Cornell Prof. William Jacobson on the push to get him fired (or denounced)

Professor William Jacobson has been a thorn in the left’s collective side for years. His blog Legal Insurrection has done some great original reporting over the years including reports last year on the legal battle between Gibson’s Bakery and Oberlin College. But despite having blogged about hot-button topics since 2008, Professor Jacobson has never had a push to get him fired or denounced like the one he says is taking place now.

Living as a conservative on a liberal campus is like being the mouse waiting for the cat to pounce.

For over 12 years, the Cornell cat did not pounce. Though there were frequent and aggressive attempts by outsiders to get me fired, including threats and harassment, it always came from off campus…

Not until now, to the best of my knowledge, has there been an effort from inside the Cornell community to get me fired.

The impetus for the effort was two posts I wrote at Legal Insurrection regarding the history and tactics of the Black Lives Matter Movement:

Jacobson is of course correct about the history of “Hands up, don’t shoot.” That was a false claim (among many false claims) about the Michael Brown shooting. But the fact that it was false doesn’t seem to matter to the protesters around the country who are still chanting it or to the media which never seems interested in reminding people this has been fact-checked already. It didn’t happen.

Despite this, the pushback started with a series of emails from law school alumni to the Dean of the law school. Jacobson writes that the emails appear to be part of a coordinated effort because, “some of the emails were in a template form.” So far the Dean is defending Jacobson’s right to free speech. Meanwhile, a group of colleagues co-signed a letter to the student paper which said in part:

As individuals and as professors, we oppose racism in all its forms. We are outraged by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and by the killings of countless other Black people who have lost their lives as a result of racialized violence. We are also outraged by commentators, some of them attached to Ivy League Institutions, who are leading a smear campaign against Black Lives Matter. In describing the protests, they deliberately use terms like “wilding,” a racially loaded term coined in 1989 to describe the imagined actions of five innocent Black teenagers (Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray and Yusef Salaam) who were wrongly convicted and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for the assault of a White jogger. These commentators express rage over the sporadic looting that has taken place amidst the largely peaceful protests, calling for organized manhunts to track down those responsible. Theirs is a form of racism that gives cover to those police who use their batons and tear gas and rubber bullets and fists to silence and maim their critics.

While Jacobson isn’t mentioned by name, it’s pretty clear who they are talking about. He adds that the Black Law Student Association has decided not to push for his ouster but only because they don’t want to bring more attention to his blog. Instead they are seeking to have him denounced as a racist.

BLSA and other groups are working on their own effort against me. Based on documents I’ve seen, there was consideration of demanding my firing, but it appears to have moved away from that not because they don’t want me fired, but “because calling for his firing would only draw more attention to his blog and bolster his platform, and we do not want to give him that satisfaction.” The plan is to call for “the law school to unequivocally denounce his rhetoric, acknowledge the harm caused by subjecting students to his racist pedagogy, and critically examine the views of the people they employ as professors of the law.” They plan to circulate the petition to the law school community and to “inform incoming students” of the situation.

Rather than try to respond through the student paper, Jacobson suggested a representative from his critics should agree to hold a debate with him on the issue:

In this toxic political environment in which intellectual diversity and differences of opinion are not tolerated, trying to shut down debate through false accusations of racism seems to be the preferred tactic.

I challenge a representative of those student groups and a faculty member of their choosing to a public debate at the law school regarding the Black Lives Matter Movement, so that I can present my argument and confront the false allegations in real time rather than having to respond to baseless community email blasts. I ask the law school to arrange an in-person live-streamed debate during fall term, or if for some reason the law school does not have in-person instruction, to arrange a ‘virtual’ format.

Will anyone step up to defend BLM’s honor? Maybe such a debate could actually bring some light to this subject. Jacobson concludes we are living in times reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution in China.

We are living in extraordinarily dangerous times, reminiscent of the Chinese Communist Cultural Revolution, in which professors guilty of wrongthink were publicy denounced and fired at the behest of students who insisted on absolute ideological orthodoxy. It’s a way of instilling terror in other students, faculty, staff, and society, so that others shut up and don’t voice dissenting views. We are seeing monuments destroyed in Taliban-fashion because they represent an uncomfortable history, movies and TV shows cancelled, and individuals disappeared from employment due to even the slightest deviation from the prevailing political culture.

Whether you agree with him or not, Professor Jacobson ought to have the right to his own opinions without the threat of being fired or denounced. Here’s hoping the school will continue to defend his rights from those who would seek to punish him for his refusal to kowtow to the new orthodoxy.