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Episode Info: PODCAST: A tenured professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington was recently fired—or strong-armed into early retirement at age 55—for making some controversial statements on Twitter. His name was Mike Adams. I use the past tense because days after being fired he took his own life, his career and his reputation having been “cancelled,” to use the current term for this increasingly popular phenomenon. Tenured professors are not supposed to be fired for expressing opinions, including when those views are controversial or indelicately expressed, as some of his were. He was a Christian conservative at a time when university trends run very much in the opposite direction and have been for a long time. Professor Adams was also a prominent defender of free speech within the university and a critic of speech codes. He was fired by the chancellor of that university, a man by the name of Jose Sartarelli, who referred to some of Professor Adams’ tweets as “vile,” “distasteful,” “upsetting,” and a few similar epithets. I haven’t read any of Professor Adams’ books—he has published a few—and I’m not about to defend either his tweets, his political position, or his worldview as a whole. Professors know that when we make public statements, whether it’s writing a book or sending out a tweet, we can expect criticism. This is fair game. What we don’t expect is to have our careers destroyed, or ourselves. I learned of his existence just a few weeks ago when I read a news story about his firing. As someone who cares more than a little about free speech, I sent an email to Jose Sartarelli to protest his action. Here’s what I wrote to him: “At a time when universities need to be reinforcing the principle of free speech, both within universities and the broader society, your university is sending exactly the wrong message at the wrong time. I am writing to express my disappointment and strong disapproval of the decision to part ways with Professor Mike Adams. I have never heard of Professor Adams before today, and I haven’t read his work. I’m also not well disposed to what he was quoted in news reports as saying, but the point isn’t whether I or anyone approves of what he has said but his right to speak without fear of censure. I view your university’s decision as an act of moral cowardice and hypocrisy—assuming your university at least professes to value freedom of expression and inquiry. I haven’t heard of University of North Carolina Wilmington before today and I don’t know how serious an institution it is, but I expect this episode will badly damage your university’s reputation.” I was trying to be diplomatic. I assume it’s not a serious institution at all. Mr. Sartarelli didn’t reply to my message and I don’t expect him to. Professor Adams was a controversial individual. In some ways h...
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