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OPINION: Universities should cancel ‘cancel culture’ – not professors

Students and universities need to appreciate different viewpoints, not cancel them out. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/FREERANGE STOCK

“Canceling” is a way to punish others for a disagreeable or offensive statement. After an individual has been deemed “canceled” by the court of public opinion, the next step is to outcast them through harassment, boycotts or sabotaging their career.

Though common public perception of cancel culture is sometimes associated with celebrities, it has also been a popular trend in the academic community. 

A university is a place where diverse people come together to learn from one another. As such, higher institutions have the responsibility to defend the value of diverse viewpoints. Students and universities need to allow professors to voice their controversial opinions instead of firing them.

Criminology professor Mike Adams was fired from the University of North Carolina Wilmington in June 2020 shortly after a petition to have him removed received over 60,000 signatures. 

He was canceled for openly criticizing Black Lives Matter and transgender surgeries in posts on X, the online platform formerly known as Twitter, dating from 2016 to 2020.

Former Collin College professor Lora Burnett was fired in 2021 for stating that Mike Pence needs to shut “his little demon mouth up,” according to a lawsuit she later filed.  

Yale University has the chance to put an end to this culture with the recent outcry directed toward one of its professors. 

Zareena Grewal is an associate professor of American studies, ethnicity, race, migration and religious studies at Yale University. Students ‘canceled’ her after she expressed her opinion on the Israel-Hamas war in an Oct. 7 X post. They are now trying to get her fired.

Thankfully, Yale’s response supported Grewal’s right to express her opinion.

“Yale is committed to freedom of expression, and the comments posted on Professor Grewal’s personal accounts represent her own views,” university spokesperson Karen Peart told the Yale Daily News in an Oct. 12 article

After Grewal’s post had amassed over 4,000 views on Oct. 10, Yale student Netanel Crispe founded a petition to have her fired. The petition has racked up over 54,000 signatures.

Shortly after, Grewal made her X account private

Grewal should be “terminated” and “has no right being in her current role,” according to the petition. 

Although some people disagree with Grewal’s post concerning the Israel-Hamas war, she does not deserve to be fired for expressing her own opinion. Grewal, like every other American, has the right to express her beliefs and should not fear losing her job because of it.

Universities also have a duty to defend free speech for the sake of well-rounded, diverse discussions. What truly matters is a professor’s teaching quality, not their external opinions. 

Anne Charity Hudley, professor and associate dean at Stanford University, argued that people do not have the power to change all structural inequality, but cancel culture gives individuals some power to enforce accountability and change.

Constructive criticism is beneficial for justice. However, cancel culture has gone beyond accountability. It is now a way to ruin someone’s reputation and revoke their career merely because they hold a different belief. 

This type of criticism is not constructive as it doesn’t facilitate true justice. Change does not happen by censoring or punishing other people.

Even though professors are not legally protected by labor laws for their social media presence, it is the duty of educational institutions to encourage public discourse. Professors’ opinions should be respected. 

One person’s freedom of opinion does not cancel out another’s. If students and universities truly want change, then they must value and work alongside people with diverse viewpoints and beliefs. Canceling others will not eliminate different opinions or end structural disagreements. The diversity that makes America and its higher institutions great includes many different beliefs. 

Students and universities should value this, not ‘cancel’ it.