Cancel Culture Karma

It should be uncontroversial for a teacher or professor to openly support Black Lives Matters, whether as a concept or an organization, even if the two aren’t quite the same and the former is more of existential concept than a particular ideology with clear edges and purpose. After all, black lives matter, and to affirmatively suggest they don’t matter is the racism sought to be eradicated.

But does failure to attend protests, wear BLM-branded clothing, say it regularly on social media make one a racist? In some quarters, it does. What about saying anything positive about police, supporting the cops while others riot for their abolition? Is that a fair view to espouse? Is it “anti-black” to express any view that isn’t aggressively pro-BLM? Apparently, April Mustian believed that to be the case, and took her point to social media.

Mustian was in a somewhat peculiar position. She had been hired to teach education at Winthrop University for the fall semester, but had yet to start. This wasn’t merely a reflection of her personal views, but a threat directed at teachers, that she had screen caps of posts she believed to be racist and planned to go after people whom she deemed racist because they expressed a view about police she didn’t share.

Winthrop caught the flack from their new hire. They were inundated with complaints. There was a petition supporting Mustian at Change dot org as well.

“In the last few days, #Winthrop has received a great deal of input regarding the hiring of a particular employee,” the school wrote. “Following our usual practice, we are working with internal personnel and legal counsel to conduct an investigation, and we will act accordingly per the findings of the investigation. Please know we are pursuing this matter diligently and cannot allow the University to be swayed into hasty and inappropriate action.”

Where did Winthrop as an institution fall on the subject of cops?

Winthrop then added, “We want to be clear that we assertively affirm that Winthrop University respects, supports and appreciates all law enforcement officers including those on our campus and those in the local community, our state, and the nation. This high level of regard extends to other first responders as well.”

There is an unsurprisingly simplistic binary between the views permitted on the subject of police by those who support BLM. You either hate cops, whether ACAB (“all cops are bastards”) or want to abolish cops altogether. Ironically, this isn’t necessarily a view held by black or Hispanic people, but one vehemently held by white radical chic.

This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t simultaneously demands for significant change and reform, but it’s impossible to square with the notion that black people want to rid their neighborhood of cops, as the vast majority want cops in their area the same or more than they are now.

Yet, in Mustian’s brain, not hating cops was the same as being racist, as being “anti-Black,” giving rise to a curious dilemma for Winthrop. Mustian’s view was in contravention of Winthrop’s position, which would make Winthrop a racist institution to Mustian. For Mustian, this might be an opportunity to “teach” Winthrop to stop being racist and learn from her as she is the font of virtue. For Winthrop, hiring a new professor who appears to come to the job not merely rejecting the university’s values, but bent on doing whatever she must to undermine them, change them, “correct” them, seems like hiring trouble.

But should Mustian be canceled for her views? Is there a different between academic freedom of a prof already on the payroll as opposed to one who has yet to walk through the door and is already making problems, and announcing her plans to make more problems for the population it teaches going forward?

The issue seems to be less about Mustian’s view, per se. After all, supporting BLM is about as uncontroversial as it gets on college campuses, and being anti-cop isn’t exactly unusual, whether as an offshoot of BLM or just because cops have done so much to earn people’s enmity. Rather, it’s her secondary step, her screen caps, her threat to doxx, to attack, to cancel and do harm to those who express views she finds reprehensible that creates the problem.

[Winthrop Trustee Ashlye] Wilkerson said she wanted to speak with Mustian about her motivations in publishing the post, ensuring it did not violate university principles. She did not know when the investigation might be completed.

“I do think it’s important to protect academic freedom as well as First Amendment rights,” Wilkerson said.

This is where the clash of free speech interests devolves to a downward spiral. Mustian’s exercise of free speech seeks to silence or harm those whose speech she disapproves of. To protect Mustian’s speech is to sacrifice the speech of others, as she not only disagrees, but asserts her intention to do what she can to cancel them and their job.

There are collateral concerns as well. Does Mustian’s simplistic ideological demagoguery suggest that Winthrop hired a person incapable of serious thought to teach at the university level?  Will Mustian’s aggressive tact sow discontent and division within Winthrop’s faculty, alumni and students? What if she starts attacking her colleagues for not adhering to her dogmatic hatred of police as conclusive proof of their racism? Faculty teas are not going to be as pleasant as they used to be.

And a critical component of Mustian’s stance is that she was hired to teach education, and she’s threatening to destroy K-12 teachers who don’t share her view. If this isn’t Winthrop’s policy, and it isn’t, is she a good choice of academic to instill Winthop’s view toward law enforcement to the students it’s charged to teach?

The question of academic freedom is altered by the fact that while Mustian has been hired, she has yet to commence her employment at Winthrop. There is a property interest in a job, but as she has yet to start work, and certainly doesn’t enjoy tenure, is it wise to invite a problem into the fold or pull the plug on Mustian before she does what she says she will do? Not because she supports Black Lives Matter. Not because she hates police. Because she says she wants to harm K-12 teachers whom she believes to be racist for not sharing her views. Having announced her determination to cancel others, she may have tempted Karma too soon.

32 thoughts on “Cancel Culture Karma

  1. Shadow of a Doubt

    I’m 100% behind a “zero tolerance for cancel culture” attitude from employers. It’s been repeatedly proven that anyone who engages in that sort of behavior is a massive liability.

    If an employer can fire someone for speech made from outside work, then they can fire someone (or refuse to hire them) for trying to use that speech to get someone else cancelled.

    It’d be better if, in my opinion, an employer had exactly zero say in what employees say when they aren’t speaking on behalf of the company, but we’re obviously not there, so given where we are, it’s the right call all around.

    1. SHG Post author

      Is there a difference between firing someone for speech who is already on the job as opposed to rescinding an offer of employment to someone who has yet to start work and is likely to be a very problematic employee?

      1. Shadow of a Doubt

        Morally, no.

        Practically, an employer would be able to make a judgement on the performance of the existing employee about whether or not they are worth the trouble, while one yet to begin work would be entirely theoretical.

        Legally, I would defer to experts in employment law in whatever region it is occurring in.

    1. SHG Post author

      The Portlandia Bowl is still going on, even after the feds have backed off, suggesting that maybe they weren’t the problem at all, but merely an opportunity to riot, provoke the feds and have someone to blame. Now that the feds are gone, the blame part is gone, but on the bright side, the media no longer mentions that the rioting continues nightly.

      1. Guitardave

        When a majority of the media comes from the same mush-brain institutions as the ‘protesters’, all blame must be caused by something outside the bubble.
        So the burning question at this point is, just who is responsible?…. Maybe…possibly…

  2. Dan

    The claim of academic freedom rings a little hollow when it’s on a subject that doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with the prof’s academic field. It’s one thing to cover a history prof’s unorthodox views about history as “academic freedom”; it’s quite another when it’s a physics prof who’s denying the Holocaust in class.

    A complicating factor is that Winthrop is a public U, and thus the First Amendment is implicated. I’d be quite happy to see the would-be canceller cancelled (I love the taste of schadenfreude in the morning), but I’m not sure it would pass 1A muster.

    1. SHG Post author

      Bear in mind that Mustian’s expression of her views and her threat of attacking teachers who express views she deems racist are two distinct things. She can support BLM and hate police all she wants. She can condemn pro-police views all she wants. But is that the same as threatening to do harm to others?

      1. delurking

        It seems to me that the threat is to draw the attention of public employees to the public statements of other public employees. Calling it a threat to attack looks like a step towards saying words are violence.

        1. SHG Post author

          As fascinated as I am about things that “seem to you” (because who wouldn’t be?), you might want to expand your horizon a bit to consider the use to which taking screen caps of “racist” pro-police post would be used. It’s not merely to express disagreement, which could be done at the time, but rather for tactical use at a later time to inflict harm, by which I mean real world negative consequences like loss of a job, for expressing an unacceptable view. How you arrived at “words are violence,” on the other hand, is kinda stupid.

          1. delurking

            I agree with your description of what is likely the intended use of the screencaps; she says it pretty explicitly. It would certainly fit a pattern we have seen recently. [Ed. Note: Balance deleted. I realize it’s hard to stick with the issue at hand rather than dive down whatever orthogonal rabbit holes pop into your head, but do it elsewhere.]

      2. Grant

        “But is that the same [analytical result] as [her] threatening to do harm to others?”

        She is threatening to do harm to others by publishing information, so, in this limited case, yes, the first amendment analysis plays out the same way: She hasn’t reached the high threshold for fighting words or other first amendment exceptions. And her remarks are (probably) unrelated to her public job.

        The the change in the first amendment analysis would be if she, as an education professor, goes after Winthrop students, or, to a more limited extent, alumni. Because that would impact her job performance.

        1. SHG Post author

          I assume your comment is intended to have some modestly coherent point, but whatever it is, I have no clue.

      3. Dan

        “Bear in mind that Mustian’s expression of her views and her threat of attacking teachers who express views she deems racist are two distinct things.”

        But they really aren’t. There is no threat of physical attack or physical harm; the threat (and I agree there’s a threat) is to attempt to do them harm by publishing true information about them. I don’t think that fits within the “true threat” exception, nor under “incitement.” It certainly isn’t defamation, as (by the terms of the threat) the information threatened to be published would be true. I don’t see another relevant exception.

        Like it or not (and I don’t especially), and best I can tell, both her threat and its execution are/would be protected under the 1A.

        1. SHG Post author

          This isn’t a legal question about whether it’s a First Amendment exception, as there’s no First Amendment property interest at stake as yet, but whether it’s a conceptual “free speech” difference between speech and action, using another’s speech to cause substantive harm to specific individuals.

          1. Sgt. Schultz

            One of the many problems with non-lawyers dealing with free speech is their inability to grasp that its a principle apart from a constitutional right. This is what comes of a little knowledge about 1A, but not enough to shut up and not waste your bandwidth over it.

            You really need to ban non-lawyers. They contribute so little and waste so much.

            1. SHG Post author

              I keep hoping they would think to themselves, “if all the lawyers here don’t see this problem that I, a non-lawyer, see, maybe I’m the idiot in the room and should shut the fuck up and learn.” But no, they rarely see it that way.

            2. John Barleycorn

              Sgt Schultz assertively affirming guild-goo-goo-glue, how K-E-W-double-hockey-stick-kool-aide cool is that?!

              Lawyers, especially the sensitive ones, what are ya gonna do with ‘um?

              P.S. Without the footnotes, will we ever know if pro-police rhetoric in South Carolina still includes the occasional KKK tattoo?

  3. Hunting Guy

    Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.

    [Ed. Note: Balance deleted. Don’t do this again.]

  4. John S

    I suspect that the Winthrop board of regents is examining the potential financial impact of allowing this woke rhetorical bomb thrower to be a public face for the Winthrop brand. As Mizzou and Evergreen can attest, the social justice accolades don’t pay the bills, and it’s hard to keep the doors open when parents decide to send their kids (and tuition dollars) elsewhere.

  5. Curtis

    Am I missing something? If a teacher threatens students, she should not be a teacher.

    It’s not about free speech, it’s about whether she is fit to be a teacher. If she were threatening cops or promoting Hitler, there could be a debate but veiled threats against student are not acceptable.

    1. SHG Post author

      She didn’t directly threaten students, but current K-12 teachers. As she will be an education prof, though, there is an implication for students.

  6. Bryan Burroughs

    While there’s a clear implication on free speech principles in this case, the fact is that she openly threatened to do harm to the very population of people the University has hired her to serve. She will be an educator of current and future K-12 teachers. She threatened to cause professional damage to K-12 teachers who dare to disagree with her. In the employer’s interest alone, that kind of open threat to harm their customers negates her free speech interests.

    Imagine a public defender threatening on Twitter to tweet screenshots of misogynistic tweets from accused rapists in the area. Said lawyer would be on the street within the hour.

    Add to this that she has threatened to harm others for engaging in speech with which she disagrees. Should the university, who presumably should respect free speech rights, respect such rights for an employee who is explicitly refusing to respect those same rights for others on campus? I’d argue this is more akin to a professor saying he’ll give d’s to black students no matter what than to a professor who says he doesn’t agree with the progressive cause du jour.

  7. losingtrader

    Winthrop…Winthrop. .. where do we know that name.?…..hmmm, oh yes, “I’ll bet you $1 she’s fired, Mortimer”

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