GSOC-UAW-Local 2110 Stands against Academic Censorship
Statement Ratified by the Assembly of Stewards on December 29th 2016
On Sunday, December 25, 2016, Drexel University published a statement in response to outcry over one of its professors’ personal social media activity. Acknowledging “the right of its faculty to freely express their thoughts and opinions in public debate,” Drexel found sufficient exception to that right in George Ciccariello-Maher’s Twitter feed to call a meeting with their employee. In response, 7,000 people signed a petition in defense of Ciccariello-Maher. After this notable display of solidarity, Drexel University “reiterated their support for faculty who participate in vigorous public debate, as well as concern for the safety of myself, my family, and others in this unpredictable post-election climate,” as stated by Ciccariello-Maher. This is an important victory for academic freedom and indicates that the far right can be defeated through collective action.
The tweet, which Drexel’s statement characterized as “utterly reprehensible” and “deeply disturbing,” read, “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide.” Any familiarity with the term “white genocide,” its uses or its origin, makes it clear that this was an act of satire. As Ciccariello-Maher explained in an earlier statement, “‘White genocide’ is an idea invented by white supremacists and used to denounce everything from interracial relationships to multicultural policies.” In this context, calling for a “white genocide” is calling for an end to white supremacy. The term is used by the “alt-right”—white supremacist, misogynist, xenophobic, Islamophobic extremists—to claim a position of victimhood when it feels threatened in its unjust privilege and fantasy of natural superiority. It has nothing to do with genocide, apart from its utter failure to understand the term and what it means for so many people, the vast majority of whom have not historically identified as “white.” Ciccariello-Maher’s mockery of this racist, violent claim is neither disturbing nor reprehensible. It is rather a continuation of the steadfast commitment to opposing racism that has won the professor so much admiration and respect among students and colleagues.
But Ciccariello-Maher’s tweet is not what matters here. Nor is it that a sincere attempt to read the statement with any reflection—on the feed, on the author, or on the recent etymology of “white genocide”—would have made sense of its openly mocking gesture. But this is not the point: the relevant point is that it was wrong for Drexel to censure its employee’s critique of white supremacy in response to spurious reactionary outrage. And it continues to be wrong that Drexel has kept its reversed position private.
The Graduate Student Organizing Committee of the UAW, representing approximately 2,500 graduate workers at New York University, remains critical of Drexel’s apologies to a racist twitter mob. At the same time, we welcome its more recent commitment to stand with Ciccariello-Maher and call on the administration to make its support of him public. Furthermore, we urge Drexel to follow the University of Wisconsin in its decision last week to keep its “Problem of Whiteness” course, despite the cries of those who would forbid universities to acknowledge the mere existence of racism in the United States (also agitated by Breitbart and its ilk). Drexel has the opportunity to affirm that universities can and will protect their students, workers, faculty and administrators from these McCarthyite attacks on educators who stand up to white nationalists, even and especially now, as the latter are getting louder all the time.
It is deeply disturbing to see openly racist campaigns targeting radical academics with the support of reactionary media outlets. Workers are facing the looming task of fighting the incoming Trump administration. It is vital in this difficult political climate that we defend the right to academic free speech from the racist far right and the university administrations that cower before them.
GSOC-UAW stands with Professor Ciccariello-Maher and for academic freedom from institutional censure unequivocally. We urge other unions to join us in defending this key aspect of our working conditions and encourage individuals to contact Drexel directly. On this and other fronts we are committed to not retreating a single inch.