There are a handful of reasons why academics have evoked the ire of students and administration, not to mention their fellow faculty members, causing the demand for their ouster. Most have been silly, legitimate if politically incorrect scholarship or pedagogy. Some have gone full-blown racist, from suggesting that white students suffer for their skin color to calling for “white genocide.” Most argue that it’s hyperbolic rhetoric, designed to bring attention to their grievance.
But what if a prof’s speech, outside the classroom, unrelated to scholarship, is both inflammatory and, how to say this nicely, crazy? Consider Oberlin’s Joy Karega, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition.
Is it because she supports Palestinians? Nope. She’s allowed. Is it because she hates Israel? Nope. She’s allowed that too. So what distinguishes her speech from free, if hated, to insane?
Joy Karega, an assistant professor of “rhetoric and composition” at Oberlin College, claims the Jewish state secretly planned the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris and that its national intelligence agency, the Mossad, formed the terror group.
The problem is that she has lost touch with reality.
This is not an unserious dilemma. As the old adage goes, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. And when they latch onto facts that are so far removed from reality that they would justify a 72-hour hold, what do you do? Is this free speech? Is this academic freedom? Do you put someone back into a classroom to mold young, impressionable minds, who has demonstrated a detachment from reality?
That’s the question facing Chapman University after its Henry Salvatori Professor of Law & Community Service took the stage in Washington with Rudy
Anilingus Giuliani to express his thoughts to the throng.
John Eastman, a conservative legal scholar who raised widely discredited questions about whether Kamala Harris could serve as vice president as the child of immigrants, is under fire again for appearing onstage with Rudy Giuliani at the rally that preceded Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol. Giuliani called for “trial by combat.” Eastman did not object and told the crowd that the 2020 presidential election was illegitimate.
There is nothing wrong with being a conservative legal scholar, and even though there may be disagreement with many of their views, they often contribute sound, thoughtful perspectives which are very much appreciated by some of us. But when Rudy called for “trial by combat,” though some still insist he meant mostly peaceful combat because otherwise it would be incitement in their sophist reasoning, Eastman was right there with Rudy.
Asked if he supported the insurrection, Eastman said via email, “What a ridiculous question. Of course I do not condone the violence at the capitol. But it was not a riot. It was perhaps a hundred thugs out of a quarter-million or half-million people.” Eastman also said that some of the rioters were “clearly Antifa,” even though the Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Friday that there was no evidence of that.
So he’s incredibly bad with numbers. Don’t shame Eastman for his math challenges.
Eastman said he didn’t think the riot was “incited by anything I said,” either. “My short statement at the rally is verifiably true. It is a fact that state election officials violated state law in the conduct of the election.” Eastman’s statements directly contradict assessments from the Department of Homeland Security and other groups that the November election was the most secure in American history.
His belief that his delusional reality is verifiably true isn’t the point. Incitement doesn’t rise or fall on the irrationality of one’s belief of non-existent facts, but on the call to imminent and lawless action.
While it would have been exceptionally wise for Eastman to counter Rudy’s call for “trial by combat,” given that he’s a law professor and claims not to condone violence, Rudy’s words belong to Rudy, and Eastman was under no duty to challenge their propriety, even if it would have been the sort of thing a person of sound mind might do.
And therein lies the dilemma: The problem isn’t that Eastman is conservative. There’s nothing wrong with being conservative. It’s not that Eastman failed to calm the crowd of cosplaying pseudo-patriots yearning to ransack the Capitol at the president’s behest. The problem is that he is detached from reality. It’s not materially different than Karega, who believes 9/11 was an Israeli op or Drexel’s George Ciccariello-Maher who expressed his Christmas wish for white genocide.
How do you put someone who has gone so far over the edge of reality into a classroom? It’s not because they hold political beliefs, but because they demonstrate a detachment from objective reality. It’s not because they do not have a right to free speech, but because they demonstrate the lack of self-control to not express things that are so fundamentally outrageous, dangerous and potentially illegal.
Of course, who decides where the line is drawn? Who decides that Eastman’s “verifable” certainty that the election was rigged and Trump won by a landslide is factually false. Many believe it, and they do so with the best of intentions and deep sincerity. We all maintain our steadfast belief that we are the ones with the firm grasp of reality, whether we believe that Men in Black is entertainment or a documentary.
At some point, Prof. Eastman was deemed a good enough academic to get a chair. He teaches Con Law and directs the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence. He’s written extensively, and quite vehemently in support of Trump. This suggests he was sufficiently respected as an academic to be entitled to latitude to express his extremely pro-Trump positions without consequences. Had he been as vehemently anti-Trump, there would likely be nobody doubting his right to express his views.
Sure, when he assumed the role of lawyer for Trump, using his academic cred, he raised concerns, not just because of which side he took but because of how bad his legal arguments were. But representing unpopular clients isn’t cause to oust an otherwise good academic. Are the calls for Eastman’s ouster about his politics, his support for a repugnant president, or is this about his detachment from reality that makes his continued presence in a classroom reckless? Who is to decide? Who are we to decide?