What It's Like to Be a Free Man
The conclusion to my serialized Georgetown soap opera.
Over the last two months, I’ve periodically detailed the “lived experience” that prompted me to launch this Substack:
My “controversial” tweet that led to a cancellation campaign trying to get me fired from my new job at Georgetown Law (“What It’s Like When an Online Mob Goes After Your Job”), which led to…
An “investigation” (“What It’s Like to Be in a Cancellation Inquisition”), which quickly became…
A farce, a phony-war period that I liken to purgatory (“What It’s Like to Be in Purgatory”), until eventually…
I was “reinstated,” though under such terms that I had no choice but to resign (“What It’s Like to Win a Pyrrhic Victory in the Cancel Culture Wars”).
Coming to the realization that I’d have to quit this job that I’d fought so hard to keep was both terrifying and liberating. What follows is what happened next, concluding this story and bringing us back full circle to the origin of this newsletter.
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Over the June 4-5 weekend, I did two things: (1) put together my resignation letter and (2) find another job.
The letter, which the Foundation for Independent Rights and Expression put on their website for all posterity (as did National Review), is quite possibly my best-ever lawyering—certainly outside the world of Supreme Court amicus briefs. It detailed how Dean Bill Treanor had implicitly repealed Georgetown’s vaunted free speech policy. Not only would faculty now be subject to discipline for subjective perceptions of offense, but that standard was being applied unevenly, with many left-wing faculty crazies not being “investigated” for their inflammatory statements. (Not that they should be, but it’s free speech for thee and not for me.) I gave examples of not-very-hypothetical scenarios that would subject me to renewed investigation and discipline under the terms of the report I received from the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA). It was a slow-motion firing, one in which I would not participate.
FIRE, which I’ve long supported and which through this ordeal became my favorite organization—apart from my employer, of course—memorialized and contextualized my decision to resign. I concluded my four-page letter thus:
The proliferation of IDEAA-style offices (more typically styled Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) enforce an orthodoxy that stifles intellectual diversity, undermines equal opportunity, and excludes dissenting voices. Even a stalwart T-14 law school dean bucks these bureaucrats at his peril.
Since I accepted your offer of employment, I’ve come to learn that Georgetown is by no means a follower in these trends. Instead, it’s a leader. In contrast to the Jesuitical values that you’re fond of reciting, this institution no longer stands for tolerance, respect, good faith, self-reflective learning, and generous service to others.
On the GULC website it reads: “Our motto ‘Law is but the means, justice is the end’ sums up the core commitment of Georgetown Law.” But your and IDEAA’s treatment of me suggests that neither the due process of law nor justice actually prevails.
I cannot again subject my family to the public attacks on my character and livelihood that you and IDEAA have now made foreseeable, indeed inevitable. As a result of the hostile work environment that you and they have created, I have no choice but to resign.
What Georgetown subjected me to, what it would’ve subjected me to if I’d stayed, is a heckler’s veto that leads to a Star Chamber. “Live not by lies,” warned Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, in what has become my mantra. “Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.” I couldn’t live that way, so I made what lawyers call a noisy exit.
At the same time as I was pulling together that letter with clear-eyed resolve, I was hastening to figure out my next career steps. With two little boys and twins on the way, my wife and I couldn’t really afford not to have my next gainful employment secured, even if her salary and our savings would cover our mortgage and expenses for some time. It wasn’t a gut-wrenching feeling like during those initial four days of hell, when I despaired that I had blown up my entire life with one badly phrased tweet, but I couldn’t dilly-dally. After the professional roller coaster I’d just been on, I’d need some time off before starting the next gig. But I did need the certainty of knowing where it is I’d end up once I’d caught my breath.
During my purgatory I’d been approached by various people and organizations offering help in that department. Just as I was gratified to see friends and allies support me publicly and privately in pushing back against cancellation, I was heartened to find that, however things turned out, I’d have options. Early on, I was offered some pretty great temporary gigs, a place I could hang my hat while looking for something more permanent. That my administrative leave was paid obviated that need, while the fact that, by the terms of my suspension, I wasn’t allowed to work for Georgetown, freed up time for writing, speaking, and legal consulting, among other remunerative activities.
Later in my purgatory, I began receiving queries for permanent jobs “in case Georgetown doesn’t work out.” I never pursued anything, thanking the interlocutor but saying that it was premature and that I’d definitely keep the opportunity in mind if and when the time comes. And indeed all of that was premature because, up until I received and processed the IDEAA report, I intended to stick with the job I’d been hired into. But once I couldn’t stick with that job, I knew fairly quickly what I wanted to do.
I called my old friend Jim Copland, the Manhattan Institute’s longtime director of legal studies. We’d collaborated professionally over the years, but more than that just jibed as fellow travelers in free-market public-interest law and punditry. He’d even asked me to participate in a virtual event in September 2020 where we both were hawking new books. I knew plenty of other folks at MI, but I was closest to Jim. When I announced my move to Georgetown, we had an unspoken understanding—perhaps at one point over cocktails it became spoken, I don’t really recall—that it would be nice for me to also have an adjunct affiliation with MI.
Well, come early June, that relationship talk accelerated and deepened. I didn’t have to talk to Jim for long before he cut me off and said, “I totally get it. Let me talk to some people and we’ll get back to you.” Within 48 hours of that call, less than 36 hours after I spoke with Reihan Salam (the president) and Ilana Golant (the executive vice president), MI put together a mutually beneficial offer. This was all over the course of that weekend, for which I’m eternally grateful. All of us were excited. It was a great fit—and remains so nearly five months later.
Equally importantly, this employment deal came together before that Monday morning when I was planning to submit my resignation letter. So when I did indeed send Treanor the letter, at 8 a.m. sharp on June 6, it was with the comfort of knowing that my professional future, and more importantly my family, was secure. Forty-five minutes later, a shorter version of the letter went live on the Wall Street Journal website (which piece I had finalized the night before). Fifteen minutes after that, National Review came out with its previously embargoed analysis of my letter and conclusion to the Georgetown brouhaha. And we were off to the media races!
Over the next five days, I did more than 25 TV, radio, and podcast hits, explaining my decision and what I’d learned about the state of American higher education and cancel culture. Most notably, of course, the day after my resignation, I broke the news of my move to the Manhattan Institute live on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News. I was finally in control of the media cycle, creating my own narrative!
The two work weeks after I resigned were by far the most professional fun I’d had in quite some time. I was finally a free man, free to speak my mind and liberated from the shackles of a toxic institution. Indeed, when I attended the special pre-opening reception at the spectacular and powerful new Victims of Communism Museum in downtown Washington, I theatrically crossed out the Georgetown affiliation on my name tag and wrote in “free man.”
That weekend I traveled to Sarasota, Florida, for what was essentially a posthumous swan song with Georgetown, attending—now in my personal capacity, of course, but joyously so—the Center for the Constitution’s second annual originalism seminar for judges. The week that followed saw more media; Michele Tafoya’s Sideline Sanity was a highlight. I also attended P.J. O’Rourke’s memorial, and said farewell to a unique and brilliant individual whom I was privileged to get to know over the last decade.
At some point, Substack approached me to launch a newsletter, which I did, right before leaving on a long-planned family vacation. Ever since, I’ve been using the moment I’ve been thrust into and the platform I’ve been given to shine a light on the rot in academia, and especially at law schools. It’s a wonderful life.