Babson College’s Really Bad Reaction (Update)

In a world where idiocy is given as kind an explanation as possible, Trump’s twitted threat might be described as the sort of outrageous hyperbolic nonsense one would expect of an impulsive ignoramus.

Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have…..

….targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!

This was wrong on so many levels, not the least of which being that it would be a war crime. But let’s assume it was meant as bluster, an empty threat, and no more, as not even Trump would order such an outrageous action. As with many things Trump, his mere saying so means little to nothing.

Still, it evoked a reaction from an adjunct prof at Babson College, Asheen Phansey, as well as tens of thousands of other people, who were outraged by Trump’s twit, and with good reason.

You can love this response. You can hate this response. As a pointed reply to Trump’s outrageous twit, it serves its purpose by juxtaposing what Trump threatened with our own exposure, plus a huge dollop of snark reflecting what American’s deem cultural icons. Either way, big deal. Profs have twitted far, far worse. Yet Phansey’s Facebook reply “drew the attention of a local gossip blog, which published screenshots of Phansey’s post, leading to critics on Twitter to call on the college to take action.”

There are “critics on Twitter” who will attack you for saying it’s Friday, so that’s hardly a big deal. But Babson took notice when some random guy named Rick Shafton twitted:

Why does @Babson “College” have an America-hating terrorist supporter on their payroll. Ask them! 781-236-1200.

This effort to whip up the cancel mob on the right is no better, and no different, than the effort on the left. As for Shafton’s characterization of Phansey as an “America-hating terrorist supporter,” it’s rather amazing he was able to get the words out with his keyboard covered in mouth-froth. Inexplicably, Babson took the ravings of a lunatic serious.

It strains credulity to read Phansey’s post as sincerely advocating violence. In political rhetoric, figurative and hyperbolic language have been familiar tools for centuries, and Phansey’s post is quite obviously a criticism — not endorsement — of threats of violence, mixed with snark about American culture.

FIRE’s Adam Steinbaugh demonstrates a level of seriousness about the application of First Amendment exceptions that most of us would find hard to muster, as few of us could squint hard enough to ram Phansey’s post through any free speech exception.

For argument’s sake, even after stripping Phansey’s post of its obvious intent, it still does not amount to unprotected speech. As we explained in a letter FIRE sent to Babson president Stephen Spinelli this afternoon, Phansey’s post simply cannot be characterized as either a “true threat” or “incitement,” which are not considered protected speech.

Adam goes on to provide the serious analysis from FIRE’s letter to Babson’s president, although a shorter note containing only the words “herp” and “derp” could have sufficed in the eyes of anyone remotely familiar with free speech law. There was nothing about Phansey’s comment the implicated either true threat or incitement, and in context, there is no one who wouldn’t be capable of discerning that it was valid, and frankly pretty insightful, political commentary while still being able to breathe.

But Babson isn’t a public college, and so it’s not bound by the First Amendment as free speech cultists would contend.

And while Babson College is a private institution, and thus not bound by the First Amendment, it does promise its faculty and students that Babson College will respect their freedom of expression. We know that from its faculty handbook, which adopts the AAUP’s 1940 Statement of Principles, under which extramural statements such as these are insufficient to justify terminating faculty members. We also know it from other statements in its student policies, on its website, and from our experience in defending conservative students who faced punishment for celebrating Trump’s 2016 election. In that case, Babson ultimately protected freedom of expression. But not this time.

While Babson may not be constrained by the First Amendment by constitutional application, it is by contractual choice, making its firing of Phansey an actionable breach of contract, not to mention an absolutely ridiculous reaction to his Facebook post.

To be clear, this response to progressive profs calling for “white genocide” isn’t fair game in some infantile “tit-for-tat” strategy, but a reflection that neither fringe cares much for free speech or demonstrates any sincere concern for the Constitution. It’s a matter of what can be weaponized against the other team, even if it reflects the very fragility bomb each fires at the other. Spare us the rationalizations: if you’re no better than the other tribe, then you’re wallowing in the gutter just like them.

But worse, while some of the more outrageous public utterances of unduly passionate academics remain protected speech, they also reflect a dubious intellect and, ahem, questionable sanity. Even if the speech, itself, isn’t actionable, one can wonder how any college can put someone in a classroom with young people who appear on the verge of a violent meltdown.

Phansey’s Facebook post, on the other hand, may not be particularly supportive of Fearless Leader, but it’s not remotely reasonable to take it as any sort of threat or incitement, as if the Ayotollah read it while hanging on the twitters and said, “hey, this guy’s got a great idea. Anybody know Kim’s home address?” It was an astute, if biting, bit of political commentary, and a well-deserved retort to Trump’s far more real threat.

Babson College should rehire Phansey, apologize as a child would to a grown-up, and then give him a significant raise in his adjunct salary. And Phansey should tell Babson to bite him, because who wants to work with a college that would react so badly?

Update: As point out at The College Fix, Phansey’s twit was essentially no different than that of The Babylon Bee.

This was not substantially different than an article on The Babylon Bee, a Christian satire website, which joked that “Iran’s top leaders and generals vowed that they would retaliate in kind” against Walmart, Daily Queen and other fast-food establishments beloved by Americans.

As the Bee observed, Iran couldn’t figure out what a “rapidly declining culture that no longer values its own history or religious heritage still holds dear.”

In fairness, some people aren’t yet aware that BB is a satire website.

11 thoughts on “Babson College’s Really Bad Reaction (Update)

  1. Hunting Guy

    SHG.

    “…not the least of which being that it would be a war crime.”

    Terms of art and precision in word usage matters.

    According to the laws of armed conflict, under certain conditions cultural icons can be legitimate targets.

    At our level we don’t know what the Iranians have done to or around the icons so they may be valid strike points on a targeting list.

    1. B. McLeod

      The public commentary of senior advisors, followed by the president’s own acknowledgment that the threatened strikes cannot lawfully be carried out, reasonably establishes that the cultural sites in question are not being used for military purposes and are not valid strike points on a targeting list.

  2. Erik H.

    “This was wrong on so many levels, not the least of which being that it would be a war crime.”

    Doesn’t this “war crime” framing strike anyone as worthy of a bit of re-examination? This distinction is one of law, and it came into being at a time when it was considered very much the thing–in a “Dulce et Decorum Est” kind of way–for people to go and get killed for their country. But these days, we seem to place a bit more value on the lives involved.

    If it were possible to force an enemy to capitulate by destroying cultural sites INSTEAD of killing or actual people, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the no-dead-humans solution is arguably a better one. At least it’s worth discussing.

    If it isn’t worth discussing at all: how many lives is a cultural site worth?

  3. Lee Keller King

    “In fairness, some people aren’t yet aware that BB is a satire website.”

    Because sometimes it is damned hard to tell the difference between satire and fact when it comes to people afflicted with Trump Derangement Syndrome. I mean, are the congress critters pushing a law to withdraw the US from Iraq the same folks that were damning President Trump for announcing we were pulling our troops out of Syria?

  4. B. McLeod

    This illustrates the double-edged nature of the “cancel culture,” which is driven by the most ignorant fanatics in each of the extremist fringes. Letting any of these people shape the permissible scope of public discourse is a very poor idea.

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