I recently attended a dinner in NYC and sat next to a very nice professor from NYU. He was non-tenured, and have moved to the United States from Europe a decade ago. Because he was somewhat low-level, he felt he could not speak out any anything controversial or conservative, which is anathema to the idea of a university being a free exchange of ideas.
What’s more, this professor relayed how he had gotten an email from senior level administration at NYU after Trump was elected; the email pretty much stated how terrible it was the Trump one. This type of email from a high-ranking NYU official, could only be sent to faculty and staff if such positions were overwhelmingly singular-minded (in this case liberal) so that there would be little-to-no blowback for articulating such a position on a controversial matter.
Unfortunately, this anecdote represents a mindset that seems to be infecting NYU; two other, recent incidents support this. First, NYU decided to cancel a talk given by Milo Yiannopoulos that was scheduled this month. Mr. Yiannopoulos is the tech editor of the Breitbart website, and “has been criticized for his comments on Muslims, Black Lives Matter activists and feminists.” NYU’s official position cited “security concerns,” because the talk “was going to be held near student groups at NYU’s Manhattan campus ‘that are subjects of Mr. Yiannopoulos’ attacks.’” Of course, the real reason for this is that Yiannopoulos is popular among the alt-right, and giving him a platform to espouse his views — as controversial as some may find — would be bad. Better to silence someone with whom you disagree instead of mutual engaging and exchanging of viewpoints.
NYU has extended this mindset to one of its own professors. On October 30, “An NYU professor crusading against political correctness and student coddling was booted from the classroom last week after his colleagues complained about his ‘incivility.’” Michael Rechtenwald was a professor of liberal studies, and was put on paid leave for the rest of the semester. According to the NY Post, “Rectenwald launched an undercover Twitter account called Deplorable NYU Prof on Sept. 12 to argue against campus trends like “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings” policing Halloween costumes and other aspects of academia’s growing PC culture.
Once his identity became known, a “12-person committee calling itself the Liberal Studies Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group, including two deans, published a letter to the editor:
“As long as he airs his views with so little appeal to evidence and civility, we must find him guilty of illogic and incivility in a community that predicates its work in great part on rational thought and the civil exchange of ideas. We seek to create a dynamic community that values full participation. Such efforts are not the ‘destruction of academic integrity’ Professor Rectenwald suggests, but rather what make possible our program’s approach to global studies.”
The same day the letter was published, Rectenwald was summoned to a meeting with his department dean and an HR representative, Rectenwald described how, “They claimed they were worried about me and a couple people had expressed concern about my mental health. They suggested my voicing these opinions was a cry for help.”
Apparently, expressing an opinion counter to the prevailing liberal cultural at NYU will silence you (if you are a professor), cancel you (if you are a speaker), or remove you and claim you have a mental health crisis (if you are an undercover and outspoken critic). This is what passes for academia these days, and it is truly reprehensible.