The Sweet Taste of Justice

Marina Ziemnick

CounterCurrent: Week of 5/22

In June 2020, as social media was flooded with antiracist screeds and calls to abolish the police, University of Central Florida (UCF) psychology professor Charles Negy took to Twitter and asked a simple question: 

If Afr. Americans as a group, had the same behavioral profile as Asian Americans (on average, performing the best academically, having the highest income, committing the lowest crime, etc.), would we still be proclaiming "systematic racism" exists?

He followed up with another tweet commenting that “black privilege is real” and that “besides affirm. action, special scholarships and other set asides, being shielded from legitimate criticism is a privilege.” 

It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what happened next. The Twitter mob instantly launched an attack against Dr. Negy, decrying both him and his statements as “racist.” Within a day, #UCFfirehim was trending on Twitter, and students began circulating a petition calling for Negy’s termination (the petition received over 30,000 signatures). 

In a statement issued the day after Negy’s tweets, UCF president Alexander Cartwright declared that he was “disgusted” by Negy’s “racist posts,” which he described as “completely counter to our university’s core values of diversity and inclusion.” The university’s official Twitter account echoed the message, adding that “being actively anti-racist means calling out and confronting racist comments.” The administration reassured the student protestors that they were “reviewing the matter further,” but added that they were “being mindful of the First Amendment.” 

In practice, “being mindful of the First Amendment” meant only that the university had to cover its tracks and find a legally defensible justification for firing Dr. Negy (spoiler alert: it didn’t do a very good job). President Cartwright urged students and alumni to report any instances of “abusive or discriminatory behavior” to UCF’s “IntegrityLine,” after which complaints alleging “bias and unfair treatment” suddenly came pouring in. On January 29, 2021, UCF responded to the solicited complaints by firing Dr. Negy

The outcome had been decided well before UCF began its investigation—and Dr. Negy had the receipts to prove it. In a letter to the interim dean of the UCF College of Sciences, he wrote:

This investigation was initiated—by a public message from top administrators openly soliciting complaints against me—in retaliation for my constitutionally protected speech on Twitter. Knowing that it could not fire me for those tweets, UCF has obviously gone to great lengths over the last seven months to try and find legitimate grounds for my termination. I challenge you to find any UCF employee, yourself included, whose entire life could withstand the type of scrutiny mine has been put through in UCF’s attempt to justify getting rid of me because I have become a political liability. And make no mistake, that is precisely what UCF has done: We have President Cartwright on video agreeing with a student protester that I should have been fired before I got tenure. We have on video the UCF Provost telling students through a megaphone that the way to avoid “this type of problem” is to let UCF know: “…you have to file a complaint about discriminatory behavior.” And we have on video the UCF Chief Diversity Officer telling students on UCF’s official Twitter account that “#UCFFireHim…I understand all of that, but the fact of the matter is it’s not going to happen overnight.”

This playbook is all too familiar to those who follow the ups and downs of campus witch hunts. The First Amendment still provides protection to professors who speak out against the new orthodoxy on campus, so university administrators can’t openly punish professors for their thought-crimes (yet). Instead, they scrounge up other justifications for discipline or termination—such as unreported instances of “bias” from decades earlier or, as in the recent episode with Princeton professor Joshua Katz, “new details” about a misconduct case that had already been closed and for which Katz had already been punished

Thankfully, other legal remedies exist for professors who find themselves unjustly fired. After consulting with his attorneys, Dr. Negy responded to his firing by initiating a union grievance process against the university. Last week, the arbitrator assigned to the case officially ruled that UCF had failed to show just cause for termination. Although UCF has stated that it still stands by its actions (surprise, surprise), it is legally obligated to abide by the ruling, which requires the university to reinstate Dr. Negy with tenure, pay, and benefits. 

Over the weekend, Dr. Negy shared the news of his reinstatement on Twitter. His caption said it all: “Sweet taste of justice against authoritarian bullies.” How sweet indeed. 

Until next week. 

P. S. For the past two months, we’ve been using this newsletter to showcase the work of NAS members and affiliate groups in individual states. This week, we’re shining the spotlight on the work of some of our NAS members in Idaho, who are reporting on the state of education in a new website titled Action Idaho. The site’s motto is “A Platform for a Better Idaho,” and its content will be of particular interest to any NAS Idahoans.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications Associate Marina Ziemnick. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: keone, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

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