Paul L. Caron

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Protesters Demand Firing Of Tenured Vanderbilt Law Professor Over Publication Of Op-Ed

SwainInside Higher Ed, Protests Spread:

The sustained protests at the University of Missouri, which led to the ouster of a system president and campus chancellor, are inspiring minority students at many campuses. ...

At Vanderbilt, many minority students have in recent days renewed a push for the university to take action against Carol Swain (right), a tenured professor of political science and law, over a column she wrote in January after the terrorist attacks in Paris against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

In the January column, Swain asked, "What would it take to make us admit we were wrong about Islam? What horrendous attack would finally convince us that Islam is not like other religions in the United States, that it poses an absolute danger to us and our children unless it is monitored better than it has been under the Obama administration?"

Many students and others said that the column stereotyped all Muslims in a way that was profoundly biased, but the university defended Swain's right to free speech.

In the last week, students started a new petition to have her fired, saying that she engages in name-calling, that her use of the word "Professor" on her Facebook page suggests that she speaks for Vanderbilt and that her biases may lead to discrimination against minority students who are not Christian or straight. (Swain is black, but her conservative political views have angered many black people.)

The organizers of the petition then amended their request, calling for Vanderbilt to suspend Swain, not fire her. This change, the petition organizers announced, was "made to more clearly address Swain’s right to free speech."

Vanderbilt's chancellor, Nicholas S. Zeppos, issued a statement Wednesday in which he said that he did not agree with Swain's views, and that he was sorry if any Vanderbilt students felt hurt or unwelcome. Said Zeppos, "Vanderbilt also has a deep and longstanding commitment to freedom of speech and academic freedom, which are the foundations of our university’s scholarly activities. Such freedoms necessarily allow for the expression of unpopular and offensive views. However, speech whose sole purpose or effect is to discriminate, stigmatize, retaliate, offend, foment hatred or violence, or cause harm has no place in this university."

On her Facebook page, Swain pointed readers to an article in National Review that calls the request to suspend her part of the "illiberal idiocy" popular at some campuses. "Swain’s apostasy is that she has made politically incorrect statements about radical Islam and her traditional Christian beliefs, statements that the petitioners deem intolerant and which the university, therefore, must not tolerate -- tolerance, of course, being a one-way street," says the article.

Legal Education | Permalink


Richard, it is odd that you, as a lawyer, don't know that hate speech is protected by the first amendment.

Posted by: JayA | Nov 21, 2015 6:29:35 PM

Professor Swain is in trouble because she doesn't understand the difference between "free speech" and "hate speech." Here's a useful example:

Free Speech:
"Annihilate all the infidels where you find them - they are vermin"

"Hate" Speech:
"That Imam is always saying 'Annihilate all the infidels where you find them - they are vermin'"

Posted by: Richard Lehrman | Nov 14, 2015 11:34:59 PM

Paris. Right now.

Posted by: terry malloy | Nov 13, 2015 2:29:52 PM

Alternate Headline: "Muslim students seek to silence and ruin life of professor who was afraid muslims may try to silence and ruin lives of Americans."
The lead Muslim in charge of the protest was angered, "Not all Muslims are how she described!"

Posted by: Handsome Jack | Nov 13, 2015 8:14:30 AM

I wonder about the characters and fitness of law students for the bar, where you swear to take an oath to uphold the Constitution, including the First Amendment, where there is demonstrable evidence the students don't take this commitment seriously. To be sure, Vanderbilt is not a state actor and the Constitution therefore doesn't bind Vanderbilt in this dimension, but still troubling.

Posted by: TS | Nov 13, 2015 8:12:05 AM

Where is Professor Swain's safe space as a minority woman being chased down by mostly white liberals (on behalf of other oppressed groups)?

Posted by: Bob | Nov 13, 2015 7:13:29 AM

I guess the Vandy football team isn't good enough to threaten the university

Posted by: mike livingston | Nov 13, 2015 4:21:10 AM

Dr Swain was right on. These kids in colleges need to go home slap their parents and tell their parents to start the Blank over with them. A bunch of crybabies, I would n't give them an inch. They need some serious PT.

Posted by: Chris de Boisblanc | Nov 13, 2015 3:45:19 AM

Dr. Swain, you are a hero. It is disturbing that those who have disdain for the 1st Amendment are trying to silence you.

Posted by: William Corbin | Nov 13, 2015 3:17:26 AM

Do understand that Nashville is an extremely far Left liberal city and the main newspapers, tv stations, and alt-weeklies have been trying to get Swain fired for years.

To her credit, Swain keeps giving them hell.

When all of the Ferguson garbage went down, one of Vanderbilt's asian snowflakes organized a Black LIves Matter protest to enhance her resume, excuse me, to raise awareness of blah, blah, blah and shut down several interstates.

Fascists are going to fascist.

Posted by: Brian McMurphy | Nov 12, 2015 9:08:07 PM

Hurray for Carol Swain! Hurray! Hurray!

Posted by: Alan | Nov 12, 2015 3:35:50 PM

Hopefully, she has more guts than the Yale or Missouri admins, and will tell the little fascists to get twisted.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Nov 12, 2015 2:39:25 PM

This sounds like the students in China during the days of the Cultural Revolution. Those days when all professors were being attacked / beaten, and forced to "confess" their "crimes" against the students and the State. Many professors were killed outright.

This is a precedent in the U.S. and the danger is that it's spreading countrywide.

Posted by: Nona | Nov 12, 2015 1:52:12 PM

Wow -- these students remind me of the philosopher student in "DR ZHIVAGO" who ordered the killing of thousands and thousands of Russians during the REVOLUTION and believed he was morally justified in doing so.

Posted by: Bittman | Nov 12, 2015 1:51:12 PM

From: Legal Department MEGA Corp, Risk Management Division
To: Human Recourses Department MEGA Corp, Hiring Division
Via: CEO MEGA Corp
Reference: (a) MEGA Corp Litigation Risk Management Protocol

Subject: Terms to add to the Excessive Litigation Risk Category on the ‘Do Not Hire List’.

1. Add to the ‘Resume’ review automatic search terms screening protocol ‘flagged content list’ any conjunction of “Vanderbilt” and “Class of 2016”, “Class of 2017”, “Class of 2018”, and “Class of 2019”.

2. Per the reference any prospects meeting these criteria are to be transferred to the ‘Do not Hire List’.

3. Ensure reference to this memo.

Bett. R. Safe Thansari Esq.

Posted by: SWO | Nov 12, 2015 1:41:28 PM

Wow, this must cause conflict in most academic hearts. Most professors despise the exercise of free speech by anyone right of center, and work hard to banish such speech from campus by any means possible, but firing a tenured professor might be a little uncomfortable.

Posted by: y81 | Nov 12, 2015 1:22:27 PM

Similar type tracking discussion also on the Business Law Professor Blog. See:

Posted by: Tom N. | Nov 12, 2015 12:37:11 PM