There is a campaign to fire Professor Joshua Hochschild who teaches philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s University. We have seen a number of these campaigns against faculty but the effort against Hochschild is striking because he is denounced for attending the protest in Washington on January 6th even though he is not accused of participating in the riot at the Capitol. The effort is part of a building narrative that anyone protesting the election was an insurrectionist even though the vast majority were peaceful and did not enter the Capitol. Hochschild denounced the riot in a column “Once Upon a Presidency” for the The American Mind. However, his acknowledgment of being present at the protest was enough to launch an effort to fire him.
I opposed the challenge to the electoral votes, but such challenges have occurred before by democrats. In his column, Hochschild offered a first-hand account of the protest and said that he was unaware until later of the violence at the Capitol:
Scores of thousands of people attend, from all over the country. They are cheerful and patriotic, generous and civic-minded, orderly and polite. Responsible, proud citizens. They love their country and respect its lawful processes. They know that, even if the rally does not actually help Trump politically, it promises to draw attention to problems with our electoral system, and to testify to the importance of peaceful democratic protests. Maybe there will be a resolved will to reform the system, and to ensure that people can trust elections next time. The country can’t keeping having its winners suspected of “stealing” elections. …
It was a protest, and some people apparently took it too far. On the way home, you hear about violence and arrests. Vandalism and thievery in the Capitol building. You hear about a woman, apparently unarmed, shot and killed. It is a sobering, gut-wrenching end to the day. Out of a massive crowd, it seems that a fraction was stupid, shameful, lawless. Hardly representative of the kinds of people who were there, or the purpose for which they gathered. A small fraction of a large civil rights event turned into a lawless mob. You are disheartened that a respectable event should be so stained.
But you wake up the next morning to something far worse. Slanderous headlines. By your very presence in DC, you are accused of being a traitor, part of a dangerous movement. Every outlet is calling it an “insurrection.” The lawlessness was “incited” by Trump. There was a violent attempted “coup.” Obviously they have pushed too far. They will have dial this back. Won’t they? The words are wildly disproportionate: nobody had a strategy or opportunity for seizing power. Oh, and it was a racist insurrection, a manifestation of white nationalism. Despite the sea of American flags, news stories seem to always run a picture of a Confederate flag.
According to the conservative site College Fix, the article led to a petition by MSMU graduate Brea Purdie, states:
I find it repulsive that Hochschild calls for respectability and humanity when the actions of Trump supporters on January 6 proved to be less than that. I find it telling that he asks for decency when there are prominent white supremacists rubbing elbows at the same event as he, and proudly boasting racial symbolism along with the American flag.
There is a fair basis to criticize the basis for the protest and to question whether violence should have been foreseen.Many of us have denounced Trump’s speech as reckless and wrong. Indeed, I was tweeting my objections to the speech as it was being given. Moreover, I opposed the congressional challenges to the electoral votes from the outset, rejected Trump’s claim that the electoral votes could be “sent back,” and praised Vice President Pence for defying Trump. I called for Trump to be censured over the speech. However, the effort to fire a professor for his political views is a rejection of core free speech values.
What is striking is that this narrative is in sharp contrast to the response to violence during protests this summer. When conservatives sought to label Black Lives Matter and other groups as violent, many correctly noted that the vast majority of people at these protests were peaceful and seeking to voice political and social viewpoints.
To its credit, the university recognized the anti-free speech campaign for what it is. Provost Boyd Creasman did not mention the controversy, but said everyone has the right to “express their views respectfully without fear of sanction” in a statement tweeted out Feb. 24.
That is a far better response than an earlier controversy at the school.
I do not know Professor Hochschild but I have no reason to believe that he would hesitate in supporting the free speech rights of students or alumni like Purdie in expressing their opposing viewpoints. That is the essence of free speech. Yet, we have been discussing efforts to fire professors who voice dissenting views of the basis or demands of recent protests including an effort to oust a leading economist from the University of Chicago as well as a leading linguistics professor at Harvard and a literature professor at Penn. The silence of many faculty in the face of crackdowns on free speech has been chilling in the last few years. Even academics like like Colorado law professor Paul Campus who call for the firing of those with opposing views (including myself).
It is reassuring to see the university supporting free speech, but there is also a growing anti-free speech movement on our campuses and in our public discourse, as discussed in my recent House testimony. Once again, the silence of many faculty in the face for such campaigns is deeply concerning. There is a palpable fear of many faculty that they cannot speak freely on such subjects without being targeted or tagged themselves. That can lead to being treated as a pariah by colleagues and have a direct impact on your ability to get published or move between universities. The cost is just too great for many professors. However, that silence is creating a vacuum for such anti-free speech campaigns to thrive. Hundreds signed this petition to fire a professor who attended a political rally but also denounced the latter rioting at the Capitol. That is the most chilling aspect to this controversy.
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