We have discussed efforts to fire professors who disagree on the basis or demands of recent protests, including efforts to oust a leading economist from the University of Chicago and a leading linguistics professor at Harvard. It is part of a wave of intolerance that is spreading across our colleges and newsrooms. Now an attempt has been made to fire Professor Carlin Romano from the University of Pennsylvania and to fire him from a respected literary group because Romano is attempting to question the language of a proposed explanation of racism in publishing.
Professor Romano is a lawyer and teaches at the Annenburg School for Communications in Penn. He became a recent target in science when he questioned the language of a proposal to explain anti-racism. Romano has publicly declared his support for the movement and has written in the past about the need to diversify the publishing industry. However, he wrote to object to statements that earlier efforts by people like him were not recognized and the entire industry was classified as racist.
There was a time when such criticism would have been welcomed in committees and faculties. This is not "these times". NPR described Romano's comments as "racist" without giving any examples to support such an end-of-career claim. The line most frequently cited in other reports is Romano, who explains that the statement did not recognize how white editors fought for a broader stance, and “(m) one of the authors cited in the letter's own list would never have been published if not for ecumenical, benevolent white editors and publishers who fought for the engagement of black writers. "He also noted the difficulty with previous diversification efforts because" (f) we professors particularly know that accomplished black students rarely want to go into book publishing because it pays off so badly. " He even contested that the statement spelled the name Ahmaud Arbery, the black man who was shot and killed by armed white residents in Georgia.
None of these suited those who designed or supported the proposal.
This led to another petition from Change.org demanding that Penn's Annenberg School for Communication "prohibit Carlin Romano from teaching at Penn this fall or ever again". An even broader effort is aimed at removing him from the prestigious National Book Critics Circle, which said that "a special meeting of members" allows voting on the removal of Carlin Romano from his board after dozens of board members have requested his dismissal .
We come back to these disputes from the perspective of a blog about freedom of expression. I am less concerned with merit than with the right of personalities like Romano to express different opinions. In this case Romano did not question the need for an explanation for more diversity. He contested the failure to recognize previous efforts and painting in the industry as racist.
Such a questioning of such proposals is now treated as de facto racist – followed by the now inevitable petitions from Change.org. However, we recently discussed that Change.org did not (and then repeats) such petitions from conservative students who objected to a Cambridge professor that "white lives don't matter". This petition (which did not even request the professor's dismissal) was declared "bullying" and removed from the website. Petitions directed to Romano to object to the language of a proposal as unfair are, however, considered entirely acceptable by Change.org. Ironically, I support both academics in their right to such freedom of speech and those who publish these petitions. It is Change.org's clearly biased position that is worrying from a freedom of speech perspective.
Romano has expressed his disbelief at being attacked by such petitions. He is a former NBCC President and his current Vice President for Scholarships and has emailed his criticism that "in my 25 years with the (Philadelphia) Inquirer" he "has probably written more articles and reviews about Philadelphia's black literature and traditions than everyone alive, black or white. "He also said to The Daily Pennsylvanian," I am for Black Lives Matter. I am for more diversity in the book publishing business. I am far from being racist. "
That seems completely irrelevant. Board members resign instead of working with an academic who opposed the language of a proposal for Black Lives Matter. I have no objection to people criticizing his rhetoric or position, but instead of clarifying his comments or addressing his concerns, the call is for distance.
The response is similar to efforts to remove Professor Harald Uhlig from the University of Chicago as the senior editor of the prestigious Journal of Political Economy, and efforts to remove Harvard professor Steven Pinker from the Linguistic Society of America.
It also resembles the successful effort to displace writer Andrew Sullivan from New York Magazine and Vox. Sullivan noted:
And perhaps it is worth mentioning that, in my case, “conservative” means that I have spoken passionately against Donald J. Trump and pioneered marriage equality, that I have legalized drugs, a reform of the criminal justice system, a greater redistribution of wealth and support aggressive measures against climate change. Police reform, a realistic foreign policy and laws to protect transgender people from discrimination. I was one of the first established media journalists to come out. I was an important and early supporter of Barack Obama. I intend to vote for Biden in November.
It didn't matter. Sullivan reported that colleagues said they felt insecure when working with him in the same building because he questioned aspects of current protests or demands.
My main concern is not to get Romano fired at Penn. I hope that the faculty will help a colleague, regardless of whether they disagree with their position. Rather, my main concern is that this campaign has already succeeded in enhancing the already icy cooling effect on freedom of expression and academic freedom. It is likely that this board will remove Romano if recent examples are evidence of this. Few professors want to risk the possibility of being labeled a racist or petitioned by Change.org. In his letter, Romano refers to an undisclosed board member who was too afraid to object to the language of the proposal.
The level of fear and intimidation in the faculties is alarming today. It is part of a concerted effort to prevent anyone from expressing divergent views, particularly about BLM as an organization or demands made in these protests. I have heard from many professors across the country who say they simply cannot risk being targeted and labeled as a racist. So they are silent. That's what these campaigns are about. When someone like Romano says something, he is quickly isolated, targeted and condemned. The message is clear. There is a new orthodoxy on campus that cannot be questioned even by those who have expressed their support for Black Lives Matter as a movement.
This freedom of speech is promoted by the silence of professors and reporters who take a purely pedestrian perspective when colleagues are abused or fired. Ultimately, silence will not protect those who stay. It is a campaign that devours its own loss of academic freedom and freedom of speech. Freedom of speech dies in silence and the present silence is deafening.