Drexel professor suspended following right-wing attack

Nov. 2017 Drexel Prof.

Drexel Professor George Ciccariello-Maher.

By WAYNE DELUCA

— PHILADELPHIA — George Ciccariello-Maher, a controversial left-wing professor at Drexel University in this city, was placed on administrative leave in October after a string of death threats from far-right internet trolls. All of his classes were cancelled for the quarter without a replacement. The university has stated that this is a step meant to “ensure the safety of our campus.”

Last December, Ciccariello-Maher came under intense fire for a Twitter post saying, “All I want for Christmas is White Genocide.” As a Political Science professor, Ciccariello-Maher has repeatedly criticized the concept of “white genocide” as a fiction used by far-right reactionaries, and the tweet was clearly satirical. At the time, Drexel “condemned” the tweet but did not take action. Now, after tweets blaming Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock’s actions on white supremacy and patriarchy drew the ire of internet Nazis, he has been suspended.

There have been rumors that classes may continue on-line. A student in one of Ciccariello-Maher’s courses told Socialist Action, “We don’t want that; the class was meant to be in person since it’s heavily discussion-based.”

As a professor teaching radical theory and vocally opposing the far right in their on-line stomping grounds, Ciccariello-Maher has drawn attention. In an editorial [1] in the Washington Post, he wrote, “As a scholar and teacher, giving context and depth to contemporary debates is an important part of what I do, and it’s a calling I take seriously.”

The Intercept, an on-line platform funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and lent credibility by journalists such as Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, published an attack by Zaid Jilani called “Left-Wing Drexel Professor Who Opposes Free Speech Has His Curtailed.” [2] This cowardly article quotes “The College Fix,” a right-wing blog with connections to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos [3] and implies that, because Ciccariello-Maher thinks that racist educators should be fired, he does not deserve free speech or academic freedom. This is not the quality journalism that The Intercept touts, but rather an open and personal attack.

Ciccariello-Maher told Socialist Action: “It’s disappointing to see The Intercept publish a poorly timed and poorly thought-out personal attack at a time when solidarity is more necessary than ever to block the right-wing campus takeover. Jilani’s screed is an embarrassment for himself and for The Intercept.”

On November 15 and 16, students in Ciccariello-Maher’s Race and Politics class walked out in protest of his still ongoing suspension and staged sit-ins at provost M. Brian Blake’s office. Students then attempted to disrupt a town hall meeting happening at the same time but were blocked from entering by the administration.

This is far from the only recent attack on left-wing academics. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an African-American socialist who teaches at Princeton, had to cancel public speaking engagements due to death threats. [4] Johnny Williams, at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., was suspended because of a quote on Facebook. [5] And a recent rule change by the University of Wisconsin regents could punish students for actions that “[disrupt] the free speech of others.” [6]

Following a few high-profile protests, particularly at the University of California at Berkeley, the far right has created a false narrative (echoed in the capitalist media) about “free speech” being in peril for racists and fascists. In reality, though, the chilling effect is strongest against the left wing on campus. This is particularly true of supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for human rights in Palestine. Laws such as one that was passed in the state of New York, as well as pro-Israel groups, have been on the offensive against professors and campus groups fighting for justice in Palestine.

Socialist Action opposes any restrictions by universities or governments on free expression. We believe that fascists and racists need to be opposed, not by regulating their speech, but by counter-mobilization through mass action. We support George Ciccariello-Maher and demand that he be reinstated immediately and allowed to teach without censure or restriction.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2017/10/10/conservatives-are-the-real-campus-thought-police-squashing-academic-freedom/?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.4939cf74cb9b

[2] https://theintercept.com/2017/10/14/drexel-professor-ciccariello-maher-free-speech/

[3] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/02/07/betsy-devoss-connection-college-fix-conservative-higher-education-news-site

[4] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/06/01/princeton-professor-who-criticized-trump-cancels-events-saying-shes-received-death

[5] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/06/27/trinity-college-connecticut-puts-johnny-eric-williams-leave-over-controversial

[6] http://www.newsweek.com/university-wisconsin-aims-target-violent-protests-against-speakers-681695