Right Wing Trolls Attacked Me. My Administration Buckled

tags: academic freedom, 2020 Election

L.D. Burnett is a professor of history at Collin College (TX).

They were warned.

As soon as I saw the September 28 email from the Campus Reform reporter writing to ask about my tweets, I forwarded the inquiry up my college administration’s chain of command to let them know what might be coming their way.

I wasn’t sure if my dean had ever heard of Campus Reform, so I explained their place in the right-wing, astroturfed-outrage ecosystem, where dark-money donors pay student stringers small bounties for tips about “liberal professors.” I told my dean that I was probably on the Campus Reform radar screen because I had recently published an article in Slate that was critical of the president’s “patriotic education” initiative.

“Here’s what we could probably expect,” I wrote to my dean. “Around 100 hateful emails, plus or minus, to my work email account; some outcry on social media that Collin College should fire me; perhaps some emails to [H. Neil] Matkin [the college president] or other college administrators. And after a couple of weeks,” I said, “this will blow over and there will be a new liberal professor for them to target.”

My warning was prescient, but my timing was off by a week.

Instead of writing a story about how I responded on Twitter to Herman Cain’s needless demise by explaining what it means to say that Donald Trump is the head of a death cult — that’s what the reporter had originally contacted me about — she waited a little over a week before emailing me again about a different set of tweets. During the October 7 vice-presidential debate, I had posted that Mike Pence, who refused to stick to his allotted time, should “shut his little demon mouth.”

The aspiring muckraker’s shocking exposé revealing that college professors had mean and snarky things to say on Twitter about the vice president appeared on the Campus Reform website on the morning of October 8 and was picked up, slightly reworked, on the Fox News website a little after 5 p.m., central time, on Friday, October 9.

I received my first irate email from a stranger at 5:43 p.m. For the rest of the weekend, without ceasing, on my social-media accounts and through my work-email inbox, I was inundated by scores of obscene, vulgar, sexually explicit expressions of puerile rage. Apparently the injunction not to be a potty mouth during one’s free time applies only to professors. Everyone else gets to cut loose with the C-word, the F-word, the B-word, a few vaguely veiled threats, some scatological pronouncements, and several all-caps rants about the creeping fascism of commie, Nazi professors like me, who should be fired, or leave America, or be thrown in prison, or killed like a pig.


The college president’s official response to illiberal calls demanding that the administration and the board engage in cancel culture and punish my exercise of free speech by firing me — including, apparently, calls from government officials demanding that I be punished for exercising my First Amendment freedoms (is that even legal?) — was to malign not just my writing but my character. I was stunned.

But I should not have been surprised. For I, too, had been warned.

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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