anyone feel. What cannot be tolerated are the harassment and violent threats that we have seen in response that have been directed at this professor. Our Department of Public Safety is in contact with the professor and has engaged the support of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Some have asked the University to condemn the professor's comments and others have demanded the professor's dismissal. Neither of those actions will happen. As the home of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, free speech for all people across the political spectrum, within the limits of the law and the University's anti-harassment policy, is one of our key values. Speech can be offensive, hurtful or provocative. Still, Syracuse University will stand by the principles of free speech and by our commitment to keeping our community safe in the face of threats and harassment.

The statement in this case echoes the language Syverud used to defend a different faculty member a few years ago who drew controversy over her remarks in response an "anti-Sharia Law" protest.

As some have noted, Syverud was much less vocal when a professor was targeted by campus activists and denounced by members of his senior administration for calling COVID-19 the "Wuhan Flu or the Chinese Communist Party virus." On that occasion, FIRE had to remind Syracuse about its obligations when professors say controversial things. Far from vocally defending that professor, Syracuse instead suspended him and launched an investigation over whether he should be further sanctioned and perhaps fired, contributing to FIRE awarding Syracuse a "Lifetime Censorship Award." That professor's case dragged on for months before Syracuse finally reinstated him.

One hopes that Syracuse has learned its lesson and will now aggressively defend free speech regardless of whether it is off-campus right-wing activists or on-campus left-wing campus activists attacking it. In this case at least the university did a good job, and it should keep its statement handy as a template for the next time someone gets upset because a professor said something naughty.

NEXT: Today in Supreme Court History: September 14, 1901

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  1. Of course, now might be the time for reflection on why our strong liberal universities seem to consistently produce this sort of thing and whether we get any benefit from the tax money and the tuition we pay.

    IIUC many on the left want to spend our tax dollars to pay people to provide this sort of commentary to anyone who wants to hear it, free of charge. Is this good for anybody, except those who get paid to produce this stuff?

    1. “Is this good for anybody, except those who get paid to produce this stuff?”

      It generated debate – always a good thing in a pluralistic, vibrant society.

      1. I’ll generate debate for half of what she charges.

      2. “It generated debate”

        She alleged that fundamentalist Wallabi Muslims led by a multi-millionaire were striking a blow against heterosexuals and capitalists.

        Good debate!

          1. We’re not debating, we’re mocking

            Because, as is usual, the statements are so stupid there’s nothing to actually debate

    2. Syracuse defends Hate America speech. Remove all its privileges. Cut off all government funding and subsidies. Shut down this treason indoctrination camp.

      Students should force the Commie traitor skank to wear a dunce cap, to stand in the corner, sucking her thumb. No more deference to the servants of the Chinese Commie Party.

      Syracuse should adopt the Chicago Principles to avoid all that.

      The same should be done to Princeton, a treason indoctrination camp on steroids.

    3. I’m onboard. Let’s eliminate public funding for higher ed.

  2. “One hopes that Syracuse has learned its lesson”

    Don’t hold you breath.

    1. It’s a breathtakingly naïve statement. They didn’t learn shit. They simply rallied around one of their own.

      1. They simply rallied around one of their own.

        As opposed to the “Wuhan Flu / Chinese Communist Party virus” professor, whom they see as an infiltrator / interloper.

    2. Yes, I don’t know why Prof. Whittington has such contempt for his readers that he expects to believe that. There is no possibility that Syracuse will start defending right-wing speech as it defends left-wing speech. He’s just trying to cover up the rot which extends throughout the academy to protect his own privileged position.

  3. They didn’t defend her because they love free speech

    They defended her because they hate America just as much as she does

    They get no credit for this one, because everything they said in her defense was a lie. See the Wuhan Flu incident

    So, I guess the question is: are you stupidly gullible, or just dishonest?

    1. That is correct. Is Whittington a child or something?

  4. This blog — which repeatedly imposes viewpoint-driven, partisan political censorship (on those who are not movement conservatives) — is a curious venue for your comment, Prof. Whittington. Could you genuinely not find a better spot for conveying that sentiment?

    1. Artie diversity is the strength of our country. You need to be replaced by a diverse.

      1. Artie has not been censored since the blog moved to Reason magazine, a long time ago.

        1. That is a lie.

          And not merely because the censorship is renewed any time it would be appropriate to use the term “sl@ck-j@w” or “c@p succ@r” to describe someone.

          But I imagine at this point Prof. Volokh appreciates your attempt to defend him, even if the defense is a lie.

          1. Slack jaw. Cock sucker. Mother fucker. There you go, Artie. Not removed by Reason. I have not tried your euphemisms. Euphemisms are disconcerting and should be removed. I also like the word, diverse to refer to under performing diverses. Not removed.

            1. It will be interesting to observe whether Prof. Volokh removes this use of a word he forbids non-conservatives to use.

              How are the civility standards you claim to enforce — when trying to defend your partisan censorship — working these days, Prof. Volokh?

              1. Artie, it’s a Russian thing. I get emails about civility. I reply, the lawyer wants civility while fucking the country so he can do it without getting scared.

      2. I don’t get it.

        You say diversity is the strength of our country, yet get all wadded up when someone posts an opinion divergent from yours.

        1. I welcome all debate, and I believe in diversity of thought. Indeed, having some legal training, I am a prostitute. I can change sides on request.

    2. Really Artie?

      Then why are you allowed to post here?

      1. I don’t use the words Prof. Volokh has instructed me not to use when describing right-wingers, I guess. You could ask Prof. Volokh for a detailed explanation of his longstanding, repeated, viewpoint-driven censorship.

  5. OK Keith, are you sure he deserves credit? The two instances where he defended controversial speech, it was leftist speech. And in the one instance where he did not defend it, the speech was most-definitely not leftist-approved. So this appears just to be another instance of “free speech for me, but not for thee” – at least until he defends a conservative professor, if Syracuse still has any.

    1. Whittington is grasping at straws, and jumping on the slightest correct thing. As you said, Syracuse has only defended leftist speech. This bias justifies all sanctions I have listed, including shutting it down by force.

      1. Of course, Whittington’s Princeton is 10 times worse than Syracuse. I understand if Whittington does not want lose his jobs, and does not criticize it. A statement disclosing his conflict of interest would suffice.

  6. I tend to agree with the above: Congratulate him on exhibiting principle when he gets around to defending controversial speech he presumptuously disagrees with; It’s easy to defend such you’re in agreement with, after all. That hardly requires principles.

    1. No, IMO Prof. Whittington struck the perfect balance: Congratulate the defense of speech, whatever the viewpoint, then point out prior inconsistent behavior, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about the motive.

  7. An assistant professor of political science at Syracuse chose to use the anniversary of September 11th to make a point about “heteropatriarchal capitalist systems.”

    I no longer expect anything except harlequinesque badges of pseudo-profundities from nonsentient echo chamber regurgitation cogs facilitating the elected entrenchment of the kleptocracy.

    1. “heteropatriarchal capitalist systems.” Totally superior to any alternative. See Detroit, where diverses rule.

  8. “within the limits of the law and the University’s anti-harassment policy”
    The first is obvious and the second may be very nebulous. At Syracuse they include “hate speech” as violations of their Student Code of Conduct and therefore may still not give a shit about defending the rights of a student who repeats any variation on “Chinese virus.” The university also encourages anyone to report any incidence of “bias” (the definition of which is left quite open) through their “STOP Bias” policy.

    1. ” Student Code of Conduct and therefore may still not give a shit about defending the rights of a student who repeats any variation on “Chinese virus.”

      It was a tenured professor, who was suspended. Also, I’m not sure how much leeway there is to neutrally enforce a harassment policy that permits “heteropatriarchal capitalist systems” but not “Wuhan Flu or the Chinese Communist Party virus”.

      1. I know it was a professor but an institution that will censure a professor won’t think twice about punishing a student for the same infraction. If you assume a single ambiguous policy can’t be used to permit sanctioned speech and forbid unsanctioned speech, even if the content is very similar, you would be very wrong as FIRE has repeatedly shown. Syracuse treated the “Wuhan virus” statement as a code of conduct violation but not the “heteropatriarchal capitalist systems” so there must be some leeway.

  9. Oh, come on, Keith. The President is defending her right to say this because it isn’t terribly different from the standard university leftist orthodoxy. His history shows he wouldn’t do it if a professor said something that offended that same orthodoxy.

    1. If that’s all they wanted to do, they needn’t have released this statement, which will make future attempts to restrict speech quite a bit more politically costly.

  10. It doesn’t seem as if they changed their policy, if by their policy is understood “freedom for the thought I like, or alternatively, no enemies to the left even if they go a little bit overboard. Meanwhile, as a strong liberal/libertarian university, we have sciency reasons for opposing criticism of the Chinese Communist Party.”

  11. What do you know, “heteropatriarchy” is actually a word: . I was going to criticize Asst. Prof. Jenn Jackson’s use of the term because “hetero-” is a prefix meaning “other” or “different” and therefore “heteropatriarchy” by default ought to mean something like “mixed patriarchy” or “patriarchy different from the usual type of patriarchy”, but it’s too late for that argument, the word already exists.

    So instead, I criticize Asst. Prof. Jenn Jackson for tweeting that the attack of September 11, 2001, was “was an attack on the heteropatriarchal capitalistic system that America relies upon to wrangle other countries into passivity.” Let’s be clear: The overall mastermind of 9/11 was Osama bin Laden, and who is most certainly a heteropatriarchal extremist and part of the bin Laden family, known for its great success in the capitalist system. Most of the perpetrators were from Saudi Arabia, a country built on heteropatriarchal capitalism of such an extreme variety that women are not allowed to drive cars or travel without permission of their husbands or male guardians.

    Whatever angered bin Laden and the hijackers to such an extreme extent, it might have been along the lines that the United States should be taught a lesson about our approach to the Muslim world, such as, get your troops out, or don’t support governments that violate “pure” Islam (as we define it), but I don’t think any of them intended to punish the United States for its alleged heteropatriarchal capitalist system.

    In short, Asst. Prof. Jenn Jackson’s tweet is utterly disconnected from the facts and circumstances of 9/11. That said, Syracuse University was right to defend her freedom of speech.

  12. In my previous comment I tried to include a link to the Wikipedia article; this time I will try it without the less-than and greater-than brackets around the URL. Trying again:

    What do you know, “heteropatriarchy” is actually a word:

    Let’s see if it worked this time.

  13. Also, am I allowed to use “a href” type links? Let’s try that:
    That should be a link to the Wikipedia article anchored to the word “Heteropatriarchy”. Let’s see if that worked.

  14. SU administration will only defend “free speech” that advances and advocates a liberal/progressive/social justice message.

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