Rutgers says white professor’s ‘a**hole Caucasian’ posts are racist
NEW BRUNSWICK — A white professor who posted complaints against "a**hole" white people “overrunning” a Harlem neighborhood and restaurant has been found guilty by Rutgers University of violating its anti-discrimination policy.
James Livingston, a history professor who gets paid more than $129,000 with nearly 30 years of experience, could face discipline “up to and including discharge” after university officials determined his comments “could be interpreted as impermissibly racist” and could cause “reputational damage to the university.”
Livingston said his posts were not racist because they were sarcasm in the context of criticizing gentrification — housing and business development that can force out a neighborhood’s existing, and usually lower income and minority, residents.
Livingston lost an appeal of last month’s decision.
The professor is now being supported by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), who argue that the university is infringing on Livingston’s free speech rights by caving to “an online outrage mob.”
FIRE has threatened to take Rutgers to court. The organization is behind a lawsuit filed earlier this year against Essex County College over its firing of professor and former Green Party lieutenant governor candidate Lisa Durden. Durden, a black woman, took heat after going on Fox News Channel's "Tucker Carlson Tonight" to defend a Black Lives Matter event that only invited black people.
The posts by both professors raised the question of whether white people can truly be victims of racial discrimination. (For more on that: They say no; they say yes.) In an Aug. 10 letter rejecting Livingston's appeal, Associate Vice President of Labor Relations Larry Agnostak said Rutgers' anti-discrimination policies are "color blind" and apply to all races.
"Your objections and claims to the contrary, protection from discrimination applies to Caucasians equally as it applies to other races," Agnostak said.
On May 31, Livingston visited the Harlem restaurant and later posted his comment on Facebook, writing that the restaurant was “overrun with little Caucasian a**holes who know their parents will approve anything they do.”
“I hearby resign from my race,” he added.
After Facebook told Livingston that his post violated the social network's policy on hate speech, the professor wrote another post.
"I just don't want little Caucasians overrunning my life, as they did last night. Please God, remand them to the suburbs, where they and their parents can colonize every restaurant, all the while pretending that the idiotic indulgence of their privilege signifies cosmopolitan--you know, as in sophisticated 'European'—commitments,” he wrote.
The comment made national headlines following a report by The Daily Caller, a conservative website that often writes about conservatives being denied platforms to speak on college campuses.
In a letter to Rutgers University last week, FIRE litigation director Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon questioned whether any actual university student or employee complained about Livingston. The professor has argued that the complaints were ginned up by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and internet trolls.
The letter also points out that the U.S. and state constitutions protect speech even if it’s offensive and controversial. The advocacy group also cites Supreme Court precedent defending a public employee’s right to engage in speech about matters of public concern.
"By capitulating to anonymous outrage generated by an internet mob rather than defending a faculty member’s right to freedom of expression, Rutgers has shamefully betrayed its obligation to its faculty and the public, trivialized actual racial harassment, and signaled to would-be censors nationwide that its faculty may be silenced at will and without resistance," Beck-Coon's letter says.
Livingston said Rutgers’ “intellectual mission” is “being overridden for the sake of public relations.”
“Allowing human resource administrators to tell a professor of 30 years what he can and can’t say on Facebook means that the tradition of academic freedom in our public universities is essentially over. I respect that tradition too much not to protest,” Livingston said last week.
“I’m also a fan of the Constitution, which is equally under assault here,” he said. “I very much hope the university will see its way to overturning this finding of ‘reverse racism’ and reaffirming the democratic freedoms that Rutgers has long stood for.”