In recent years, higher education has witnessed an attack on faculty in the name of vague American ideals, most commonly free speech.
A closely interconnected network of media outlets funded by “dark money” contributions from a handful of ideologically motivated billionaires and dominated by Fox News aim to transform college campuses. Organizations like the Koch donor network, Donors Capital Fund and DonorsTrust build the basis of an outrage machine of viral public violence targeted at specific faculty and campus “free speech” provocations.
In November of last year, Fox News reported that Trinity College “removed American flags from Students’ windows,” including interviews with the students whose flags were removed. Not American flags, but rather, a Blue Lives Matter flag and a “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flag.
The Fox News article generated so much controversy that parents, international and domestic, called their children to understand what the caterwaul was about. The administration chose to back out on its decision to remove the flags and ignore the oppressive ideologies they represent and sent an email “clarifying” that the “flag removal” was not intended as a “political statement” and that it simply is “pursuant to a long-standing policy in the Student Handbook.” The only way for Trinity to give credence to this justification was by removing all the other flags, regardless of what they displayed or advocated for – and so they did. Many students felt unsatisfied, frustrated and even unsafe after the administration’s response.
Trinity is not unaccustomed to these kinds of outrage news cycles. In 2017, Campus Reform accused Trinity Professor Johnny Williams of inciting violence against white people. The story then circulated within Breitbart, the Daily Caller, TheBlaze, in the Washington Times, and other right-wing outlets until it reached Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show. After all the inflammatory “reporting,” Trinity’s campus was closed on June 21 due calls to campus that threatened violence. The repetitive pattern in which the public, parents and guardians express their fury about what happens on college campuses makes me question the genuineness of their concerns.
The right-wing donor class has an interest in manufacturing and showcasing outrage throughout the nation to discredit academics and students’ opinions on college campuses and preserve hegemony that sustains their privilege.
On the other edge of the country, Prof. Emily Drew from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, faced a violent attack in a pattern almost identical to Professor Johnny Williams’. The “‘”controversy” stemmed from a session the professor wanted to hold in her public library, entitled “How can we who are White show up as more effective and less damaging participants in struggles to interrupt racism in our community?”
Like in the case of Johnny Williams, Fox News took The College Fix report and performed the grand finale. Hannah Grossman, the writer of Fox News “Professor lambastes White people as ‘damaging’ who need to dismantle their ‘Whiteness,’‘ used every possible technique to undermine and generate hate towards the professor and her work, describing her as a “self described expert in racism…and social change.”
It is not that Grossman is not aware of professor Drew’s expertise in racism and social change. In fact, it is the complete awareness of the professor’s expertise and influence that leads Fox News to to knit a dishonest reality in an attempt to delegitimize and undermine professor Drew’s work. The report cites Campus Reform to claim that the professor will use her supposedly “self described” academic expertise in “training of how White people can become “less damaging” to people of color,” without any attempt to engage with the academic usage of white and a deliberate mis-paraphrasing of academic teaching approaches like “discussion” to “training.” This is topped off with seemingly arbitrary references to controversial politics in the United States like Critical Race Theory, Diversity Equity and Inclusion initiatives and politics relating to Israeli-American cooperation.
This dishonest, hateful inflammatory reporting is not a manifestation of a welcomed disagreement. Attacks like those in the flag ‘controversy,’ Professor Williams and Professor Drew are decontextualised and knitted to fit a political and ideological agenda. They do not aim to inform or initiate a discussion. The attackers steer their amenable followers to threaten violence and eventually sustain the rule of white supremacy and free-market capitalism. Campus Reform records situations in which a college changes a policy, fires someone, or ignores concerns raised by students on its site as a ‘victory.’ This is not an attitude that generates meaningful dialogue and creates change.
As a student, it is disappointing and alarming to see our professors under the threat of a situation in which they have to defend their impartiality, tolerance or decency.
It makes me question the system in which the right-wing donor class devotes massive efforts so their children can go to the country’s top universities and yet are willing to violently attack faculty, the rootstock of universities, for doing their job and presenting their children with concepts that might challenge their ideological beliefs. So whether you are a part of a college’s administration, a student, a parent or an outside observer, please question who is behind these attacks and give the professors who build the institution you have entrusted with your education the benefit of the doubt.
If you are interested to learn more about right-wing attacks on faculty, please check out Faculty First Responders Website.
Sarah Dajani is a student at Trinity College.