College professor who defended blacks-only Memorial Day event fired

A black college professor from New Jersey who went on Fox News's Tucker Carlson's show to defend a Black Lives Matter event in New York City that was open to blacks only was fired from the school.

Lisa Durden, an adjunct professor of communications and pop culture at Essex College, lost her job because of "racially insensitive remarks," according to the school's president.

Fox News:

On his June 6 show, Carlson and Durden, who is black, got into a heated exchange over the appropriateness of allowing only blacks to attend a Black Lives Matter event in New York City on Memorial Day.

"Listen. What I say to that is boo-hoo-hoo," she said. "You white people are angry because you couldn't use your 'white privilege' card to get invited to the Black Lives Matter's all-black Memorial Day celebration! Wow!"

Two days after the show, the school suspended Durden with pay. She addressed the matter with school officials Tuesday, three days before the firing was announced.

College president Anthony Munroe said Friday the Fox News appearance prompted calls from students, faculty and prospective students and their families "expressing frustration, concern and even fear that the views expressed by a college employee with influence over students would negatively impact their experience on the campus."

He noted that although Durden did not mention her affiliation with the school during the show or claim to be representing its views, "her employment with us and potential impact on students required our immediate review into what seemed to have become a very contentious and divisive issue." 

Munroe went further in explaining his reasons for firing Durden in a lengthy statement -- in which he invoked the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

"The character of this institution mandates that we embrace diversity, inclusion and unity," he said. "Racism cannot be fought with more racism." 

Durden declined comment Sunday when contacted by Fox News.

She has said that she was "publicly lynched" by the school.

On Friday, she told the Star-Ledger that she has received a lot of support from school staff members and students, but compared her experience to a rape victim who is blamed for the crime, and a person who returns from war to a hostile environment.

"I thought it would be a safe place for me," she told the paper, referring to the college. "I thought when I came home from war, I would be safe." Instead she said she was fired.

You can't separate the racial context of her remarks from the issue of free speech.  As toxic as her remarks were, it is a legitimate question to ask whether she should have been fired.

The incendiary nature of the issues involved makes this a close call, but how far should we go in defending free speech?  Do we extend that defense to those we violently disagree with?

Of course, if a white person had made similarly racially insensitive remarks, there wouldn't be much debate.  And isn't that what many of us are fighting for regarding free speech?  "Insensitive" speech is protected by the First Amendment, as is hate speech, bigoted speech, and any other controversial speech made in the public square.  You can't have free speech if you approve of only certain kinds of expression – it's all or nothing, and in this case, no matter the professor's racist attitudes and speech, she is entitled to express herself freely.

It was refreshing to see a college president actually acknowledge the fact of black racism.  And some kind of discipline should have been meted out to the professor for crossing the line.  An institution does have the right to guard its reputation, after all.  But if Professor Durden was going to learn anything about this incident (and I doubt she would have), suspending her would have been an effective statement of disapproval without causing her to lose her job.