Negy’s Challenge: Academic Cancellation and the Freedom to Fight

The cancellation of tenured psychology professor Charles Negy cleared a major hurdle last week, when the University of Central Florida fired him, making good on the promise they made in a Notice of Intent to Terminate that was provided on January 13. Although he had long been a controversial figure among UCF’s faculty, the push to end his academic career began in earnest last summer as the riots and protests unfolded after the killing of George Floyd. Students seized on some provocative tweets that Negy made that touched on the topic of race, including one in which he claimed that “Black privilege is real.” Soon after, #UCFFireHim was trending on Twitter and university representatives were openly stating their intent to comply with the students’ demands.

Given that Negy’s activity on Twitter was clearly protected speech that could not justify the termination of a tenured professor, UCF took the astonishing step of actively soliciting complaints about Negy from past and present students. The university held off telling Negy that they had opened an investigation into his professional conduct for six weeks. In the meantime, the university president signalled the desired outcome of the investigation, telling students that “although everyone has a right to their personal beliefs, we cannot allow that to cross over into our classrooms or into our workplace if it hurts people.” The Chief Officer of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity ensured that Negy’s protected speech was, in fact, causing hurt, when he said his comments were “not only wrong, but particularly painful.” The Provost promised students that school authorities “have the capacity to act,” but cautioned them that it might take some time to do so. 

Although Negy and his attorney offered a pointed response to each of the grounds for termination that UCF had advanced in their Notice of Intent to Terminate, the school decided Negy’s time was up on January 29th, when he was informed he had been fired. As noted in the press release from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), 

“UCF implemented a process calculated to find reasons to fire an employee who had offended people with [his] speech. That is why they solicited anonymous complaints; why they would not tell Negy which ones they would be interrogating him over; why they would pick administrators to make judgments about academic speech. Negy’s job was never going to survive this inquiry. That was the whole point. As [the administration] promised, the wheels were ‘in motion,’ and Negy would be ‘dealt with.’”

In perusing the school’s 244 page report on the matter (which was furnished to Negy only 7 days before his firing and long after he was interrogated regarding its contents), a casual observer will almost certainly find something to be offended by in Negy’s behavior. His sexual psychology course seems to have been peppered with gratuitous descriptions of normal and abnormal sexual behaviors. He had to have been fully aware that his frank (and sometimes inflammatory) discussions of race and identity might meet with outrage in the current political climate. Further, Negy has been deeply critical of religious belief, openly mocking it repeatedly in his courses, and suggesting that religious believers have weaker reasoning abilities. As a father who sends his children to a private Christian religious school, I tend to disagree with his classroom assertion that giving a child a religious upbringing is “a form of child abuse.” But there are important principles at stake in Negy’s case.

I first read about Negy’s situation in the summer of 2020, when I was seeking other professors to sign a letter that I had written which outlined forms of non-compliance that the signers would employ against the expanding encroachment of institutional wokeness on university teaching and scholarly research. To my pleasure, Negy asked me to add his name to my letter. Since then, we have periodically been in touch about the culture of the academy in general, and his ordeal in particular. When I heard of UCF’s intention to terminate his professorship, I asked him to fight it legally: the idea that offensive speech constitutes a kind of violence is rapidly gaining ground on American campuses, and it is being used as a means to purge academia of dissident thinkers. The ideological uniformity that this purge aims to establish is a threat to the very possibility of academic inquiry, which depends on viewpoint diversity to foster an intellectual environment that rigorously tests new ideas. Sadly, though, healthy academic inquiry takes a back seat to the political indoctrination that is now the de facto mission of the American university. This mission is hindered by the presence of dissenting thinkers, which clarifies the motives that drive the intellectual purge to which Negy fell victim.

Negy intends to take his fight to the courts, but he does not have the money needed to pay the legal fees, to say nothing of his basic living expenses (as he is now without a paycheck). I was pleased when he asked me to forward a link to a GoFundMe account he had created to raise money for his legal defense. I disseminated the link throughout the networks that spun off of my letter on campus culture. By Saturday afternoon, almost $2000 dollars had been raised in only a few short hours. Saturday night, I was throwing darts with friends when Negy emailed to tell me that GoFundMe had banned his campaign and refunded all of the money to the donors. Undeterred, Negy told me that if his legal defense requires him to sell a kidney, he is willing to do so. 

GoFundMe’s ban is one more example of the ways that digital platforms are controlling the public sphere. Whether it is Google, Amazon, and Apple colluding to kill Parler after their enablers defended censorship by telling people to “build their own [social media] platforms,” or Twitter and Facebook barring the circulation of stories about the Biden family’s corruption in the lead-up to the 2020 election, or the RobinHood app disabling low-level trading of Gamestop stock as the hedge fund managers were getting burned, the evidence is clear: any form of speech or public activity that hinders the sociopolitical itinerary of the elite will be squashed. This is true across our culture, whether the elites are on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, or in the faculty lounge. While depriving Negy of the right to raise funds for his defense doesn’t rise to the level of these other abuses, it is telling that these methods of restricting dissident speech are operative at the micro-level as well as the macro one.

The administrators at GoFundMe pointed Negy to the “Prohibited Conduct” section of their terms of use. The seemingly relevant portions (numbers 8 and 9 on the list) list the following disqualifications: 

8. User Content or reflecting behavior that we deem, in our sole discretion, to be an abuse of power or in support of hate, violence, harassment, bullying, discrimination, terrorism, or intolerance of any kind relating to race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, serious disabilities or diseases;

9. for the legal defense of alleged crimes associated with hate, violence, harassment, bullying, discrimination, terrorism, or intolerance of any kind relating to race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, serious disabilities or diseases, financial crimes or crimes of deception;

It is of note that GoFundMe disallows campaigns that seek to fund “legal defense of alleged crimes.” Not all crimes, mind you. Presumably, funds for mounting a legal defense against some criminal accusations could be raised on their platform. The only alleged crimes for which one cannot raise legal defense funds relate to the fetishized identity categories that define institutional wokeness: race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Even so, Negy has not been accused of any criminal offenses. But even if he had been accused of crimes, GoFundMe’s policy is unfair because it presumes their users’ guilt. Why disallow fundraising to fight what may be fraudulent allegations? In my career as a professor, I have faced some fraudulent accusations myself.

If the content of UCF’s report on Negy is true (which he strongly disputes in his response to their Notice of Intent to Terminate), a hostile observer could argue that some of his comments rise to the level of “hate,” or “bullying,” or “harassment” of the kind referenced in GoFundMe’s terms of service. But when it comes to public institutions (such as a university), the meaning and definition of hate speech should be an open question for deliberation. Private platforms like GoFundMe undermine these conversations when they work to disable citizens’ power to organize or exercise opposition to ideologies that immediately elevate any accusation of hate speech or intolerance to the status of unquestionable truth.

In a recent article published at Minding the Campus, a pseudonymous writer explicates the stakes of these trends. The author’s use of a pseudonym underscores the inherent risks a scholar incurs merely by offering sober, rational criticism of progressive ideology. The article explains the punitive dynamic at work in higher education: “Those in power can very easily eliminate their opposition by labelling opposing viewpoints as ‘hate’; thus, legitimate expressions of dissident opinions become outlawed. That is not democratic and it is not freedom; it is a blueprint for totalitarianism.” 

Negy’s firing must be seen for what it is: a test case by which public universities will learn whether dismissing a tenured professor for unpopular, protected speech (masked by 244 pages  that rehearse an anonymous hodgepodge of unrelated accusations and unproven policy violations) can withstand legal scrutiny. If UCF escapes without consequences, it will be open season on tenured faculty with dissenting points of view on politics and culture: the “blueprint” referred to by the pseudonymous writer will be further unfurled.

This is why — despite his imperfections as a professor and human being — Negy must mount a legal challenge to his dismissal. In order to do this, he will need considerable financial support. UCF is betting he won’t get it. Let’s help Prof. Negy hold onto his kidney. 

Please consider offering assistance via Paypal, here. If you don’t use Paypal, and are curious about other digital methods of donation, please contact me directly at adamellwanger@gmail.com. Finally, if you prefer to donate the old-fashioned way, please send a check to: 

Charles Negy
1969 S. Alafaya Trail
Unit #202
Orlando, FL  32828

The outcome of his grievance is uncertain. What is certain, though, is that we will see increasingly brazen cancellations of politically-problematic faculty across the country if UCF is not held to account. As American campuses become increasingly beholden to grievance politics and woke ideology, the road to reclaiming higher education will necessarily pass through the courts. We’ll need all the help we can get.

The post Negy’s Challenge: Academic Cancellation and the Freedom to Fight appeared first on New Discourses.

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