Paul L. Caron

Saturday, February 5, 2022

NY Times Columnists Agree: Georgetown Law School Should Not Punish Ilya Shapiro For His Tweets

Michelle Goldberg, Georgetown Law, Don’t Punish Your New Hire Over His ‘Lesser Black Woman’ Tweet:

Georgetown (2016)Georgetown’s law school — where Shapiro was to serve as a senior lecturer and executive director of its Center for the Constitution — overreacted, placing Shapiro on leave pending an investigation into whether his tweets violated school policies on professional conduct, discrimination and harassment. Georgetown’s Black Law Students Association started a petition demanding his firing; as of Thursday morning it had more than 1,000 signatures. “Shapiro’s racist rhetoric and continued association with the university sends the visceral message that even if Black women attend the best law schools, hold the highest clerkships and serve on the most prestigious courts, they still are not good enough,” it said.

I wouldn’t argue with anyone who interprets Shapiro’s insulting tweets that way. Nevertheless, it is a mistake for Georgetown to investigate or punish him, for two reasons, one abstract and one strategic.

The abstract one is that however offensive Shapiro’s words were, they’re also the sort of political speech that should be protected by basic notions of academic freedom, which is why a number of people who detest what Shapiro said criticized Georgetown’s move. As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer wrote, “I’ve made my feelings about what he said clear but it’s impossible for academic institutions to fulfill their missions if they fire or punish people under circumstances like these.”

But punishing Shapiro for his tweets isn’t a bad idea just in principle. It also threatens to undermine the value of academic freedom at a time when that value is under sustained assault in many red states. ...

[P]rogressives will need allies if they’re to have any hope of mounting a political response to this new mania for academic repression. That requires some intellectual consistency. You can’t appeal to a transcendent ideal in one part of the country while traducing it in another. At least, you can’t do it and expect to convince anyone who doesn’t already agree with you.

John McWhorter, Don’t Assume Ilya Shapiro’s ‘Lesser Black Woman’ Tweet Was Racist:

His suspension is unnecessary and unjust.

To be sure, there is so much wrong with Shapiro’s position on Biden’s pending nomination that it’s almost hard to know where to begin. ... There’s plenty take issue with here. But does it justify Georgetown placing Shapiro on leave, investigating him and potentially firing him?

Here’s the first reason I think not. ... I think Shapiro meant that, one, Biden would choose a Black woman and two, that because Srinivasan is — in his view — the “best” of the judges that a Democratic president would consider nominating, any other potential nominee, including any of the Black women on the president’s short list, would be less qualified than Srinivasan. I don’t think Shapiro meant to say that a Black woman would be less qualified because she is a Black woman. ... Shapiro screwed up. ...

Which brings us to the second reason he shouldn’t be suspended. A few years ago, Georgetown professor C. Christine Fair tweeted that some of those who defended then-judge, now Justice Brett Kavanaugh against accusations of past sexual misconduct were a “chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist’s arrogated entitlement,” and that “All of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”

Georgetown responded with a statement that read, in part: “The views faculty members expressed in their private capacities are their own and not the views of the university. Our policy does not prohibit speech based on the person presenting ideas or the content of those ideas even when those ideas may be difficult, controversial or objectionable.” Fair remained in her job.

Where is the bright line, then, between the decision in Fair’s case — which was the correct one — and the circumstances of Shapiro’s case? It is impossible not to see it as a color line. Apparently, all bets are off on free speech when the issue is race. ...

I get the idea that some people agree with this bright line, such that anyone who says or writes something deemed as offensive by a critical mass of Black people, or another racial minority group, or our presumably progressive white allies, must face potential excommunication. Because of racism being America’s original sin, perhaps.

However, I differ. I cannot know whether Shapiro has a low opinion of the intellectual capabilities of Black people in general. Yet I cannot see even that as disqualifying him from a teaching position, especially given that in this case, we are dealing with more the perception of his having aired such an opinion than his having unequivocally done so. Racism is, to parrot Georgetown’s judgment on Fair, difficult, controversial and objectionable. That isn’t grounds for treating it the way medievals treated heresy.

And to insist that it is carries a grievous implication: that we Black people are ever so delicate. Last time I checked, we were strong. Strong people, frankly, don’t give a damn what a law school lecturer says about them on Twitter.

David Lat (Original Jurisdiction), Judicial Notice (02.05.22): Lesser White Men:

I don’t believe Shapiro should be fired. But I’m trying to be more pithy (in response to reader feedback), so instead of writing several paragraphs on L’Affaire Shapiro, I refer you to pieces by Bari WeissJohn McWhorter, and Michelle Goldberg that generally reflect my views, as well as this letter supporting Shapiro prepared by FIRE, signed by 200 professors.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink