What It's Like to Be in a Cancellation Inquisition
After I survived the hell of manufactured outrage, a sham "investigation" began into whether my problematic tweets violated any Georgetown policies.
Two weeks ago I chronicled the first four days of my Twitter “scandal,” which I’ve termed the “hell” period of my Georgetown saga. Well, after that came a period of investigation that I’ve been referring to as “purgatory.” This purgatory was launched by Dean William Treanor’s letter on January 31, which stated:
We have recently been made aware of communications posted to social media by you, which potentially violate our non-discrimination [in education and employment], anti-harassment, and professional conduct policies. In consequence, and effective February 1, 2022 [my first day of work], you are being placed on paid administrative leave pursuant to Human Resources Policy #305 on Suspension for Investigation. This action is not punitive or disciplinary in nature, and no judgment has been made about the allegations in question. You will remain on paid administrative leave until the current investigation is concluded.
Initially, I didn’t know that this “investigation” would last more than four months—Associate Dean Rosa Brooks suggested that it might take a month or six weeks because “there’s still a process, but here there’s not much to look at”—so I took it seriously because, after all, I wanted both to keep my job and to stand up for free speech and academic freedom.
Still, the idea of an investigation was farcical from the outset, because Georgetown’s vaunted Policy on Speech and Expression is actually quite good on paper, and worth quoting in full (with most relevant sections bolded) lest you think I’m cherry-picking:
As an institution of higher education, one specifically committed to the Catholic and Jesuit tradition, Georgetown University is committed to free and open inquiry, deliberation and debate in all matters, and the untrammeled verbal and nonverbal expression of ideas. It is Georgetown University’s policy to provide all members of the University community, including faculty, students, and staff, the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.
The ideas of different members of the University community will often and naturally conflict. It is not the proper role of a university to insulate individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Deliberation or debate may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or ill conceived.
It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to judge the value of ideas, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting those arguments and ideas that they oppose. Fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage with each other in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.
The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. The University prohibits expression that violates the law, falsely defames a specific individual, constitutes a genuine threat, violates the University’s harassment policy, or unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests. In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the institution. Finally, to the extent that appointment letters, confidentiality agreements or policies, professional conduct policies, or HR policies regulate conduct that may include speech and expression, they are not superseded by this policy. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions not be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a free and open discussion of ideas.
As a corollary to the University’s commitment to protect and promote free expression, members of the University community must also act in conformity with the principle of free expression. Although members of the University community are free to criticize and contest the views expressed by other members of the community, or by individuals who are invited to campus, they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe. To this end, the University has a solemn responsibility not only to promote a lively and fearless freedom of deliberation and debate, but also to protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.
In 1990 Ernest Boyer, President of Carnegie Foundation wrote, “[A] university is an open, honest community, a place where freedom of expression is uncompromisingly protected, and where civility is powerfully affirmed.” Because it is essential to free and open inquiry, deliberation, and debate, all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining civil and respectful discourse. But concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off the discussion of ideas, no matter how offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.
Given that my speech alone was being investigated—in which I wasn’t harassing nor discriminating against anyone, except possibly President Biden for having a racist and sexist employment policy—the case should’ve been open and shut. And all this took place “at” a law school, where any junior contracts professor could’ve applied the above policy to the discrete set of facts (my tweets) and ended the investigation before the last sleep-headed students rolled in for morning class. That’s what would’ve happened in a sane world.
In the real world, of course, something different happened. After a week of “onboarding” at Georgetown—setting up direct deposit, signing up for benefits, figuring out email and other computer systems, going through moronic HR training that will definitely absolutely weed out actual racists and harassers, etc.—I was contacted by the Offices of both Human Resources and Institutional Diversity, Equity, and Affirmative Action (IDEAA) to set up my investigatory interview. We set it for February 17 at 9 a.m. ET, via zoom again because of that whole masking thing. For me, that would actually be 6 a.m. PT, because I was on the west coast that week, speaking to Federalist Society chapters and participating in an academic conference. This was all in my personal capacity, of course, because Treanor’s letter also specified that I was “not to perform work for the University.”
And so I prepared with my lawyer, Jesse Binnall, who’s part of FIRE’s Faculty Legal Defense network, to face my inquisitors. I was staying with a friend in San Diego, which is where, in the wee hours that Thursday morning—three weeks after the tweet that shook the world—I fired up my laptop.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial