On Christmas Eve, Drexel University Associate Professor George Ciccariello-Maher posted a satirical tweet, which read: “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide.” On Christmas Day, Ciccariello-Maher posted a follow-up tweet: “To clarify: when the whites were massacred during the Haitian revolution, that was a good thing indeed.” Ciccariello-Maher has since made his Twitter account private; however, the tweets have been quoted extensively in online media.
Drexel became aware today of Associate Professor George Ciccariello-Maher’s inflammatory tweet, which was posted on his personal Twitter account on Dec. 24, 2016. While the University recognizes the right of its faculty to freely express their thoughts and opinions in public debate, Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s comments are utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing, and do not in any way reflect the values of the University.
The University is taking this situation very seriously. We contacted Ciccariello-Maher today to arrange a meeting to discuss this matter in detail.
Ciccariello-Maher explained to several media outlets that the tweets were satirical. The Associated Press reported that the professor said “he was mocking what he called the ‘imaginary concept’ of white genocide, which he says was invented by white supremacists.” In a statement to the student newspaper The Triangle, Ciccariello-Maher reaffirmed the satirical nature of his tweets and his own commitment to free speech, writing: “As my students will attest, my classroom is a free-for-all of ideas, in which anyone is welcome to their opinions, but expected to defend those opinions with argument.” Ciccariello-Maher has also characterized Drexel’s defense of free speech as “tepid” and stated that it “sends a chilling message and sets a frightening precedent.”
In the midst of extensive coverage of this story, a petition in support of Ciccariello-Maher and his academic freedom on Change.org has, at the time this blog was posted, more than 7,500 signatures.
Drexel’s response raises a number of concerns due to its lackluster defense of Ciccariello-Maher’s right to engage in public debate. While the press release states that Drexel “recognizes the right of its faculty to freely express their thoughts and opinions in public debate,” it is concerning that the university wants to meet with Ciccariello-Maher to discuss the tweets “in detail.” The request is troubling in light of the timing, Drexel’s characterization of the tweets, and the calls for Ciccariello-Maher to be terminated.
By calling for a meeting without providing any information about its purpose or the consequences that Ciccariello-Maher might face, Drexel, an institution that maintains a “red light” speech code along with numerous “yellow light” policies, failed to live up to its already shaky commitment to academic freedom. And as Robby Soave pointed out, “the experience of being called before the administration to answer for his tweet-crimes is a form of silencing [Ciccariello-Maher].”
While Drexel is a private institution, and not bound by the First Amendment, any action taken against Ciccariello-Maher because of the tweets would only serve to further undermine Drexel’s commitment to academic freedom.
This story continues a troubling trend; all too often, professors are criticized or punished for political statements that they make on Twitter. FIRE recently covered the story of Glenn Reynolds, after the University of Tennessee threatened to investigate him over a tweet. In years past, FIRE covered the stories of Steven Salaita, whose job offer was withdrawn over a tweet, and David Guth, who was placed on administrative leave over a controversial tweet. FIRE will continue to monitor this situation and alert our readers if any action is taken against Ciccariello-Maher.
Update (4:57 p.m.): Reuters reports that Ciccariello-Maher and his lawyer have been informed that Drexel will not seek to punish Ciccariello-Maher:
Ciccariello-Maher said in an email that he had spoken with Drexel administrators by phone about the tweet.
They “reiterated their support for faculty who participate in vigorous public debate, as well as concern for the safety of myself, my family, and others in this unpredictable post-election climate,” Ciccariello-Maher said.
Representatives for the school did not respond to requests for comment.
“White genocide” is a conspiracy theory promoted by white nationalists who contend that majority-white countries promote low fertility and immigration to wipe out the white population.
Bret Grote, Ciccariello-Maher’s lawyer, said Drexel’s criticism was in response to an online smear campaign by far rightists emboldened by the election of Republican Donald Trump as president.
Drexel, a private school with about 26,000 students, will not discipline Ciccariello-Maher because of his rights to free speech and academic freedom and the political content of his tweet, Grote said.