Another professor is under fire this week for rabid anti-Republican views. The assistant professor at the Clemson School of Computing, Bart Knijnenburg, called not only Trump but all Republicans "xenophobic and racist". He previously called all Republicans "racist scum". Despite his hateful and intolerant views, I still believe he has a right to freedom of expression to express those views on social media and would oppose efforts to terminate him. Unfortunately, such views are not uncommon in the faculty. What made this story stand out was that Knijnenburg apparently encouraged others to find the home address of someone who published an open letter asking schools to stop accepting Chinese students. It has become a standard practice for some groups to harass and threaten people at home if they express opposing views or contradict a new orthodoxy on our campus.
This week, in the Senate, I testified about the erosion of freedom of speech and academic freedom in our universities, where professors are being punished or even dismissed for taking positions that challenge this new orthodoxy, particularly on racist and political issues .
Professors who hold anti-Republican views are seldom campaigned for removal. In fact, Change.org recently rejected a petition criticizing a professor for declaring "White Lives Don't Matter". From the point of view of freedom of speech, not only the threats to expression, but also the prejudices in enforcement are important. However, this does not change the fact that Knijnenburg expresses deeply rooted political and social views by stating that "anyone who, despite all this, still calls themselves a Republican is xenophobic and racist".
On his Twitter account, Knijnenburg uses the common acronym "ACAB" for "All cops are bastards" and proclaims "Burn it down".
Knijnenburg had previously come under fire at Campus Reform for declaring on Facebook that "all Trump supporters, yes all Republicans, are racist scum".
What worried was a professor who encouraged harassment of people of opposing views in their homes. Knijnenburg went to Facebook to attack a man who wrote an open letter to the President of the Clemson University Board of Trustees urging the university to "keep Chinese nationalists away from Clemson." The letter echoes the views of various political leaders that Chinese military and intelligence operations are using students to steal data and research from American universities. Knijnenburg attacks the man profane and then gets involved with others who want to get “personal” and ask where he lives.
Knijnenburg reportedly responded with “Greenwood. His name is Paul Gilbert and he was the deputy city administrator in Calhoun Falls. And then a zoning administrator in Greenwood. Now retired I think. “Knijnenburg later followed with" I know if you can find out his address. " He later replied to other comments, saying, “Part of me just doesn't want to care. Another part of me wants to make this man's life hell. "
The involvement of an academic in harassing people of opposing views is a shame on our profession. Universities are dedicated to sharing ideas and are based on the belief that ultimately the more worthy or justified viewpoints will prevail. Knijnenburg does not mention the merits of Gilbert's position as an academic. (I disagree with Gilbert and those who want to partially ban Chinese students because I believe that it is important for Chinese students to experience the freedoms in this country, including freedom of expression.) Instead of a substantive response, Knijnenburg resolves profane and personal attacks related to the threat of making Gilbert's life hell. Many students already believe that such attacks are an acceptable substitute for debate or dialogue in our locations.
In trying to intimidate people with opposing views, Knijnenburg affirms that he is more of a lawyer than an academic. He and these other commentators wish to deter others from expressing opposing views by doing Mr. Gilbert, for example. While other academics are attacked or placed under police protection for trying to speak freely, Knijnenburg spurs the crowd on.
The problem with being an advocate for free speech and academic freedom is that you often have to defend people who deny both rights in others. In fact, we often support those who seek to silence others while holding hateful views. While Knijnenburg “burns down” the things that annoy him, protecting his right to express such views protects us all.
Knijnenburg, however, approaches the line of protected language by encouraging harassment of other people. We previously discussed how some faculties had to be placed under police protection as a result of such campaigns. Targeting houses has often resulted in violations and even violence. Knijnenburg's avowed desire to burn down part of society can easily be understood as a desire to burn down people who support these institutions. If such speech becomes action, Knijnenburg may find itself outside the protection of those rights.