After a four-month investigation into a tweet, the Georgetown University Law Center reinstated me last Thursday. But after careful consideration of the report I received later that afternoon from the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action, or IDEA, and after consultation with attorneys and advisers confidence, I concluded that staying in my job was untenable.
Dean William Treanor enlightened me that I was not an employee when I tweeted, but IDEAA implicitly repealed Georgetown’s speech and expression policy and set me up to discipline the next time I transgress progressive orthodoxy. Instead of participating in this slow-motion shooting, I quit.
IDEA speciously discovered that my tweet criticizing President Biden for limiting his Supreme Court pool by race and gender required “appropriate corrective action” to respond to my “objectively offensive comments and to prevent the recurrence of offensive behavior based on on race, sex and sex”. Mr. Treanor reiterated those concerns in a June 2 statement, further noting the “harmful” nature of my tweets.
But IDEA makes it clear that there is nothing objective about its standard: “The University’s anti-harassment policy does not require that a respondent intend to disparage,” the report states. “Instead, the policy requires consideration of the ‘purpose or effect’ of a respondent’s conduct.” That people have been offended, or claim to have been, is enough for me to break the rules.
IDEA claims that if I “made another similar or more serious remark as an employee of Georgetown, a hostile environment based on race, gender and gender would likely be created.” Any kind of comments that someone might find offensive would subject me to disciplinary action. Consider the following assumptions:
• I commend the decisions of the Supreme Court which annul Roe vs. Wade and protect the right to bear arms. One activist says my comments “deny the humanity of women” and make her feel “in danger” and “directly threatened with physical violence”.
• After meeting with students concerned about my ability to treat everyone fairly, as Mr. Treanor asked me to do, a participant files a complaint calling me “dishonest” and an “embodiment of white supremacy” .
• When the Supreme Court hears the Harvard and University of North Carolina affirmative action cases this fall, I am of the view that the Constitution prohibits racial preferences. Hundreds of Georgetown stakeholders sign a letter saying my comments “are contrary to the work we do here every day to build inclusion, belonging and respect for diversity” (borrowing the language of Mr. Treanor of January 31 and June 2).
• In a class where I teach, a student feels uncomfortable with the position assigned to him during a mock pleading 303 Creative v. Elenis, a case that examines whether a designer can be forced to create a website for a gay marriage. “To say that someone can refuse to serve members of the LGBTQIA+ community is to treat our brothers and sisters as second-class citizens, and I will not participate in Shapiro’s disparaging charade,” he wrote on the student mailing list.
I could go on, but you get the idea. It was the administrators at Georgetown who created a hostile work environment for me.
Basically, what Mr. Treanor has done – what he has allowed IDEA to do – is to repeal the politics of speech and expression that he claims to cherish. Freedom of speech is no freedom at all if it makes an exception for speech that someone finds offensive or contrary to some nebulous conception of fairness.
Georgetown’s treatment of me shows how the university applies even these conflicting “principles” inconsistently based on ideology. Compare my case with these recent examples:
• In 2018, Professor Carol Christine Fair of the School of Foreign Service tweeted during Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process: “Look at this chorus of entitled white men justifying the arrogated right of a serial rapist. All deserve a miserable death while feminists laugh their last breaths. Bonus: do we castrate their corpses and feed them to the pigs? Yes.” Georgetown considered this to be protected speech.
• In 2020, Law Center Professor Heidi Feldblum tweeted that “law professors and law school deans” should “not support our students’ candidacies for clerk” of President Trump-appointed judges. “Working for such a judge,” Ms. Feldblum continued, “indelibly marks a lawyer as lacking the character and judgment necessary to practice law.” These comments could threaten the careers of all conservative and libertarian students, or anyone who tinkers for duly confirmed but underprivileged judges. But Georgetown did nothing.
• In April of this year, months after my tweet, Ms. Feldblum tweeted, “We only have one political party in this country, the Democrats. The other group is a combination of a cult and a crime syndicate supporting the insurgency. She continued, “The only ethically and politically responsible stance to take toward the Republican ‘party’ is to consistently emphasize that it is no longer a legitimate participant in American constitutional democracy.” Unlike me, Ms. Feldblum teaches first-year law students in required courses. This pattern of remarks has created a hostile educational environment for Republican students – a protected class under the District of Columbia’s anti-discrimination law. The tweets were quietly deleted without an apology or disciplinary action.
• Last month, law professor Josh Chafetz tweeted: “The line of ‘protest at Supreme Court, not Justices’ houses’ would be more persuasive if the Court had not erected a fence this week to prevent protesters to approach it. He added: “When the crowd is right, some (but not all!) more aggressive tactics are warranted.” He later invited “people” to “tag @GeorgetownLaw” and taunted that the school “wasn’t going to fire me for a tweet you don’t like.”
Mr. Chafetz was surely right on the last point. Apparently, it’s free speech for you, not for me.
It’s all well and good to adopt strong free speech policies, but it’s not enough if university administrators aren’t prepared to stand up to those who demand censorship. And the problem is not limited to loose administrators. The proliferation of IDEA style offices imposes an orthodoxy that stifles intellectual diversity, undermines equal opportunity and excludes dissenting voices. Even the dean of an elite law school opposes these bureaucrats at his peril.
What Georgetown has subjected me to, what it would subject me to if I stayed, is a rowdy veto that leads to a Star Chamber. “Don’t live on lies,” warned Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. “Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.
I will not live like this.
Mr. Shapiro is a former executive director of Georgetown Law’s Center for the Constitution and author of “Supreme Disorder: Judicial Nominations and the Politics of America’s Highest Court.”
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