Academic freedom is once again under fire in the United States.
This time, the target of campus backlash is Cornell Law School Professor William A. Jacobson, who now faces widespread denunciation, calls for his termination, and a student boycott of his classes. The openly conservative professor blogs at the website Legal Insurrection. He earned the ire of colleagues, alumni, and left-wing students for posts he wrote criticizing and fact-checking Black Lives Matter, as reported by Chrissy Clark of the Washington Free Beacon.
This outrage is part of a running saga, but the most recent development is a letter from the Black Law Students Association that not only rejects Jacobson’s offer to respectfully debate a representative of their choice, but encourages a student boycott of his courses and says that “Thinly veiled racism under the guise of ‘intellectual diversity’ has no place in our law school.”
The controversy stems from two posts Jacobson wrote for Legal Insurrection. The first allegedly ‘racist’ post argued that the Black Lives Matter movement was founded on a lie, because it gained critical mass after the 2015 shooting of Michael Brown and repeatedly invoked the claim that Brown was killed with his hands up and saying ‘don’t shoot,’ which Jacobson says is false.
The Department of Justice “found [that] federal investigators could not confirm witness accounts that Brown signaled surrender before being killed execution-style,” according to the Post. Here’s more from the liberal newspaper’s fact-checker:
Some witnesses who claimed they saw Brown’s hands raised had testimonies that were inconsistent with physical and forensic evidence. Some admitted to federal investigators they felt pressured to retell the narrative that was being spread after Brown’s shooting. Others recanted their initial testimonies saying they had heard it through media reports or via social media. A few witnesses said Brown had his hands out to his side with his palms up, as if saying ‘What?’ Others said Brown’s hands were not raised, as he was charging at Wilson. A few said Brown’s hands were ‘balled up.’
Jacobson’s second post does use highly inflammatory, anti-Left language in response to the rioting and looting that broke out in the United States after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. However, it echoes views widely shared among conservatives and contains no attacks on black people or obviously racist sentiments.
"At no point, to our knowledge, has Professor Jacobson ever devalued the lives of black Americans. Instead, he has been critical of a movement which demands radical policy reform," Cornell College Republicans President Weston Barker said, according to the Free Beacon.
Critics have widely denounced the campaign against Jacobson as an attack on academic freedom and a politically correct attempt to stifle legitimate debate, and the professor himself has spoken out throughout the controversy.
“We are living in extraordinarily dangerous times, reminiscent of the Chinese Communist Cultural Revolution, in which professors guilty of wrongthink were publicly denounced and fired at the behest of students who insisted on absolute ideological orthodoxy,” Jacobson wrote. “This is not going to end well unless people of good conscience, who support black lives but not the Black Lives Movement as it was founded and currently operates, speak up and refuse to cower in fear.”