Cancel culture “is a power play…. where people view this as an opportunity to exert their power over these institutions.”
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On Sunday evening, August 30, 2020, the Legal Insurrection Foundation held an online discussion on Saving Higher Ed From Cancel Culture, attended by 300 people via Zoom.
The participants were:
Kemberlee Kaye, Legal Insurrection Foundation
Robert Shibley of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)
Joshua Katz of Princeton University
Jason Hill of DePaul University
William Jacobson of Cornell Law School
You can read about the speakers, and what they each experienced, at our prior post.
We were pleased that 300 people attended the event via Zoom, almost all of whom stayed to the very the very end. That there was almost no attrition during the two-hour event is a good sign that the program kept people interested.
There was a lot of ‘chat’ among attendees during the event, and many questions asked by viewers and answered by panelists. The full video is at the bottom of this post.
We also put together a short 12-minute highlights video, with excerpts from the event. Obviously taking 12 minutes out of a two-hour progam left a lot on the cutting room floor. The highlight reel should give you a good feel for the discussion. Please also note that various clips of speakers were spliced together in sequence for brevity; the content and context have not been altered, though it should be obvious where the breaks take place. The full video at the bottom of the post has everything.
Here is the transcript of this highlight reel, which is mostly auto-transcript so there may be transcription errors.
Hi, everyone and good evening. We want to thank you so much for coming to our panel discussion, “Saving Higher Education from Cancel Culture,” sponsored by the Legal Insurrection Foundation….
One of the most common criticisms when someone is enduring being canceled (or an attempt at being canceled) is that, “Oh, well you just can’t take criticism.” Well, it’s not [nearly] that simple. It’s far more nuanced, and it’s far more maniacal than that….
Jonathan Raucher defines it as something that has these six tenets. One is “Punitiveness”…. The second is “De–platforming”: Are campaigners attempting to prevent you from publishing your work, giving speeches, or attending meetings? .… And the third is “Organization”: Does criticism appear to be organized and targeted? …. The next is “Moral Grandstanding”: Is the tone of the discourse ad hominem, repetitive, ritualistic, posturing, accusatory, and outraged? Are people flattening distinctions, demonizing you, singing inflammatory labels, and engaging in moral “one-upmanship”? Are people ignoring what you actually say, talking about, but not to you? And then the last is “Truthiness,” as he calls it: Are the things being said about you inaccurate, do the people saying them not even seem to care about their veracity? Do they feel at liberty to distort your words, ignore corrections, and make false accusations?
The problem of cancel culture on campus is one of the more intractable problems we faced, with regard to free speech on campus, in FIRE’s twenty-one years. When I began at FIRE seventeen years ago this week, and then for many years afterwards, students were by far the most reliable supporters of free speech on college campuses…. And, unfortunately, that has changed. And in the last few years, students have seemingly changed from a very “pro-free speech” constituency, realizing it’s their rights, to one that, if you can judge by the most vocal of them (and I don’t know that you can), is nearly as hostile to unfettered free speech on campus as our campus administrators….
In recent years, FIRE has received a total of around 1000 case submissions through our website annually where you can go and say, “My free speech has been violated.” And in the single month following George Floyd’s death, we received 280 submissions, so more than a quarter of our year submissions in that single month or average year, the vast majority of them having to do with students getting in some kind of trouble, whether or not official, for commenting on Floyd, Black Lives Matter or related issues. And they’re still coming in at a higher clip than normal and are actually speeding up again, as schools are slowly starting to return to session….
We do need a cultural shift in which people are given some room to be wrong and where our first impulse is to try to convince our opponents, rather than destroy them…. I do think that if they don’t stop doing it soon, there will be no saving our society from the really ugly ramifications of where this can go.
Joshua T. Katz
In recent years, and especially recent months, people inside the Academy have, with frightening rapidity, persuaded a considerable segment of the populace that words are violence and need to be policed. Even more frightening is that these ideas have been coupled with violent actions and calls for defunding the actual, non-metaphorical police. My fellow denizens in the ivory tower are waging a war, and it is no longer advisable for me to retreat fully into the stacks of Princeton’s wonderful library. I only wish that I had spoken out sooner. Consider the newy dominant word “anti-racism”. It sounds attractive but isn’t. In fact, it is a Trojan horse for race-based discrimination of its own kind….
I’ve had enough. And I penned a lone letter of dissent. I believed then, and I believe now that what I wrote was measured, quite unlike the letter to which I was responding….
Nonetheless, the backlash was fierce. The president of Princeton issued a personal denunciation. A good number of my colleagues wrote and said scurrilous things about me…. And even some good has come from the presumptive “cancellation” ….
Free speech is a bedrock principle. If we cannot agree on this, then we are lost as a nation…. That’s an institutional comment, but then there’s, what’s more, most important for the mental health of anyone who walks through a firestorm. You need friends and supporters, people who will criticize, but not destroy you when you make a mistake. People who have your back, when they believe you’re right, though others seek to destroy you.
It is depressing just how many friends I’ve lost, but obviously they weren’t actually friends. Also depressing is just how many communications I received from people, including prominent colleagues at Princeton who say that they wish they could support me publicly, but, alas, are afraid of what will happen to them if they do. Still, some people, friends old and new, have stepped up to the plate, and I will be forever, especially grateful to them….
The pressure to apologize in an effort to appease one’s tormentors can be tremendous, but do not give into the pressure. If you feel you did no wrong, do not apologize. The majority of Americans loathe cancel culture; it is time to stop being afraid to express over and over again, and in as many public ways as possible, our collective disgust at the shocking illiberalism that has taken over the minds of a highly vocal, often extraordinarily privileged, minority of our citizens.
In 2019, I wrote an article in the Federalist called “The Right of Israel to Annex the West Bank and Beyond”…. Well, to cut a very, very long story short, all hell broke loose across DePaul’s campus….
I received many death threats, but the most egregious thing that really happened to me was that, against the wishes of the university president, the Faculty Council took it upon themselves to, in an illegal way , violating the university handbook, to censure me, and I was conducted to, well I was asked to attend a “racial sensitivity” workshop, which I steadfastly refused to do. There was a boycott led by faculty and by students against all my classes, which I’m still undergoing. And there were calls to have me fired, dismissed from my job…. I hired a very, should I say, “pitbull dog” team of lawyers and engaged in a lawsuit against my university for defamatory claims….
I did not attend the “racial sensitivity” workshop. I adhered to none of the demands that were met….
To reiterate what Professor Katz said, that one does not capitulate one inch to the adversary. One does not apologize. One does not offer any kind of appeasement to one’s adversaries, when one knows that one has not, in any way, committed an egregious act or violated anyone’s individual rights. What one is doing is exercising one’s First Amendment rights…. The boycotts against me continue. …
Like Professor Katz, I’ve lost all of my friends. I think I have two professors or three professors, after having taught at university for twenty years, who are willing to speak to me…. It’s fine. I’m very, very non-sentimental by nature and even more non sentimental in the professional world and have a long staying power, so I’m willing to fight this to the bitter end.
William A. Jacobson
In early June of this year, I wrote two blog posts highly critical of the Black Lives Matter movement, … saying that the Michael Brown narrative of “hands up don’t shoot” is false. It’s a completely false, fabricated narrative. And the other thing was, I was critical of the founding and the activists who were leading the movement that they did not, and the rioting and the looting, that they did not have the country’s interest in mind and that they were seeking to tear down the country, not build it up. And of course, I think the last three months have completely vindicated me on that point.
But what happened is people pretty much lost their minds. Now, [calls for cancellation] came from within the building, and it came from within the Cornell community, whereas before that, it had always been outside…. Twenty-one of my colleagues signed a letter, denouncing me. Some of them, I worked with for a decade. Some of them, I considered friends, not a single one of them approached me before the letter was published in the Cornell [Daily] Sun. And although [the letter] didn’t use my name, it was about me and people within the building were told it was about me. I was denounced by the Dean of the Law School…
Fifteen student groups, announced a boycott of my course and called upon all other students to boycott my course. By the way, the boycott failed; my course was oversubscribed. And that’s because I have a lot of student support within the building. And throughout this, one of the things that really helped get me through it was, not just hundreds and hundreds of emails from around the country once I went public with it, but a lot of emails from students who said that, “Don’t think these people speak for everybody,” that you have a lot of support within the building. Just everybody is afraid to say anything. They don’t want to become a target the way you have.
And I think that’s one of the big takeaways from what we call “cancel culture”, is that everybody who’s on this panel has survived because we had job protection, whether tenure or something, reasonably equivalent to tenure. But the damage from cancel culture is not to the people who are able to survive, who have a platform or job protection. It’s to everybody else who doesn’t have those benefits and those protections. They are scared into silence…. One of the big pushbacks that I received was, “Well, you just don’t like being criticized!” … I offered to publicly debate, at the Law School, a representative of the student groups and a faculty member of their choice…. So let’s debate it. Let’s put it on. Let’s livestream it. That was rejected….
This is not criticism. This is a power play. And what we’re seeing going on, on campuses and in the culture, more broadly, is an exercise of power to prevent open debate of ideas….
“Cancel culture” is really a symptom in my mind of a deeper problem within the universities: a uniformity of ideological viewpoint, which has created, what I consider to be, an “academic death spiral”. … And it’s a death spiral because now, you’re seeing pushback in the broader culture….
I do think we are in a time, not of hypersensitivity, but where people view this as an opportunity to exert their power over these institutions. And that’s exactly what’s going on…. I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I think it’s gonna get a lot worse if Joe Biden wins the election, because that will be viewed as a vote of confidence in what is going on. So, stay tuned.
Here is the full video, and a table of contents if you want to scroll ahead to particular portions.
Kemberlee Kaye Introduction: 00:10
Robert Shibley opening statement: 10:10
Joshua Katz opening statement: 18:35
Jason Hill opening statement: 30:15
William Jacobson opening statement: 38:00
Question – How can parents be involved in the fight against cancel culture in higher education? 52:00
Question – Should higher education be saved at all? 1:01:55
Question – Will my children be canceled or blacklisted if they attend a conservative college or conservative student group activity on their resume? 1:09:50
Question – How could an untenured or adjunct professor handle similar situations? 1:16:20
Question – Should higher education institution be forced to comply with the U.S. Constitution? 1:22:30
Question – Does Gibson’s Bakery standing up to Oberlin College serve as a model for fighting back? 1:30:55
Question – How bad is the problem of campus culture on campus? Is it worse now than it was before George Floyd’s death? 1:34:10DONATE
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