A roller-coaster ride in leftist academia hell
It must have been a whirlwind last few days for Ilya Shapiro, from his reinstatement as head of the Georgetown University Law Center, on Thursday, June 2, after a more than four-month investigation launched by Georgetown Law School, to his resignation from the school, on Monday, June 6, to the news that he joined the Manhattan Institute as senior fellow and director of constitutional studies.
Georgetown investigated Shapiro after he tweeted on January 23, 2022 that Sri Srinivasan, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, would be President Biden's "best pick" for the Supreme Court. He continued: "[Srinivasan e]ven has identity politics benefit of being first Asian (Indian) American. But alas doesn't fit into latest intersectionality hierarchy so we'll get lesser black woman."
Ilya Shapiro's "lesser black woman" tweet gained wide attention on Twitter and within the Georgetown community and led Georgetown Law dean William Treanor to send an email denouncing the tweet as "appalling" and "at odds with everything we stand for at Georgetown Law." Georgetown's Black Law Students Association also called for Shapiro to be fired, the Washington Post reported.
Shapiro deleted the tweet within hours, calling it "poorly worded" and "inartful." But, as the report submitted by Georgetown to the dean's office on June 2 shows, contrition can empower the mob rather than placate it. In fact, that apology was framed as evidence of guilt: Shapiro's "plain words not only explicitly identified the race, sex, and gender of a group of individuals," the report said, "but also categorized Black women as 'lesser.' Though [Shapiro] did not himself describe his comments as offensive or acknowledge that his comments could reasonably be interpreted to denigrate individuals, he promptly removed the tweet and apologized after others expressed their criticism." Besides, the 10-page report suggests that the university faced tremendous pressure to ostracize Shapiro. A "lot of faculty" expressed "deep concern" and "outrage" about Shapiro's tweet, as did several administrators, who said they would "not participate in any program or activity" involving him. It would be "disruptive," they told the diversity office, if Shapiro were "physically present" on campus.
Yet Georgetown reinstated Shapiro, saying university policies did not apply to him when he tweeted on Jan. 26, as his employment was to begin Feb. 1. In other words, he was cleared in the 122-day investigation only on a technicality. A bit too much to take in.
"After full consideration of the report I received ... from the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action, or IDEAA, and on consultation with counsel and trusted advisers, I concluded that remaining in my job was untenable," Shapiro wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed explaining his decision. "I would have to be constantly walking on eggshells," he told the New York Times.
Shapiro also argued that inflammatory tweets that reflected the prevailing orthodoxy were not punished, citing law professor Josh Chafetz, who last month tweeted: "The 'protest at the Supreme Court, not at the justices' houses' line would be more persuasive if the Court hadn't this week erected fencing to prevent protesters from coming anywhere near it." "When the mob is right," he added, "some (but not all!) more aggressive tactics are justified." Later, he taunted that the school was "not going to fire me over a tweet you don't like." And he was right.
Shapiro also cited Carol Christine Fair, a professor in the School of Foreign Service who in 2018 tweeted during Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation process about a "chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist's arrogated entitlement." "All of them deserve miserable deaths," she continued, "while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes." Georgetown held this to be protected speech.
It's all well and good to adopt strong free-speech policies, but it's not enough if university administrators aren't willing to stand up to those who demand censorship. And the problem isn't limited to cowardly administrators. Proliferating IDEAA-style offices enforce an orthodoxy that stifles intellectual diversity, undermines equal opportunity, and excludes dissenting voices. Even the dean of an elite law school bucks these bureaucrats at his peril.
What Georgetown subjected me to, what it would be subjecting me to if I stayed, is a heckler's veto that leads to a Star Chamber. 'Live not by lies,' warned Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. 'Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.'
I won't live this way.
For the record, the above is the second case in two weeks of faculty leaving a high-profile university amid a speech dispute. Last month, Princeton University's Board of Trustees fired classics professor Joshua Katz, claiming that he had "failed to be straightforward" during a 2018 investigation into a relationship between Katz and an undergraduate student. But many conservative activists claimed that the firing was motivated by Katz's criticism of Princeton's "anti-racism" initiatives. In a 2020 article for the online journal Quillette, Katz criticized a faculty letter stating that "[a]nti-Blackness is foundational to America" and referred to a student group called the Black Justice League as "a small local terrorist organization that made life miserable for the many (including the many black students) who did not agree with its members' demands."
Ilya Shapiro, a Princeton alumnus, had been one of Dr. Katz's supporters. Writing in National Review after Dr. Katz was fired, he said, "The firing of Joshua Katz shows that Princeton no longer stands for tolerance, respect, good faith, and excellence."
Samuel Robert Piccoli is a blogger and the author of the books Being Conservative from A to Z (2014) and Blessed Are the Free in Spirit (2021). He is Italian and lives in the Venice area.