Did you hear that President Trump recently tweeted that Mexicans were “Plague Spreaders”? Isn’t it shocking that Mike Pence, in referring to women in the workforce said, “We need a list of the virus-spreaders & the virus-adjacent”? Can you believe that Rush Limbaugh actually referred to non-Christians as members of a “Death Cult”? Yeah, me neither. Because they didn’t. However, a professor at Kansas State University recently said those exact things about Republicans when he wrote, “Has anyone developed an app to track Republicans & other plague-spreaders?” He also referred to local Republicans as, “Local branch of death cult, aka @KansasGOP.” This is the same guy who wrote a book about “The Cat in the Hat” being racist if that tells you anything.
As you would expect, the university quickly renounced the offensive statements of Professor Philip Nel, citing them as inflammatory and in no way representing the views of Kansas State University, its staff, and students. They forced a public apology from him that was widely disbursed. Oh wait. That didn’t happen either.
What the university did do was state the following in an email from Chief of Staff and Director of Community Relations, Linda J. Cook, “The personal viewpoints that Professor Philip Nel shares on his personal social media accounts do not reflect the position of the university. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the same freedom of speech and expression for all citizens regardless of their viewpoint. Everyone shares in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect. We cannot censor free speech or punish those individuals who exercise this right. As a public entity, Kansas State University must stand by the law.”
It's funny that they don’t make similar statements regarding the 2nd Amendment or even the religious and assembly aspects of the 1st, but I digress.
While most readers would likely be in agreement with this statement, the university’s response here is demonstrably different and less enthusiastic than the one made when they expelled one student for wearing blackface (a therapeutic skin cleansing mask) and using the “n” word in a Snapchat post in 2016 according to news reports from ABC and Daily Mail.
Then, Dean of Students Pat Bosco wrote on September 15th that, “I have become aware that one of our students posted a racially offensive photo today on social media and used one of the most derogatory words in the English language. This photo has students, faculty, staff and other members of the K-State family upset. It rightly should, as there is no place for racism at our university, regardless of what the intentions may have been. K-State prides itself on being one family, no matter your race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or abilities. All members of the K-State family deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Beyond that the student quickly issued a public statement of apology but was still described by the university as “not currently enrolled” in a second University statement issued on September 15th, the same day as Bosco’s letter. Did you notice how quickly she became a non-student?
To be fair, Dean Bosco did not include political persuasion in his list of protected classes. Other unprotected classes subject to ridicule include cowboys, redheads, students from Nebraska, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, and space aliens. They are fair game along with Republicans, conservatives and gun-owners.
Let’s review. If you are right of center and a university employee who is ostensibly an adult makes an inflammatory or derogatory remark in a public venue about an entire class of people to which you belong, it is his First Amendment right and no apology from him is necessary. However, if you are an immature student saying something really dumb on private social media (which cannot be defended), you publicly apologize, but you still achieve “not currently enrolled” status at the university and are branded a racist for life. See how that works?
I’m not going to debate which statement is more offensive because it doesn’t matter. They both are offensive. The apples and oranges argument doesn’t work here. Either you have free speech, or you don’t. Either the rules apply equally, or they don’t. Either there are protected groups of people, or there aren’t. I adhere to the belief that Professor Dimwit has a right to say what he wants. I also adhere to the belief that the university has the right (and obligation) to terminate him for being a jerk and alienating residents and students of a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats two to one.
The case law here is complicated and sometimes vague. Courts have ruled in favor of the termination of public employees on many occasions where the employee’s private “speech” causes harm in the workplace environment. Certainly here, Professor Jerk creates an uncomfortable educational environment for any future Republican student. Something tells me that this is not his first attempt at offending people he dislikes. It could be easily argued that his statements create an inhospitable learning environment which hampers the educational process where students do not feel free and unencumbered to express their viewpoints that would be contrary to his stated disdain for those adhering to such viewpoints.. This is the true stifling of free speech. I guess conservative students are just supposed to have thick skin while any other offended class would have his head on a platter. He would be summarily dismissed for such statements about any other politically protected class.
If you think public employees have a carte blanche right to free speech, you would be wrong. Just ask any police officer or fireman who was terminated for insensitive online comments.
So how does this end? How are conservatives supposed to fight back?
For that answer, Sir Winston Churchill might have given this advice.
We shall fight in the classrooms, we shall fight in the courts, we shall fight in the legislative chambers, we shall fight in the press, we shall fight in every public and private forum. We shall fight with our pocketbooks. We shall take the fight to the enemies of truth and freedom. We shall never surrender.