A professor at New York University says he’s been suspended from teaching after colleagues denounced his “incivility” in publicly attacking trigger warning, safe spaces, and other aspects of political correctness on American campuses.
Liberal studies professor Michael Rictenwald admitted in an interview last week that he is Deplorable NYU Professor, a Twitter personality launched in September that repeatedly attacks the current political environment on campuses.
“The trigger warning, safe spaces and bias hotline reporting is not politically correct. It is insane,” Rictenwald said in the interview. “This stuff is producing a culture of hypervigilance, self-surveillance and panopticism … Identity politics on campus have made an infirmary of the whole, damn campus.”
Now, Rictenwald says his dissent has gotten him in trouble with administrators and his fellow faculty members.
In a letter to NYU’s student paper published just two days after Rictenwald’s interview, 12 students, administrators, and faculty within the liberal studies department denounced his statements in no uncertain terms. Specifically, they bashed him for calling trigger warnings “insane,” because this invalidated the experiences of the mentally ill.
“Professor Rectenwald’s rhetoric repeatedly suggests that mental illness invalidates the ideas and feelings of those who live with it,” the letter says. “We categorically reject such rhetoric and its stigmatizing effects. We reject, too, Professor Rectenwald’s efforts to gaslight those who would disagree with him and to silence responses to his incendiary rhetoric by dismissing claims before they are reasonably made.”
The letter also faults Rectenwald for other alleged “logical fallacies,” ultimately condemning him as “guilty of illogic and incivility in a community that predicates its work in great part on rational thought and the civil exchange of ideas.”
The same day the letter was published, Rectenwald told the New York Post, he was summoned to a meeting with the department dean and an NYU human resources representative.
“They claimed they were worried about me and a couple people had expressed concern about my mental health,” Rectenwald said. He was subsequently placed on leave from the classroom.
NYU, though, told the Post that Rectenwald’s suspension has “absolutely zero” to do with the opinions he expresses, despite the timing. The school wouldn’t say what the real reason was.
In a statement to NYU Local, another student publication, spokesman Matt Nagel implied Rectenwald himself may have requested the leave he is denouncing.
“Speaking generally, and without regard to a specific individual, leaves of the kind you’re asking about are typically granted at the request of the employee, not required of the employee,” Nagel said.
When contacted by the Local, student and Liberal Studies Student Council member Tiger Kneller expressed approval that Rectenwald was no longer teaching, and suggested that Rectenwald’s statements shouldn’t be treated as protected free speech because of his faculty role.
“What one voices privately deserves protection, but as a professor, one must realize they initiate the conditions of a learning environment, and those conditions must have a basis of support for all students,” Kneller said.
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