CounterCurrent: Week of 1/31
Despite the many changes America has seen in the past few months, one thing has remained the same: cancel culture in higher education. The National Association of Scholars began tracking cancellations in June 2020, and we still learn about multiple new cases per week. Our current count is at 122 and we see no sign of the illiberal cancellation machine slowing down.
I write to you now with the latest updates on some of the cases we are tracking, cases in which the NAS has stepped in to offer direct support:
Timothy Jackson is a tenured professor of music theory at UNT and oversees the Journal of Schenkerian Studies, a publication dedicated to the thought and work of music theorist Heinrich Schenker. In July, Professor Jackson faced calls for institutional discipline, up to and including termination, from UNT colleagues and graduate students, as well as music theorists nationwide. His crime? Defending Schenker against the dubious claim of “systemic racism,” one leveled by Hunter College music theorist Philip Ewell at a recent conference.
Before I put the non-music theorists to sleep, the point is this: Ewell claimed Schenker was a racist, and Jackson disagreed. Then the musicology community came for Jackson’s head, and UNT placed him under investigation. Simple as that. Professor Jackson has now filed a lawsuit against UNT, as he rightly should, accusing the school of various kinds of misconduct predicated on his denial of Schenker’s supposed racism. NAS has also sent correspondence to three members of UNT leadership, urging them to protect Jackson’s academic freedom and vindicate his personal and professional character. We will continue to keep you posted on the progress of this case.
The case of Charles Negy was one of the first to populate our cancel culture database, and it’s also one of the most outrageous. Negy, a professor of psychology at UCF, came under fire in June for some allegedly controversial Tweets, including one that questioned the existence of “systemic racism” (are you sensing a pattern here?). Outraged Twitter users proceeded to create the viral hashtag #UCFfirehim.
The school then put him through a grueling investigation (launched the day after this Tweet), one which included a nine-hour interrogation of Professor Negy and over 300 interviews of his colleagues and students stretching back 15 years. In other words, UCF was trying really hard to find some dirt on Negy, and just happened to start looking after his unpopular Tweets. How convenient. Negy’s termination, initially promised by the school to occur on January 25, was briefly delayed thanks to the efforts of Samantha Harris and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). However the firing was made official on Friday, a decision Negy plans to challenge in court.
Here’s a case that ended on a (relatively) happy note. Philip Carl Salzman is an emeritus professor of anthropology at McGill and a frequent contributor to many publications, including our very own Minding the Campus. In November, Salzman was canceled via a student petition, which cited his critiques of multiculturalism, social justice, BLM, systemic racism, and more (some of which were published at MTC). The students demanded, among other things, the revocation of his emeritus status. The NAS published our own counter-petition in Professor Salzman’s defense, which received over 3,000 signatures. McGill ultimately did the right thing and declined to punish him for exercising his free speech. Salzman’s career and reputation were still damaged, to be sure, but he has at least retained his title. We’ll take what we can get.
The NAS is hard at work to protect academic freedom wherever and whenever it is threatened. If you know of a cancellation not in our database, please contact me directly at [email protected]. Otherwise, hold the line and speak your mind. Higher education depends on it.
CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.