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New York University draws attention to ‘inconsistent’ approach to free speech after defending professor’s controversial 9/11 tweets

Syracuse University has been criticized by faculty members for its “very selective” defense of free speech, after supporting a professor who claimed that 9/11 was an “attack on the systems that many White Americans are fighting to protect “.

Last Friday, Jenn M. Jackson, an assistant professor of political science at the New York-based university, sparked outrage after tweeting that the terrorist attacks were a response to “Heteropatriarchal capitalist systems”. Jackson made the remarks in a series of tweets that have since been protected by privacy settings.

“We need to be more honest about what 9/11 was and what it wasn’t. It was an attack on the heteropatriarchal capitalist systems on which America relies to drag other countries into passivity ”, Jackson had written, according to screenshots of the tweets which were shared widely.

In the tweets – made a day before the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks – Jackson allegedly claimed to have been “Really disturbed by the number of white experts and correspondents that are talking about” 9/11. According to the Daily Wire, the professor also took issue with the idea that “September 11 was the first time Americans felt fear. “

“White Americans may not have really felt real fear before 9/11 because they never felt what it meant to be accessible, vulnerable and on the receiving side of military violence at home. But, the experiences of white Americans do not replace “America”, Jackson wrote.

After the remarks sparked widespread condemnation and calls for his dismissal, officials at Syracuse University released a statement on Monday supporting Jackson’s right to free speech, “As uncomfortable as it can make anyone feel.” “

Noting that Jackson had been the target of “Harassment and violent threats”, school officials said they don’t “condemn the professor’s comments” nor fire her. In the statement, they noted that “Freedom of expression for all, whatever the political spectrum” was one of “Key values”, even if it was “Offensive, hurtful or provocative”.

The majority of commentators applauded the university for its public stance, but some academics at the university accused officials of exhibiting a “very selective” direction of “Concern for the rights of teachers” and underlined a lack of consistency in its application of the rules of freedom of expression.

“Our administrator’s defense of professors’ freedom of expression would be much more impressive if he hadn’t recently suspended a distinguished full professor for a semester for making a single reference to the ‘Wuhan flu’,” tweeted Matt Cleary, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science.

Last year, the university put chemistry professor Jon Zubieta on administrative leave for using “pejorative language” against Chinese and Asian American students. The punishment came after footage from a lesson plan in which Zubieta referred to the Covid-19 virus as the “Wuhan flu” and “Chinese Communist Party Virus”.

While “Equivocally” Denouncing Jackson’s comments, Cleary and a number of others, including Syracuse faculty members, defended his right to express an opinion. Economics professor Devashish Mitra hoped the university would adopt a “More consistent application of this policy of freedom of expression” go forward.

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