It seems that University of Chicago professors have been on the news a lot this week. We recently discussed the controversy over the posting of Professor Brian Leiter from the University of Chicago to "remove" President Donald Trump and imprison him. Now another Chicago professor is under fire. While no one demanded that Leiter be dismissed for longing to discuss a military coup, a chorus of writers and scholars is demanding that Harald Uhlig, the editor-in-chief of the renowned Journal of Political Economy, be preserved. Uhlig is also Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, Bruce Allen and Barbara Ritzenthaler. The reason is that Uhlig had the boldness to criticize Black Lives Matters and the movement to defuse the police. Joining these efforts is Paul Krugman of the New York Times, who speaks out against anyone who takes the opposite view – an intolerant position that now appears to be official policy of the New York Times. It's all part of the new order where writers are calling for censorship, scientists are calling for the abolition of academic freedoms, artists are calling for the removal of art, and politicians are calling for the police to be dismantled.
Uhlig wrote on Twitter on Monday evening: "It's a shame, but #blacklivesmatter according to its core organization @Blklivesmatter has torpedoed itself with its full support from #defundthepolice."
"Suuuure. They knew this is not a beginner and tried a sane Orwell in 1984 to say, Oh, it just means funding schools (who's not for it?!?). But no, the so-called "activists" didn't want that. Back to a real "defundation", so the website. Sigh. #GeorgeFloyd and his family really don't deserve to be exploited by flat-earthers and creationists. Well Time for sensible adults to come back into the room and have serious, serious, and respectful conversations about everything: e.g. Policy reform suggestions from @TheDemocrat and national healing. "
His comments immediately led to an attempt to get him fired, including the ubiquitous online petition that numbers add to intolerance of point of view. At the forefront of this ignoble, anti-free speech are academics like Professor Justin Wolfers of the University of Michigan, who teaches at the Ford Public Policy School but appears to have a remarkably low tolerance of opposing views on public policy.
Uhlig is accused of "trivializing the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement" and "hurting and marginalizing people of color and their allies in the business world". He is also being denounced for not supporting the NFL knee pads. In 2017 he wrote
“In any case, it is pretty clear that the present kneeling and defending freedom of expression is not about a bold act of standing up for democratic values.
“I would really love it if that were true. Instead, it's all just anti-Trump ism. "
In a letter calling for Uhlig's fall, it says: “Prof. Uhlig's comments, posted on June 8th on his blog and on Twitter, trivializing the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement and drawing parallels between the BLM movement and the Ku Klux Klan are outrageous and unacceptable. "
The KKK allegation appears to have been derived from a blog post in which he asked, "Would you defend football players who wave the Confederate flag and dress in Ku Klux Klan robes while the national anthem is being played?" That makes no comparison between the movements. It is a standard comparison between expressive acts, a typical “slippery slope” argument used in countless academic and legal papers.
Krugman doesn't even seem a bit interested in context, however, and instead shouted "white privilege" – a label that is now routinely facing dismissals from editors, academics, and others who disagree with a new orthodoxy:
Krugman called him "another privileged white man" in a series of tweets
Uhlig has been called a racist by scientists such as the University of Victoria economist Rob Gillezeau. He wrote: "Racists should not be allowed to practice our profession."
I understand that Uhlig's writings annoy people. Academics often anger people, sometimes on purpose, by promoting unpopular prospects. I can also understand why people are clearly ticked off when reading a post that mocked protests like this one:
“Look: I understand that some out there are still protesting and wanting to say #defundpolice and all kinds of things while you're young and responsibility doesn't matter. Enjoy! Express yourself! Just don't break anything, ok? And be back by 8 p.m. "
Much like a recent UCLA professor controversy, it was a mocking tone that many would not have adopted. However, this is a political debate raging across the country and many on both sides use overheated or ironic or derisive language. What we haven't seen are demands that academics on the other hand be able to use such language, such as a colleague from Chicago, Professor Leiter.
Nevertheless, Uhlig apologized:
“My tweets in the last few days and an old blog post seem to have irritated a lot of people. That was far from my intention … My tweets in the past few days and an old blog post seem to have irritated a lot of people. That was far from my intention: I want to apologize for it. Have I chosen my words and comparisons carefully? I do not have. I apologize again. Also let me make it clear that these are all just my views, not statements from the JPE and certainly not from @UChicago or my department. "
The attack on Uhlig as a “white privilege” has become a common refrain. We recently talked about how the President of the Minneapolis City Council dismissed anyone who raised concerns about depletion or the dismantling of the police as a mere expression of bias in a "place of privilege". Protesting against this radical proposal is now evidence of privilege.
None of this matters as the wave of intolerance hits our campus where academics are demanding that other academics be punished for expressing opposing views. Professors like Jennifer Doleac, Economics Professor at Texas A&M University, tweeted “Yes, senior editor in a top journal. Hopefully not much longer. " As simple as that.
Numbers like Klugman aren't just the loudest voices, they're the only voices now that seem to appear on the pages of newspapers like the New York Times. What stood out about the recent controversy over Senator Tom Cotten's column was not just the New York Times writers calling for their editors to step down and ruling out future columns with such conflicting views. It was the silence of the other writers who didn't say a word when their newspaper gave in to these demands. As I mentioned earlier, history has shown that today's rebels often turn into tomorrow's reactionaries. Such attacks on people like Uhlig will not stop with him. It becomes an insatiable appetite when intolerance to opposing views increases.
Recently protesters took over a precinct in Seattle and declared it a people's autonomous zone. I was hit by a flyer from one of the protesters that said, "I support this, but what's next?"
For those joining calls for sack editors and fire department scientists, it is a question their mind should focus on.