Editor's Note: This letter is made public to further pressure Chapman University to ensure fair and equal treatment of its faculty, staff, and students. It is part of a broader NAS effort to counter cancel culture in higher education.
We do not urge readers who are unacquainted with the cases to rush forward with emails, letters, or posts. Rather, we ask readers to weigh the facts and check our accounts against other sources. If you then agree that a college or university has acted in bad faith or counter to the core principles of liberal inquiry, then we do indeed urge you to speak up.
For those interested, we are also tracking attempted professor cancellations here.
Dr. Daniele Struppa
1 University Drive
Orange, CA 92866
Dear President Struppa,
I write to express my concern about Chapman University’s treatment of John Eastman, Henry Salvatori Professor of Law & Community Service, School of Law. While I commend your unwillingness to fire Professor Eastman on the grounds of institutional procedure,1 I take issue with your2 and your faculty’s3 wrongful defamation of Eastman’s personal and professional character, and I question the circumstances surrounding Eastman’s retirement. Through such statements, you and many of your faculty have chilled academic freedom at Chapman University. I urge you to clear the cloud Chapman University has put on Professor Eastman’s character and thereby to restore academic freedom as a governing principle of your university.
I write as President of the National Association of Scholars (NAS). NAS is a network of mostly U.S. scholars and citizens united by our commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in higher education. As part of our mission, we support intellectual freedom throughout North America. We have more than thirty years of experience in advocating for the principles of intellectual freedom. (For further information, please see www.nas.org.)
On December 9, 2020, Professor Eastman filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of President Trump, arguing that millions of votes in the 2020 presidential election were fraudulent. Professor Eastman also spoke at President Trump's rally in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021. In his speech, he raised numerous concerns about the validity of the 2020 presidential election. He denies involvement in the subsequent violence in and around the capitol building, and there is absolutely no evidence that he took part in it. As he himself says, “Of course I do not condone the violence at the capitol. But it was not a riot. It was perhaps a hundred thugs out of a quarter-million or half-million people.”4
Both Eastman’s filing of the brief and his speech at the rally are constitutionally protected free speech and expression. His brief is not “a disgraceful attack on American democracy,” as 159 of your faculty claim,5 nor does his speech constitute “participation in a riot that incited violence against the U.S. government and the death of a police officer,” as 172 of your faculty claim.6 Both of these claims are slander of the highest order, are not grounded in fact, and cast wrongful aspersions on Professor Eastman’s personal and professional character.
The debate over what happened at the Capitol on January 6 is highly contentious, and many—very likely a large majority of faculty members in American colleges and universities—have heated opinions counter to those of Professor Eastman. But it is precisely in these circumstances that a university’s dedication to the principles of intellectual freedom and freedom of expression matter most. That they can be difficult to uphold in such a situation is plain, but difficulty is not impossibility.
Although you declined to fire Eastman, your own statements fall far short of vindicating these principles. You write, “we condemn those that incite violence, those who attempt to justify it under the veneer of political discourse, and those who ultimately carry out that violence. This week, John Eastman, a member of the Chapman faculty, played a role in the tragic events in Washington, D.C., that jeopardized our democracy. Eastman’s actions are in direct opposition to the values and beliefs of our institution.” This too is slanderous and shameful, implying that Eastman himself incited violence, justified violence, or actually carried out violence. Eastman’s speech in no way “played a role” in said violence, which was perpetrated by an infinitesimally small number of those present at the rally. Further, I question whether Professor Eastman’s “retirement” was truly a mutual decision, or whether it was pressured by you and other Chapman leaders in order to rid the university of a professor you consider to be a public relations liability.
Your and your faculty’s statements are profoundly wrong—both for Chapman University as a custodian of academic freedom and for its reputation to posterity. If you and Chapman University publicly vindicate Professor Eastman, and reaffirm that your bedrock values are academic freedom and charitable tolerance rather than enforced conformity to political ideology, you will be honored for making the right choice—and for restoring Chapman University to its better self.
National Association of Scholars
1 Daniele Struppa, “President Struppa Issues an Additional Statement Regarding John Eastman,” Chapman University Newsroom, January 9, 2021, https://news.chapman.edu/2021/01/09/president-struppa-issues-an-additional-statement-regarding-john-eastman/.
2 Daniele Struppa, “President Struppa Reaffirms Chapman’s Commitment to Democracy,” Chapman University Newsroom, January 8, 2021, https://news.chapman.edu/2021/01/08/president-struppa-reaffirms-chapmans-commitment-to-peaceful-democracy/?fbclid=IwAR2Tqm7t7yjQy3DJUG2_mZSysTLVuTb-B6l3ERnMM_yuh25RnoM1vxtRQkU.
3 Lisa Leitz, Robert Slayton, Wylie Aitken, Jennifer Keller, Loretta Sanchez, “Letters to the Editor: Chapman University faculty: John Eastman doesn’t belong on our campus,” Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2021, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-01-09/chapman-university-faculty-john-eastman.
4 Colleen Flaherty, “Chapman Faces Pressure to Fire Professor Who Spoke at Trump Rally,” Inside Higher Ed, January 11, 2021, https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2021/01/11/chapman-faces-pressure-fire-professor-who-spoke-trump-rally.
5 “We are Chapman’s faculty, and we’ve had enough,” Chapman faculty speak out, December 13, 2020, https://sites.google.com/view/chapman-faculty/home.
6 “Faculty protest John Eastman's Jan 6 incitement,” Chapman faculty speak out, January 8, 2021, https://sites.google.com/view/chapman-faculty/jan-6-incitement?authuser=0.
Peter Wood is President of the National Association of Scholars.