In Defense of Michael Chikindas

BY JOHN K. WILSON

On Friday, Rutgers University demoted professor Michael Chikindas, banned him from teaching any required classes, and announced they would seek to suspend him for a semester, all because of his anti-Semitic comments on his personal social media.

Based on his posts, I think Chikindas is an anti-Semite, and an idiot. Nevertheless, he should not be punished for his extramural comments. The explanation is pretty simple: Rutgers’ rules explicitly prohibit this, and those rules exist for a good reason. If we allow personal opinions to be the basis of penalties, almost any controversial professor could be punished.

The Rutgers policy on Academic Freedom explicitly prohibits punishing anyone for extramural utterances. Rutgers’ protections for extramural utterances are even stronger than the AAUP’s policies. According to Rutgers, “Outside the fields of instruction, artistic expression, research, professional and clinical practice, and professional publication, faculty members, as private citizens, enjoy the same freedoms of speech and expression as any private citizen and shall be free from institutional discipline in the exercise of these rights. The conduct of the faculty member shall be in accordance with standards dictated by law.”

Unlike the AAUP (which allows for extramural utterances to be punished in rare cases where it “clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness for his or her position”), Rutgers allows for no exceptions, unless perhaps if a professor has violated the law (which Chikindas obviously didn’t).

At a Rutgers town hall last month, President Robert Barchi declared, “You may not like what the guy says, but you have to like the fact that he can say it.” Apparently Barchi doesn’t really like the fact that he can say it, since he now plans to punish Chikindas for it.

According to an account of the event,

Barchi said that his administration confirmed “with the state’s attorney and with our legal scholars” that Chikindas’ postings are constitutionally protected, “so there’s nothing there that is actionable.”

He added that the university is investigating whether Chikindas’ postings “create an environment in his work that would compromise his ability to teach or do research.”

This is a troubling analysis. Barchi admitted that Chikindas postings were protected speech. Even if Chikindas’ postings did create an “environment” that would affect his teaching or research (due to protests or people refusing to work with him or fund his research), that cannot be grounds for punishment. Chikindas can only be punished for his own misconduct, not for the reaction to it by others.

Barchi also announced about Chikindas, “up until this point, his teaching record is actually very strong.” This indicates that Rutgers found nothing wrong with Chikindas’ work as a professor, and is punishing him purely for expressing his opinions.

According to the Rutgers letter, Chikindas “was found to have posted extensive bigoted, discriminatory, and anti-Semitic material on social media.”

This is a strange judgment. The bigoted and anti-Semitic parts are accurate, I think. But what exactly is “discriminatory” about a social media post? Discrimination is an act against someone violating their rights. Social media opinions are not in themselves discriminatory. They could sometimes indicate beliefs that might cause a professor to engage in discrimination. But it appears that Rutgers investigated and found no acts of discrimination in Chikindas’ professional work (or otherwise they would have certainly promoted that fact).

The letter declared, “This material perpetuated toxic stereotypes and was deeply upsetting to Jewish students, faculty, and staff across our community.”

Perpetuating “toxic stereotypes” is not a violation of any campus rules, nor is upsetting people. For example, suppose a professor declared that gay men have a propensity to molest children, or that many victims who claim to be raped are making it up, or that Muslims are a terrorist threat, or that religious believers are childish idiots, or that people from the South are in-bred hicks, or that blacks are less intelligent than whites on average. These are various toxic stereotypes that are deeply upsetting. But that cannot justify punishing a professor for expressing them.

There are four punishments against Chikindas announced in the letter, all of which are highly dubious.

1) “removed from teaching required courses.” This is very unusual. If he is qualified to teach classes, then that should include required courses. The fact that some students feel uncomfortable about a professor’s views is not a good reason to ban them from teaching required courses. If the professor is the best qualified person to teach those courses, then it is a violation of the rights of other students (and a violation of the professor’s academic freedom) to ban that professor from teaching such classes. In the 1991 case of Levin v. Harleston, a federal judge ruled that City Colleges of New York had violated the rights of Michael Levin (who had said blacks have inferior intelligence) by creating “shadow classes” that “were established with the intent and consequence of stigmatizing Professor Levin solely because of his expression of ideas.” Creating parallel classes so that students do not have to take a class from an offensive professor was deemed unconstitutional. The far more serious step of actually banning the professor from teaching required classes is even more clearly unconstitutional.

2) “He has been removed from his leadership position as director of the Center for Digestive Health at the Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health. No Rutgers employee will be required to work in an administrative unit that he heads.”

Although universities have broader discretion over administrative units, that still does not allow them to punish professors by removing them from jobs for the expression of their political beliefs, particularly when these are research-based positions, and there appears to be no workplace misconduct to justify the decision.

3) “He will be required to participate in a cultural sensitivity training program, and will be subject to ongoing monitoring if and when he returns to the classroom.”

Mandatory sensitivity training targeted at an individual as a punishment for the expression of personal views is highly dubious. Monitoring of a teacher in the classroom is also a threat to academic freedom, particularly when Rutgers has presented no evidence of misconduct in the classroom.

4) “Finally, Professor Chikindas has been notified that the university is seeking further disciplinary action through procedures required by Appendix H of the collective bargaining agreement with our faculty union.”

Appendix H refers to a one-semester suspension without pay. This indicates that the already severe punishments being imposed on Chikindas are only the beginning. It also raises the question of whether any due process has been followed in the current punishments.

Rutgers needs to explain how a policy stating that extramural utterances “shall be free from institutional discipline” can justify all of this institutional discipline, apparently without adequate due process, for what is purely private speech.

18 thoughts on “In Defense of Michael Chikindas

  1. The central causal explanation isn’t the alleged or disciplined speaker, or the President of Rutgers. It isn’t the Rutgers faculty, University policy per se, or even Trustees. It is the lobbying by AIPAC and its president, Lillian Pinkus; Chairman Cohen and former CEO Kuhr. The Simon Wisenthal Center and its governance, and the “ADL” and its head, Foxman, and now Greenblatt, are also rather influential in pressuring ideological conformity in the state-industry-academic triad. These radical Zionists pursue, finance and effect by threatened enforcement, a special interest agenda. Trump Administration, Israel imbedded assets are also of influence, especially Miller. The Academy won’t actually talk about it, or confront it. They line up behind these institutions as a matter of economic self-interest, latent ideology and a general fear of confrontation. Don’t single out Rutgers. The problem isn’t in employment issues, but in employability issues, and in economic bribery and effective blackmail. That may sound extreme. Perhaps consider however, the radical aggression of David Horowtiz of the Freedom Center at U. Chicago and its “blacklist” strategy of libeling, threatening, and even destroying critics of Israel; of the Israel-based terror construct, or even the Likud Party payments to US politicians (and reference Illinois Congressman Peter Roskam and his “Anti Semitism” Bill, or Illinois Governor Rauner, his first piece of Israel-First legislation, both after being pressured by the Crown and Pritzker families, and U.Chicago president Zimmer, to sign the Anti-BDS Bill in Illinois). The Likud Party is out of control. Netanyahu founded the GWOT construct at Israel’s Jonathan Institute. It has infected the entire Western world. At my alma, the University of Chicago, Jewish special interests have turned it into what could be reasonably interpreted as “Yeshiva University of the Midwest.” That is not only culturally misguided, but economic counter-productive. Readers may appreciate my opinion in The University of Chicago Magazine, “Talking About Free Speech.’ Free speech, otherwise, anyone? Regards.

    • Just to clarify something in your comment that some might misread, the phrase “the radical aggression of David Horowtiz of the Freedom Center at U. Chicago” refers to David Horowitz’s attacks on the U of Chicago as one of the top 10 terrorist-supporting campuses; David Horowitz’s David Horowitz Freedom Center is not at the U of Chicago, of course. For your larger point, I see no evidence that any of these people you mention had any influence on Rutgers. But nowadays, college administrators usually don’t need to be lobbied to censor controversial faculty; they do it of their own choice.

    • It’s postings such as this the exemplify the need to censure Prof. Chikindas. Mr Andersson feels empowered to post his anti-semitic diatribe, blaming all manner of Jews, with undo influence of Rutgers without a shred of evidence, except his own warped mind. He does this in a public, academic forum, counting on academic freedom to protect him. Neither Prof. Chikindas nor Mr Andersson are engaged in academic debates. They are both simply spreading age old Semitic ideas in the best tradition of the ‘Elders’. It’s not surprising that the students and faculty of Rutgers want Chikindas to be removed. I’m sure there are plenty of other R.U. faculty members who debate these issues without the extra hate.

  2. This is a blatant violation of academic freedom, and, since Rutgers is public, of university neutrality in politics. Rutgers should be ashamed of itself. Prof. Chikindas, if you need help, do contact me. Note that like the author of this post I disagree with you (I applaud Trump’s move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, for example), but I fully oppose Rutgers’s persecution of you. I hope your colleagues aren’t too gutless to stand up for you.
    —Eric Rasmusen, Professor of Business Economics and Public Policy, Indiana University.

  3. Pingback: Professor won't teach required courses due to anti-Semitic posts on social media

  4. The Levin case is simply inapposite; it holds that relegation to shadow classes is a harm that can sustain a first amendment cause of action, and nothing more. The relevant test is (likely) the Pickering test, under which a public employee can be terminated if her speech creates an unacceptable risk of disrupting the business of the employer. Virulently anti-semitic speech probably fits that bill.

    • The Pickering test is about balancing the right to speak on matters of public concern against disrupting official job duties. It’s clear that he caused no disruption of his work at Rutgers. If affecting “the business of the employer” is the standard, then anyone who says anything controversial that offends donors, politicians, students, or parents could be fired. That’s clearly not what the Pickering test says. The point of the Levin case is that you can’t ban required courses (or even create shadow classes) unless you had the justification to fire the professor, which even Rutgers hasn’t claimed is justified.

  5. I wonder if this guy had used the typical ugly stereotypes/names about African Americans (all the N words) -would he receive the same defense that as long as he is a qualified teacher, then his private opinions shouldn’t matter?

  6. Mr. Anderson’s comments regarding freedom of academic expression are inextricably intertwined with classic anti-Semitic dog whistles. He could have certainly made his position without resorting to venomous scree.

  7. The one place where an ‘academic’ might be expected to be minimally competent would be in accurate use of language. Given this, the continued propagandistic use of “Anti-semite” in reference to the Turkic Ashkenazim (EuroJews) by any ‘educated’ person can only be interpreted as a conscious lie. And, regarding TRUE anti-semitism, this racial hatred is nowhere expressed more openly nor more virulently than by the zionists who have been the historical enemy of the moderate Jew since Herzl wrote his racist thesis over 100 years ago. There is no discernible difference between the values and behaviors of the zionists, particularly in Occupied Palestine (OC), than we saw in the nazis of the Third Reich. Gaza is a concentration camp in any sense of the term as are other areas of Palestine and this murderous abuse of a captive native population reminds us of what Europeans did to Native Americans, a process well underway in Palestine: Ethnic cleansing and outright Genocide of a people who themselves actually carry the descended “Seed” of the Chosen Hebrews from Hebrews converted hundreds of years ago. The so-called Mizrahim, the actual Hebrews, are second class citizens in OC while the ersatz Euro Ashkenazi zionists murder or imprison anyone who disagrees with their own psychotic racism. All of the above is expressed and observed behavior of these neonazis whose labels are different but whose behaviors and values differ not at all from their previous oppressors. The zionists do not care about ‘Jews’ in general, only those who believe their lies. If you doubt this, look up “One cow in Palestine…” and read the history. These racist monsters are a greater danger to worldwide Jewry than any other belief system on our planet. They act in the name of all Jews and until all Jews repudiate these psychopaths and their poisonous vision, the Shoah is only in hiatus. Criticizing the zionists has NOTHING whatsoever to do with ‘anti-semitism’ and everything to do with sanity. Here, as in 1936 Germany, we see a critic of the ‘power’ sequestered into an invisible ‘prison’. Michael Chikindas doesn’t hate Jews, he hates zionists but, like so many, he can’t tell the difference between Jews and the virulent poison of zionist extremism. If FDR had been a nazi sympathizer, he would have been trump. That these twisted minds have the power to reach into an American University and demand the violation of sacred national and institutional values to punish and silence a critic is, by itself, cause for grave concern regarding our own political process and its current deviancy from rationality. Anti-Ashkenazism, per se, is a racist disease which is growing with the outrage of the continued butchering of the native Palestinians and with the state of hatred which the European invaders have established in the Mideast among the Semites who they hate with insane fervor. If ‘Jews’ want to live in peace and equality, rabid anti-zionism is the only sane response and separation from zionism as the world begins to become aware of the profound threat that such an international hate-based, nuclear armed and psychopathic entity presents to all of us. We must do to zionism what we did to naziism or to any psychotic political system which considers itself naturally dominant over everyone else. Behavior. Rhetoric means nothing. Behavior is what a person is and we have seen enough from the Euros in Palestine to see the evil which these people have fallen into.

  8. I know Mike Chikindas for many years for collaborating with him, acting also associate editor in a journal he is leading, I never heard from him any discriminatory speech, or depreciation of any religion. For these reasons, I am horrified by all these accusations he is facing. I know him as helpful, gentleman, bright scientist devoted for his students and university !
    I ignore what he posted or what was posted on his behalf on his personal FB page ! If any evidence is clearly establishing his authorship for anti-semtite, homophobia, racism supports, I will withdrawn him my respect.
    In my opinion this ballyhoo is not useful, and the problem has to be solved internally, at Rutgers University by all the means requested and NOT on the social media. He is before everything also a man !
    I do hope this nightmarish situation will end nearly and everyone with recover his/her tranquility.

  9. Where do you draw the line at blatant bigotry?

    There cannot be an attitude that bigotry is allowable no matter the case – as long as the professor has tenure.

    I also must ask why “Andersonn” and “Bjornson” – (possibly the same person perhaps?)
    are not condemned by blogger Wilson for their pathological anti-Jewish comments on this blog.

    Is the sole concern here with giving Chikindas the benefit of the doubt or in being apologists for outrageous and highly unprofessional and harmful behavior?

    Where do you draw the line sir? What must a professor do and say to cross over that line?

    • Where is the line drawn? It’s at discriminatory actions. So, professors can express anti-Semitic views (or racist or sexist ideas) in their personal opinions, but they are not allowed to, say, give bad grades to Jewish students because of their identity. In general, I tend not to respond to ignorant comments like Andersonn and Bjornson’s, since I prefer to discuss arguments rather than accuse people of bigotry, which is why I dismissed Andersonn (after correcting an error) and ignored Bjornson.

  10. Pingback: Facebook Hate and the University - Open Inquiry Project

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don’t impersonate a real person.