Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend the 13th General Conference of the National Association of Scholars in Washington, D.C. Among the highlights of the conference was a debate between AAUP President Cary Nelson and NAS President Peter Wood. During the Q & A some of the comments by Nelson made me thankful that I am now a member of the NAS and that I have never been a member of the AAUP.
Cary Nelson claims the AAUP shares many of the same goals as the NAS including an atmosphere conducive to open debate on our college campuses. He also claims the AAUP is opposed to speech codes. When people question the AAUP’s opposition to speech codes they often cite their lack of response to many cases, which are instead taken up by the FIRE, a non-partisan civil liberties group based in Philadelphia.
Nelson responds to such criticisms, in part, by saying the AAUP is not as well-equipped as FIRE is to offer a quick response to such controversies. Nelson implies that the FIRE takes a lot of cases the AAUP would take were it not beaten to the punch. I disagree. I believe the AAUP is simply an unprincipled organization that ignores campus controversies because its victims are generally conservatives.
That conclusion is based on years of bad experiences with the AAUP’s members – beginning with my first major free speech controversy after 911. Some readers may remember that the controversy began when a student charged me with libel for simply implying that her mass email blaming 911 on America was “bigoted,” “unintelligent,” and “immature.”
When the university announced that it would be necessary to read my private emails in search of evidence for this bogus libel charge I turned to the FIRE for help. No member of the AAUP contacted me about the case until one year after the incident. Curiously, when the AAUP member did finally comment on the case he claimed falsely (in an email to the entire faculty) that the university did not read my private email correspondence as I had claimed. He specifically accused the FIRE of circulating a false press release.
After the university counsel corrected the completely misinformed AAUP member he was forced to apologize. I did not hear him comment on another free speech case for over a year. When he did, he completely mangled the facts of that case, too.
This second infraction was much worse because it involved the attack of an AAUP member on some students, rather than on another professor. The students were fighting to keep Democrats from joining their College Republican group with full voting rights as well as the right to run for office. They claimed the freedom of association clause of the First Amendment trumped the university’s non-discrimination clause. Eventually, the Republicans won the fight.
During the very same semester there was another free speech controversy that was enlightened by more AAUP brilliance (sarcasm: on). This one began when a history professor claimed she had friends who were terrorists in the Middle East. The statement was made in a public forum by a professor who was a public figure on the issue of terrorism. In response, a conservative student decided to publicize her claim in the student newspaper.
After the student simply reported what the public figure said, she threatened the student newspaper with a libel lawsuit. So the former president of the UNCW chapter of AAUP came to the rescue. But he came to the rescue of the professor, not the newspaper.
In a news interview the AAUP propagandist said the students were “totally confused” if they though the general theme of the professors remarks was “terrorism.” The students rightly pointed out that his remarks were – in typical AAUP fashion – completely irrelevant. They were complaining about a single sentence - “I have friends who are terrorists in the Middle East”- not the theme of the talk.
When our friend from the AAUP invited the students to engage in an email debate he said they should feel free to share it with friends. The two students – Michael Pomarico and Zeb Wright – simply excoriated the AAUP professor. The debate was so lopsided that he rescinded the offer to share the emails.
And, now, finally, nearly two years after I filed a federal lawsuit claiming violations of my First Amendment rights, I have read a communication about the case from the former Oregon State University AAUP President. Some will remember that he sent me a series of emails last week showing why he has the requisite mental stability to be a Professor Emeritus of Psychology. Among the epithets he hurled were “dishonest”, “hateful”, “stupid”, “idiotic”, “indecent”, “propagandist” and “bigot.”
In an internet posting that added the new epithets “failure,” phony,” and “homophobe” the former AAUP chapter president claimed falsely that I had filed a suit against UNC over “anti-Southern bigotry.” Furthermore, he botched literally every single fact in the post, which he subsequently pulled in an act of intellectual onanism.
The point here is not that every member of the AAUP is an unhinged bigot engaging in psychological projection. The point is that literally every time a member of the AAUP gets involved in a free speech case, the motivation is one of politics not principle. The debate always dwindles after the first AAUP “contribution.”
So, naturally, I hope that serious First Amendment defenders will continue to support the NAS. And I hope the AAUP will stick to issues they can handle such as faculty parking and separate bathrooms for trans-gendered professors.