Editor's Note: This letter is made public to further pressure University of Colorado Boulder 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.
Philip P. DiStefano
University of Colorado Boulder
Boulder, CO 80309
Dear Chancellor DiStefano,
I write to express my concern about Colorado University Boulder’s treatment of John Eastman, Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy, Bruce D. Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization. While I commend your unwillingness to fire Professor Eastman on the grounds of institutional procedure,1 I take issue with your wrongful defamation of Eastman’s personal and professional character and your revocation of his outreach and speaking privileges at the Benson Center.2 Through such statements and actions, you have chilled academic freedom at CU Boulder. I urge you to clear the cloud you have 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 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 August 12, 2020, Professor Eastman wrote an op-ed article for Newsweek, in which he questioned whether Kamala Harris is eligible to serve as vice president, given that her parents were born outside of the United States.3 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 op-ed and his speech at the rally are constitutionally protected free speech and expression. His essay does not “[marginalize] members of [the] CU Boulder community,” as you allege, or “advance a racist agenda,” as CU Boulder Dean James White has asserted.5 Your statement that Eastman’s January 6 speech is “repugnant” and “advocates conspiracy theories” is similarly libelous. Further, your claims that Eastman’s “conduct does not reflect the values of our university,” that he “has embarrassed our institution,” and that he “has contributed nothing of value to support the ideals of either the Benson Center or CU Boulder” are appalling, not least because they are directed at one of the nation’s most esteemed legal scholars, one that your institution hired for good reason. 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.
As if it weren’t enough for you to publicly libel a member of your own faculty, you have gone on to revoke Professor Eastman’s outreach and speaking privileges. These duties are part of Eastman’s employment agreement,6 and your unjust revocation of them amounts to little more than muzzling a professor with whom you happen to disagree. This decision is unjust and is one that undermines academic freedom at your institution, something you claim to value.
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.
Your statements about Professor Eastman are profoundly wrong—both for CU Boulder as a custodian of academic freedom and for its reputation to posterity. If you and CU Boulder 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 CU Boulder to its better self.
National Association of Scholars
1 Philip P. DiStefano, “From the Chancellor - Upholding our values and democracy,” University of Colorado Boulder Office of the Chancellor, January 7, 2021, https://www.colorado.edu/chancellor/newsletter/chancellor/upholding-our-values-and-democracy.
2 Katie Langford, “CU Boulder revokes John Eastman’s speaking, outreach duties,” Daily Camera, January 21, 2021, https://www.dailycamera.com/2021/01/21/cu-boulder-revokes-john-eastmans-speaking-outreach-duties/.
3 John C. Eastman, “Some Question for Kamala Harris About Eligibility,” Newsweek, August 12, 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/some-questions-kamala-harris-about-eligibility-opinion-1524483.
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 Elizabeth Hernandez, “CU Boulder won’t rescind appointment of conservative scholar who questioned Kamala Harris’s VP eligibility,” The Denver Post, August 24, 2020, https://www.denverpost.com/2020/08/24/kamala-harris-newsweek-editorial-cu-boulder-john-eastman/.
Peter Wood is President of the National Association of Scholars.