Yet another controversy over free speech has erupted at San Diego State University, where 27 faculty and directors expressed anger with President Adela de la Torre for using Twitter to criticize a dean who made demeaning remarks about political conservatives.

A faculty group says that de la Torre was wrong to publicly rebuke Monica Casper, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, for the remarks she made on a private Twitter account — even though, they said, some of the responses to Casper’s comments included threats of violence against her and the campus community.

The group is composed of department chairs and program directors in Arts and Letters, who say in a draft letter to de la Torre, “We expect a clear and immediate defense of our academic freedom and freedom of expression from the administration, with no tolerance for violence or the threat of violence.”

The so-called CAL Chairs & Directors Only Group, or CDOG, voted 27-0 to send the letter to de la Torre and Provost Salvador Hector Ochoa. There was one abstention, and one person did not vote.

“We are specifically making this a private internal message to them and we have zero intention of making this a public matter,” according to an email sent to CDOG members on Wednesday by David Kamper, chair of American Indian Studies at SDSU. “It is expressly NOT a public discussion.”

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A member of the campus community shared the email and letter with the Union-Tribune.

The controversy began in early December when Casper said on Twitter, “Just so we’re clear on the Right’s agenda: racism good, abortion bad, money good, women bad, capitalism good, sustainability bad, stupidity good, science bad, power good, equality bad, white people good, nonwhite people bad. Stench, indeed.”

Casper also said on Twitter that Kyle Rittenhouse’s recent acquittal in the fatal shooting of two people in Wisconsin represented an act of White supremacy.

In a move that it is rare in academia, de la Torre decided to criticize her dean publicly. On Jan. 3, the president said on Twitter, “As we closed out 2021, a difficult year for many people, we know there are those who are hurt and unhappy about Twitter posts by SDSU Dean Monica Casper.

“I will always stand by the right to free speech, but I do not condone or agree with what she said. I do not support actions that seek to divide us or undermine civic discourse for any reason.

“At SDSU, we welcome everyone. We benefit from learning from one another when we participate in civic engagement across the spectrum of social and political discourse, even when we disagree with one another. This is what makes our university great.”

Casper did not respond to a request for comment about de la Torre’s remarks when the Union-Tribune reached out to her last week. She also did not respond to a request for comment about the letter produced by CDOG.

Kamper also did not respond to a request for comment.

De la Torre declined to offer comment for this story.

Free speech controversies have roiled campuses throughout the nation in recent years, particularly during the rise of the cancel culture movement. SDSU, which has about 35,000 students, has been at the center of some of those flareups.

In December 2019, SDSU praised a student who proposed a summit on U.S. reparations for slavery and the fact that he came up with a list of possible speakers. Things quickly changed when a faculty member pointed out that the speaker’s list included Ava Muhammad, a minister and author who has often spoken on behalf of Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam.

The Anti-Defamation League had accused Muhammad of “loudly sharing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories” espoused by Farrakhan.

SDSU soon announced that the student promoting the summit, Terry Sivers, had revised his list to avoid “those who have espoused anti-Semitic rhetoric in the past.”

Tensions rose again in July 2020 when a little known advisory committee urged SDSU’s University Senate to approve a proposal that would have allowed SDSU to strip professors of their emeritus status if they did anything to harm the school’s reputation.

That led to pushback from some faculty, who said the proposal was vague and would have a chilling effect on free speech. And it would have narrowly focused on emeritus professors, whose benefits can include health and dental coverage, office space, library privileges and the right to conduct research.

The proposal was not enacted.

A third controversy arose in April 2021 when Bob Jordan, a lecturer who was teaching a course on cinema, used a cultural stereotype about Black people during a pre-recorded class that was broadcast online. Jordan said that he did not personally believe in the stereotype but used it to make a point about racial ideology.

A brief video clip showing Jordan making the remark was posted on Twitter, and quickly elicited anger from SDSU students. The university responded with a statement that said, “In the :50 video, the professor gives an example of a racist view or ideology. Professor Jordan insists the clip in no way represents his personal views or opinions.

“To be clear, SDSU does not tolerate acts of marginalization, racism and hatred based on personal background, identity or skin color.”

Jordan is still listed as a member of the SDSU faculty.

It is unclear whether there will be further fallout from the latest controversy. But the CDOG group made it clear in their draft letter that they support Casper, saying, “As chairs and program directors, we can attest to the inclusive environment that Dean Casper has created in this college, and to her support for diversity of opinion.

“This tweet on her personal account does not reflect our experience of working with her on a daily basis over the last 18 months and cannot be a measure of her work as the Dean.”

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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