Campus Free Speech Controversies from Coast to Coast: Cases from U. of Oregon and Drexel

Campus speech controversies continue to occur across the country, with the latest coming out of Eugene, Oregon and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

At the University of Oregon, law professor Nancy Shurtz hosted a costume party at her home, the theme of which was to dress as a book, and to which she invited her students. Professor Shurtz dressed as the book Black Man in a White Coat by Damon Tweedy, a memoir of a black man beginning a medical career. She wore a white lab coat as well as black
face makeup and a wig to portray this book. Many students took exception to this costume, and much acrimonious debate ensued. The University has held that Professor Shurtz’s costume violated the University’s harassment policy. The university’s findings are described here by Inside Higher Education. For a useful commentary on this case, see this short essay by Eugene Volokh.

At Drexel University in Philadelphia, another professor, George Ciccariello-Maher, has been drawn into the free speech debate via a Christmas Eve tweet in which he proclaimed “All I want for Christmas is white genocide.” While Professor Ciccariello-Maher professes to have meant the tweet as a satirical commentary on the rhetoric of the alt-right, Drexel initially responded by calling the tweet “utterly reprehensible” and “deeply disturbing.” Later, the university issued a second statement, which toned down its response and also affirmed professor Ciccariello-Maher’s rights to free speech. Inside Higher Education has a good summary of the story, which has also been covered by FIRE, Reason, and the AAUP blog.