Conservative Cornell law professor under “coordinated attack” after criticizing Black Lives Matter

Monday, July 6, 2020
By Paul Martin

by: Franz Walker
Monday, July 06, 2020

Since he started the popular conservative blog Legal Insurrection, Cornell University’s William Jacobson has faced multiple calls for his ouster. While the law professor thought that he had gotten used to these petitions, the personal attacks against him have escalated in the wake of the George Floyd protests.

“On [the Black Lives Matter (BLM)] issue, you cannot deviate one iota or they will try to get you kicked out of the school, they will falsely accuse you of being racist, they will do a ‘name and shame’ campaign against you,” said Jacobson in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon.

BLM calls for Jacobson to be fired after op-eds

For publicly critiquing their ideology, supporters of the BLM movement, with help from the Black Law Student Association, law school faculty and Cornell alumni are calling on the university to fire Jacobson.

“There is an effort underway to get me fired at Cornell Law School, where I’ve worked since November 2007, or if not fired, at least denounced publicly by the school,” Jacobson wrote on his site on June 11. As part of this, he condemned any insinuation that he was a racist.

Jacobson wrote that he’s been in an “awkward relationship” with Cornell’s “overwhelmingly liberal atmosphere” for years, especially since he started his website in 2008.

According to Jacobson, he’s tried his best to separate Legal Insurrection from his work at Cornell. He admitted that his website and political views have always felt like an “elephant in every room,” however, he has been largely successful in keeping his careers separate.

For the most part, the people who called on Cornell to sack Jacobson tended to come from off-campus political and ideological opponents, with the Cornell administration defending his right to speak publicly.

That all changed when he wrote about the history and tactics of the BLM movement.

In early June, Jacobson wrote two articles criticizing the “fabricated narrative” that emerged after the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri — an incident that President Barack Obama’s Justice Department determined as justified — as well as the riots and looting that followed George Floyd’s death at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Following the publication of the articles, 21 members of Cornell’s law faculty penned a letter to the editor at the Cornell Daily Sun. The letter accused Jacobson of being a racist masquerading as an informed commentary writer.

“These commentators are the defenders of institutionalized racism and violence. They are entitled to their viewpoints. We do not name them, so as to deprive them of a larger platform for their racist speech,” the faculty wrote in the letter. “As clinical teachers who have spent our lives promoting social justice, combatting discrimination and teaching tolerance, we cannot allow their hateful vitriol to go unchallenged.”

In response to the letter, Cornell administration summoned Jacobson to a meeting on June 8. According to the latter, the meeting was contentious, with law school dean Eduardo Penalver reading Jacobson the letters from alumni calling for his sacking.

Following the meeting, Penalver publicly condemned Jacobson in a statement. He called the posts “both offensive and poorly reasoned.” According to Jacobson, the dean abused his position when making these statements.

Jacobson pointed out that deans do not normally take the same kind of institutional position on faculty speech that Penalver did. He stated that, when speaking on behalf of the university, Penalver’s personal opinions should not enter into the discussion.

Punishment for ideological reasons hurts intellectual freedom

Despite most of the faculty going against him, some Cornell students have expressed support for Jacobson. The professor has been praised by the school’s College Republicans for giving students a critical perspective on a contentious issue. According to chapter president Weston Baker, punishing any academic for ideological reasons is counter to the university’s mission.

“At no point, to our knowledge, has Professor Jacobson ever devalued the lives of black Americans. Instead, he has been critical of a movement which demands radical policy reform,” said Barker.

Barker said that, when confronted with policy demands that could have implications on the workings of public life, Jacobson has approached and investigated the demands with critical care.

Jacobson has since condemned the current political environment, saying that it was a toxic one wherein intellectual diversity and differences of opinion were not tolerated.

“This is not just about me. It’s about the intellectual freedom and vibrancy of Cornell and other higher education institutions, and the society at large,” he wrote.

“Open inquiry and debate are core features of a vibrant intellectual community.”

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