Civil Rights: Not Just for Black People Anymore

Posted: May 29, 2014 12:01 AM
Civil Rights: Not Just for Black People Anymore

Author's Note: The subject matter of my columns about academia is factual. However, names are occasionally changed in order to shield tenured (but nonetheless cowardly) professors from the consequences of their misguided speech.

Dear Professor Black;

Just a few weeks ago, one of my students, who is also one of your students, informed me that you have formed and expressed a very strong and negative opinion about the outcome of a civil rights case I was recently involved in with the university. I want to start by saying that I strongly support your right to criticize me by name in the classroom. Even crude, unprofessional, and uninformed speech is protected by our constitution. But the same principles that allow you to express your views also allow me to respond.

Our mutual student claims that you characterized the jury verdict, which was in my favor, as "b*ll$h*t." Because he is a war veteran, I do not question the veracity of his claims. Whatever specific terminology you used is irrelevant. Even crude terms like "b*ll$h*t" are protected by the constitution.

While your argument seems to have been crude, at least the characterization had the effect of communicating that you sided with the university in the matter. This is an example of how even crude speech can be somewhat effective - to the extent that it actually communicates one's position on a matter of importance. At least it lets people know where you stand. This is one of the nice things about living in a free country where people are allowed to vent their frustrations in nonviolent ways.

Of course, many people would take issue with your decision to talk about my recent case in front of your students. But I have no problem with that. In fact, I'm always happy when professors criticize me in the classroom. The word usually gets back to me because the students are usually on my side. Then, I get to write a column about it for money (and use the profits to buy guns and bullets). So I thank you for continuing to give me ammunition - both literally and metaphorically speaking.

It is, however, somewhat strange that you were commenting on my case in your humanities class. I say it is strange because the case was a constitutional one and you appear to have no expertise in the area of constitutional law. You weren't a party to the case. You weren't deposed. Nor were you a witness. You weren't even present at the trial. Therefore, I am struggling to understand your qualifications for teaching students about my case - reportedly using lofty legal terminology such as "b*ll$h*t" - in a university classroom setting.

After much careful consideration, I've arrived at the following conclusion: Your sole perceived qualification for teaching students about my recent civil rights lawsuit is the fact that you are black. In other words, you think that black people, simply by virtue of being black, have superior insight into civil rights issues. That view is deeply misguided for two distinct reasons I will explain below.

1. Blacks are not the principal victims of civil rights abuses on our campus. In fact, they are sometimes the principal causes. Affirmative action is but one example of this. Blacks are never excluded from job candidate pools because they are black. But whites are sometimes excluded in order to make room for blacks. Furthermore, we have black associations on campus but no comparable associations for whites. This is more than just hypocritical. It is actually damaging as it reverses much of the progress of Martin Luther King.

2. My case helps all professors, regardless of race. Take a moment to imagine that you, Professor Black, were to write an opinion column about me. In other words, try to imagine having enough courage to express your opinions outside the realm of the classroom setting where you are speaking only to a captive audience of people who are under your authority. Further imagine that I became chancellor of the university and suddenly had authority over you when you came up for promotion to full professor.

Under the university's view, if you were to so much as mention your critical column - in an annual evaluation or a promotion application - the column would lose all constitutional protection. In other words, in my lawsuit the university argued that they had the authority to punish professors for speaking out on matters of public concern - unless the professor concealed that fact from the university during the tenure, promotion, and evaluation process.

The breadth of the university's position was best illustrated during oral arguments before the 4th Circuit in January of 2011. One of the judges on the 4th Circuit panel asked the associate attorney general, who was arguing for UNCW, to respond to a hypothetical. He first asked the attorney to imagine that the university knew the opinions of everyone applying for full professor on the issue of abortion (presumably because they had spoken out on the issue and then mentioned their speech on the promotion application).
The judge then asked whether the university could promote only pro-choice applicants to full professor while denying promotion to all pro-life applicants.

In a shocking moment of candor, the associate attorney general, speaking for UNCW (and apparently you, Professor Black), said that he didn't see why the university could not do such a thing. Imagine that, Professor Black. A university where all the professors who are pro-choice get promoted to full professor and where all the professors who are pro-life remain associates really isn't a university, is it?

I don't need to raise the issue of the disproportionate abortion of black babies in order to illustrate that your position is fundamentally anti-civil rights. Of course, you don't fully understand your position because you blindly sided with the university without having any sense of what they were arguing in front of the 4th Circuit. You were not there for oral arguments when the university was trying to curtail your civil rights. Maybe you were attending a segregated function of the Black Faculty and Staff Association.

But you should have been paying attention. This view that the attorney general argued on your behalf had dangerous implications for academic articles. This wasn't just about opinion columns.

As you already know, academic articles on controversial topics such as global warming or the effects of same sex parenting often reflect policy positions. Under the UNCW view, those positions are no longer protected by the First Amendment if the articles are later mentioned anywhere in a promotion application. The alternate position (the Adams view) is that those positions retain First Amendment protection even after being mentioned on a promotion application.

This is Dr. Adams' position in a nutshell: I don't think that mentioning your constitutionally protected speech after you've given it transforms it into unprotected speech. This is Dr. Black's position in a nutshell: That's b*ll$h*t, Dr. Adams!

Your conduct is truly disgraceful when considered in its broader historical context. In the past, black academics used the First Amendment as a weapon to fight against racial segregation. In contrast, today's black academic ignores the First Amendment and supports racial segregation. That's why he can seldom be trusted to educate students on civil rights issues.

Please don’t misunderstand me, Professor Black. I’m not saying people should dismiss you because you’re a minority. I’m saying they should dismiss you because you’re a sanctimonious hypocrite.