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Friday, June 30, 2017

When free speech is not so free...

By  Charles Brooks


In recent months, there’s been an unmistakable trend amongst college professors who dare to express their political views and opinions.  Professor Lisa Durden was fired from Essex County College because of controversial remarks she made on June 6th as a guest on the Fox news program, The Tucker Carlson Show.   She was invited on the show to discuss her views about a black only Memorial Day event sponsored by a Black Lives Matter chapter, The Black Youth Project 100.  The show host, Tucker Carlson, took issue with Ms. Durden when she expressed her support for the event as the two engaged in a heated exchange on the air.

Well, Ms. Durden’s comments set in motion a series of events that ultimately ended with her termination as an adjunct professor at Essex County College.  She was immediately suspended for six days before a public meeting was held where school administrators decided to terminate her employment.  Essex County College President, Anthony Munroe said in a statement: “In consideration of the College’s mission, and the impact that this matter has had on the College’s fulfillment of its mission, we cannot maintain an employment relationship with the adjunct.” 

But when taking a closer look at the actions taken by the College, their actions do appear questionable and contradictory when there’s another line of facts to consider. There’s the matter of her affiliation to Essex County College that was not displayed during the program because she was identified as a political commentator.  Mr. Munroe even admitted as much in his statement when he said that her comments "...was in no way claiming to represent the views and beliefs of the College, and does not represent the College..."  But he went on to say: "The College affirms its right to select employees who represent the institution appropriately and are aligned with our mission,” which clearly applied to Ms. Durden just a few months back when she was hired in January.

In fact, two months after came on board, she was a panelist in the school’s annual conference, ironically under the theme: “Radical Humanities:The Radical Tradition in the Humanities”. Ms. Durden appeared on the “Radical Approaches to Women and Film” panel where her topic of discussion was Women in Media.

But before coming to Essex, she was a frequent guest on Fox News shows as the resident supporter for Black Lives Matter and other topics related to race. She participated on a Black Lives Matter panel, debated pro-police supporters such as Mark Furhman and Bo Dietl, provided biting commentary about Dallas police officers being shot, and she chimed in on the resignation of the University of Missouri President after racism emerged there.

Meanwhile Ms. Durden has taken her case to the court of public opinion via interviews and social media. Her supporters have held rallies and press conferences as well as started an online petition with 2460 signatures.  Even conservative voices have joined the chorus of supporters for Durden and her reinstatement.

Ms. Durden joins a long line of professors who have felt the whip  of retribution - such as Professor's Keeanga Yamatta-Taylor (Princeton University), Johnny Eric Williams (Trinity College), George Ciccariello-Maher (Drexel University),  Katherine Dettwyler (Delaware University), Tommy Curry (Texas A&M), and Lars Maischak (California State University) all have suffered in one way or another because they dared to express their political views. 

Discussion Question: In light of these facts, what are your thoughts about this case? About professors expressing their political views? Should the Essex County College reinstate Professor Durden? What can be done to ensure the freedom of speech and academic freedom for college professors?









Friday, June 23, 2017

What exactly does the CBC want?

By Charles Brooks 

Less than two weeks left with the Obama presidency, members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) discussed their plans to be more aggressive with the incoming president, Donald Trump. Well, after just six months of Trump being in office the CBC has seen enough as CBC Chairman Rep.Cedric Richmond (D-LA) rejected the president’s invitation to meet with him at the White House. In his letter to the president and in subsequent media interviews, Rep. Richmond outlined specific concerns around the Trump administration’s plans to dismantle healthcare, resurrect the drug war, disregard consent decrees, and implement billion dollars in cuts to Pell Grants.  The CBC Chair also reminded the president of his failure to respond to outreach to him of eight letters and a policy report submitted during their first meeting back in March.  “Through an objective assessment, we have seen no evidence that your administration acted on our calls for action, and we have in fact witnessed steps that will affirmatively hurt black communities,” wrote Rep. Richmond. In the letter as well as in a number of media interviews explaining their decision, the CBC Chair dismissed the would-be meeting as a “social gathering”.

I think we are clear on what the CBC does not want but what they do want and the path to get there is not as equally clear.  This is disturbing particularly considering their first meeting with the president back in March was viewed as “productive” and “frank” with a commitment for more regularly scheduled meetings to discuss policy issues.  So the first – if not, obvious – question is what exactly is being accomplished by not sitting with the president to address the issues and concerns they’ve outlined in their letters and policy paper? Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to meet with the president to discuss these critical issues?  Which brings us to the next question, what is their next move - or in other words what is their Plan B? Well they did submit an alternative federal budget for the FY2018 as they’ve always done since 1981 with little fanfare. But realistically, what are the chances that a Republican majority in Congress will act or much less debate the merits of the CBC’s alternative budget?

This apparent public display of defiance by the CBC actually raises more concerns about their effectiveness and, yes their relevance. For eight years, they served with a muted voice while providing a protective shield against Republican attacks on President Obama. Equally troubling was their refusal to endorse one of their own, Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md) for the open Senate seat in Maryland. And then we learned about their ties to corporate interests during the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Authors of the CBC Report Card 2016, Glen Ford and Patrice Johnson brings into question the CBC’s leadership with an extensive analysis of ten key votes between September 2015 and September 2016.  Their report states the following: “What the CBC Monitor Report Cards bring into focus is that the Black Caucus is simply an appendage of Democratic leadership in the House. It has no independent existence or policy, and is therefore not a leadership institution for Black America. Rather, it is the Black face of the Democratic Party. Only about one-third of its members (the 14 that voted against the internet “terror” bill, last December, for example) are willing to break with their party on occasion.”
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In his letter to the president, Rep. Richmond left the door open for the President to invite individual CBC members for future meetings with him and cabinet officials. 

Discussion Question: 
Should individual members of the CBC pursue individual meetings with the president? What plan of action should the CBC pursue in this age of Trump?

Further Reading: