Tuesday Talk*: But Should He Teach?

Whether you agree with the exceptions to the First Amendment or not, there is little doubt that this is not a “true threat” and thus is protected speech.

The writer is a English prof at Wayne State University. After this was posted, his dean suspended him. What about his academic freedom? As Keith Whittington explains, it’s covered there as well.

Wayne State, like many universities, has adopted the language American Association of University Professors’ 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom. Under that policy, when speaking in public as a citizen a professor should be free from institutional censorship or discipline. Once the police investigation concludes, the professor’s suspension should be lifted.

But this assertion wasn’t a controversial academic theory. It wasn’t a political view. It was extolling the virtue of murder over protest. Does that change anything? Should it? Law prof Eric Segall argued that when it involves violence, it should, but then the use of violence as hyperbolic expression on social media is hardly unusual.

Yet, does this tell Wayne State that an academic on its campus is not someone who should be instructing students, or allowed anywhere near students for that matter? Does adherence to the principles of free speech and academic freedom preclude any action when a professor publicly expounds on the virtues of murder?

*Tuesday Talk rules apply, within reason.

27 thoughts on “Tuesday Talk*: But Should He Teach?

  1. B. McLeod

    Such speakers are important, and an important lesson to students, who can see thereby how the forces of love and tolerance are actually focused on hate and murderous violence.

  2. Bob S

    The problem with being “the adults in the room”, is that we can easily forget what it feels like to be 19 or 20 years old. We easily see that this is protected speech, and shrug it off as hyperbole. A 19 year old student, who holds this educator in high regard, may feel himself set on a righteous mission.

    So no, I don’t think this person should continue to be an educator. He’s broken no law, but if we are to return colleges to a state of sanity, we need people who consider what they should do, not merely what they can do, and who are invested in the outcomes for those they teach. This isn’t a responsible, adult thing to say, and we need educators who are willing to be responsible adults.

  3. Miles

    Is there a principled argument that this professor is not being fired because of the content of the twit, per se, but because it reveals that he is prone to favoring violence, criminal conduct and psychologic unfit to be responsible for teaching students?

    It sounds okay, but does it fly or did I just make a word salad?

    1. SHG Post author

      Interesting defense. I’m unaware of anyone (including the writer) suggesting this was satire until now.

      1. B. McLeod

        It does seem an odd postulate that murder would cause the alleged “bigots” to be seen as less-oppressed than if they were “shouted down”. Also, the writer’s implicit premise that such murderers could expect to rely on jury nullification seems shaky. After all, leftist extremists tend to lump as “transphobes” everyone who does not agree that sex and gender are subjectively determined, and surveys suggest this is over 60% of the U.S. population.

        1. SHG Post author

          There’s a curious abiding believe of both the woke and the MAGA that they reflect the majority of America, and consequently if they were in control, everybody would think and act like them.

    2. Chris Halkides

      My impression was pretty similar, in that he was not being serious. I thought he was trying to demonstrate that free speech is not always pretty. My guess is that he was surprised that he was suspended.

      1. Chris Halkides

        In 2006 Professor Shaviro wrote, “I do believe in free speech as a universal value. I do believe that we need to support the right of free speech even for racists, and even for people who make provocative statements with the deliberate intent of stirring up violence and trouble…What I don’t like is the double standard according to which some hateful speech (like that of the Danish cartoons) is more worthy than other hateful speech (like Irving’s).” Of course it is possible that he changed his mind in the interim.

  4. Bryan Burroughs

    He’s advocating that the hypothetical murder of people on his campus is a good thing. Fire him yesterday. Saying that it’s OK to kill people you disagree with is leaps and bound beyond any acceptable level of academic discourse, full stop. It’s on par with saying you want to kill an unnamed coworker as far as the kind of thing an organization has to take seriously. That kind of navel gazing isn’t the kind of thing you publish to the world. And given that he’s openly expressed such a view *about people on campus*, what student could possibly feel safe expressing a dissenting view in his classroom?

  5. DaveL

    I don’t think we can have a blanket rule that states that advocating for what is currently considered murder is beyond the protection of academic freedom. There are many people in this country who consider abortion to be murder, and there may yet come a time where in some states it is so defined in law. There are other areas, such as the contours of self-defense, which require that we grapple with moral and legal questions about the boundaries of murder, and therefore require that we protect those who defend the propriety of conduct that currently finds itself over the line. Isn’t it almost a trope of freshman philosophy to debate whether it would be moral to travel back in time and murder Adolph Hitler as a child?

    But Kyle Duncan is not Adolph Hitler, nor even Symon Petliura, nor does the assassination of political speakers inhabit any gray area of law or morality in our society. In a functioning academic culture, Shaviro would be too ashamed to show his face inside a classroom after making such an absurd comparison, let alone that mealy-mouthed equivocation about not advocating breaking the law (just that’s better to do something that violates the law than something that does not).

  6. schorsch

    Petlliura was not a ‘rightwing speaker on campus’, nor stood Schwartzbard before the alternatives ‘shoot him down’ or ‘shout him down’. This is historic tommyrot. As the rest of Shaviro’s statement.

    A history prof should know better or at least he should be able to look up the facts before publishing such a bullshit.

    Should he teach? Maybe he first should take a long, long leave.

  7. L. Phillips

    Shaviro’s comments seem analogous to a drunk in a bar bellowing out that he is going to kick every ass in the place. Only that outburst generally results in an ambulance ride, a D&D citation stuffed into your shirt pocket while the paramedics bind up your wounds, and most of your teeth in a zip-loc bag.

    Shaviro, on the other hand, will likely see no such returns on his investment and will learn nothing.

  8. szr

    Criticize Dr. Shaviro all you want—and there is plenty to criticize about this silliness. But the moment you decide that his expression merits official sanction from the University, you’re revealing yourself to be a free-speech tourist. A defender only of speakers with a message with which you agree.

    In other words, a hypocrite.

  9. Vincent Morrone

    My first thought when seeing this was did Dr. Shaviro say this to see if people who yelled out about freedom of speech for Judge Duncan would do the same for him. Not sure if that went through his mind or not.

    His position isn’t just offensive, it’s stupid. Does he really think that if shouting down a visiting speaker makes the news turn against the protesters that killing the speaker would fare better? It’s just dumb.

    Hyperbole is protected free speech, but I’m not sure if this falls under that. What’s more, could an impressionable, mentally unstable kid think he or she is doing to right thing to kill someone they find offensive based on this? Or would a conservative student feel comfortable having this person as their professor? It would be different if it were a student who has no power over other students, as long as the threat isn’t real. A professor who advocates murdering someone they disagree with is not likely to blink about grading a student based on their beliefs, or his interpretation of his beliefs. And if students now come forward and complain that’s what he’s doing, grading them more harshly, does the school need to spend time and resources looking into that as his judgement can’t be trusted?

  10. Guitardave

    Gee, I wonder if anyone on the other side of the issue feels his bullshit needs a little more response than merely ‘shouting him down’?

  11. DaveL

    What’s more, could an impressionable, mentally unstable kid think he or she is doing to right thing to kill someone they find offensive based on this? Or would a conservative student feel comfortable having this person as their professor?

    As to the first point, I’m deeply skeptical that there exists any way that sane people can live and speak, that will keep maniacs from getting bad ideas. As to the second point, there was a time that grappling with ideas that make us uncomfortable was considered the sine qua non of a university education. I doubt the ACLU attorneys who defended the Nazis over Skokie were particularly comfortable with their clients’ beliefs.

  12. Rengit

    No question this is protected by the First Amendment and general free speech principles, but as for the Academic Freedom under the AAUP question, it’s closer given the caveat in Section 3 of Academic Freedom to professors’ right to speak as citizens: “As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution”, and also Footnote 6 to that section, which suggests that professors in their public statements as private citizens should, much like teachers, create conditions for free inquiry and broad public discussion.

    It’s hard to see how “Speakers who I disagree with are [insert list of pejorative accusations], so they should be executed, and a jury should refuse to find the killer guilty” is setting the ground for free inquiry and “public understanding of academic freedom”. Especially when this guy held himself out as a history professor and drew on history to make his argument; he is not making much attempt to differentiate his opinion from that of the profession and of Wayne State. To hyperbolize, should a law school here in the US be required to keep on faculty a professor who very publicly, invoking his status as a law professor, agitates against written constitutions/codes, legal rights, the rule of law, etc, and for their replacement with an absolute and arbitrary dictatorship/monarchy?

  13. KeyserSoze

    INAL (obviously) but Mr. Shaviro is protected under the Constitution. There is no prohibition in the Constitution against terminal stupidity.

    He is forgetting that the class of people he is proposing to shoot are the ones most likely to shoot back.

  14. Gus

    Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?

    You have the right to say it, but what institution can trust you to teach impressionable students afterwards? Dr. Shaviro does not hold the moral high ground here.

  15. j a higginbotham

    The witer (Steven Schaviro) may be history, but at WSU he is/was not a history prof but the DeRoy Professor of English, mostly interested in film and science fiction.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    Under the rules of the Left, as applied to their enemies, Shaviro is engaging in stochastic terrorism and his words are violence. If you think Wayne State’s DEI commissar will say this I have a bridge over the Eaat River to sell you. I suspect he will be reinstated and will talk at length about feeling persecuted but in the interim we can use free speech to call him an execrable bloviator unworthy of the title “Professor”

  17. schorsch

    Mr. Shaviro’s idea of free speech (‘what I think about free speech…’) is to kill the utterers of ‘racist, homophobic or transphobic’ ideas, rather than to shout them down.

    He don’t want to kill his opponents, he don’t want to kill conservatives or rednecks, he don’t want to kill people for their ideas or their opinions, no: As a perfect advocate of free speech he simply wants to kill natural born death row candidates like racists, homophobics or transphobics. Or whomever he or any progressive student takes for a death row candidate.

    I think this fits the clause in the “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure”: Tenure should be terminated for ‘adequate cause’ only.

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