It should be uncontroversial for a teacher or professor to openly support Black Lives Matters, whether as a concept or an organization, even if the two aren’t quite the same and the former is more of existential concept than a particular ideology with clear edges and purpose. After all, black lives matter, and to affirmatively suggest they don’t matter is the racism sought to be eradicated.
But does failure to attend protests, wear BLM-branded clothing, say it regularly on social media make one a racist? In some quarters, it does. What about saying anything positive about police, supporting the cops while others riot for their abolition? Is that a fair view to espouse? Is it “anti-black” to express any view that isn’t aggressively pro-BLM? Apparently, April Mustian believed that to be the case, and took her point to social media.
Mustian was in a somewhat peculiar position. She had been hired to teach education at Winthrop University for the fall semester, but had yet to start. This wasn’t merely a reflection of her personal views, but a threat directed at teachers, that she had screen caps of posts she believed to be racist and planned to go after people whom she deemed racist because they expressed a view about police she didn’t share.
Winthrop caught the flack from their new hire. They were inundated with complaints. There was a petition supporting Mustian at Change dot org as well.
“In the last few days, #Winthrop has received a great deal of input regarding the hiring of a particular employee,” the school wrote. “Following our usual practice, we are working with internal personnel and legal counsel to conduct an investigation, and we will act accordingly per the findings of the investigation. Please know we are pursuing this matter diligently and cannot allow the University to be swayed into hasty and inappropriate action.”
Where did Winthrop as an institution fall on the subject of cops?
Winthrop then added, “We want to be clear that we assertively affirm that Winthrop University respects, supports and appreciates all law enforcement officers including those on our campus and those in the local community, our state, and the nation. This high level of regard extends to other first responders as well.”
There is an unsurprisingly simplistic binary between the views permitted on the subject of police by those who support BLM. You either hate cops, whether ACAB (“all cops are bastards”) or want to abolish cops altogether. Ironically, this isn’t necessarily a view held by black or Hispanic people, but one vehemently held by white radical chic.
This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t simultaneously demands for significant change and reform, but it’s impossible to square with the notion that black people want to rid their neighborhood of cops, as the vast majority want cops in their area the same or more than they are now.
Yet, in Mustian’s brain, not hating cops was the same as being racist, as being “anti-Black,” giving rise to a curious dilemma for Winthrop. Mustian’s view was in contravention of Winthrop’s position, which would make Winthrop a racist institution to Mustian. For Mustian, this might be an opportunity to “teach” Winthrop to stop being racist and learn from her as she is the font of virtue. For Winthrop, hiring a new professor who appears to come to the job not merely rejecting the university’s values, but bent on doing whatever she must to undermine them, change them, “correct” them, seems like hiring trouble.
But should Mustian be canceled for her views? Is there a different between academic freedom of a prof already on the payroll as opposed to one who has yet to walk through the door and is already making problems, and announcing her plans to make more problems for the population it teaches going forward?
The issue seems to be less about Mustian’s view, per se. After all, supporting BLM is about as uncontroversial as it gets on college campuses, and being anti-cop isn’t exactly unusual, whether as an offshoot of BLM or just because cops have done so much to earn people’s enmity. Rather, it’s her secondary step, her screen caps, her threat to doxx, to attack, to cancel and do harm to those who express views she finds reprehensible that creates the problem.
[Winthrop Trustee Ashlye] Wilkerson said she wanted to speak with Mustian about her motivations in publishing the post, ensuring it did not violate university principles. She did not know when the investigation might be completed.
“I do think it’s important to protect academic freedom as well as First Amendment rights,” Wilkerson said.
This is where the clash of free speech interests devolves to a downward spiral. Mustian’s exercise of free speech seeks to silence or harm those whose speech she disapproves of. To protect Mustian’s speech is to sacrifice the speech of others, as she not only disagrees, but asserts her intention to do what she can to cancel them and their job.
There are collateral concerns as well. Does Mustian’s simplistic ideological demagoguery suggest that Winthrop hired a person incapable of serious thought to teach at the university level? Will Mustian’s aggressive tact sow discontent and division within Winthrop’s faculty, alumni and students? What if she starts attacking her colleagues for not adhering to her dogmatic hatred of police as conclusive proof of their racism? Faculty teas are not going to be as pleasant as they used to be.
And a critical component of Mustian’s stance is that she was hired to teach education, and she’s threatening to destroy K-12 teachers who don’t share her view. If this isn’t Winthrop’s policy, and it isn’t, is she a good choice of academic to instill Winthop’s view toward law enforcement to the students it’s charged to teach?
The question of academic freedom is altered by the fact that while Mustian has been hired, she has yet to commence her employment at Winthrop. There is a property interest in a job, but as she has yet to start work, and certainly doesn’t enjoy tenure, is it wise to invite a problem into the fold or pull the plug on Mustian before she does what she says she will do? Not because she supports Black Lives Matter. Not because she hates police. Because she says she wants to harm K-12 teachers whom she believes to be racist for not sharing her views. Having announced her determination to cancel others, she may have tempted Karma too soon.