On Sept. 29, Georgetown University professor Christine Fair posted a tweet wishing for the death of 11 U.S. senators. Her comments pushed — but, in the eyes of this editorial board, did not cross — university-established lines surrounding free speech.

In choosing not to discipline Fair and instead begin her previously planned research leave immediately, Georgetown made the correct decision. However, its reasoning must be explained to the university community.

Fair’s tweet, which has since been removed by Twitter, was directed at the Republican members on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was conducting the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of then-nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

“All of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps,” Fair wrote. “Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”

Fair’s comments run dangerously close to violating Georgetown’s harassment policy, which is included in the university’s free speech policy and prohibits hostile expression based on political affiliation — among other “protected categories.”

While Fair’s language was excessively vitriolic, she has since explained that her intention was to mirror the hateful rhetoric she often faces as a woman in academia — not to actually call for violence.

“Nothing will change until the rest of America understands our pain and rage and I cannot do this with expected formalities and civilities of language,” Fair wrote on her personal blog Oct. 11. “I can only do this with the language my rage inscribes upon my tongue.”

This editorial board believes Fair’s speech should, in this case, be protected by the university. However, the Georgetown community is owed an explanation of the decision-making process that led to Fair retaining her job.

Students and faculty deserve to know that Georgetown administrators fulfilled their responsibility in evaluating Fair’s speech in relation to stated policy. Additionally, the perspective of on-campus experts, such as the Speech and Expression Committee, which advises the vice president for student affairs, would be valuable in charting a path forward for the Georgetown community to understand how speech is governed on campus.

Instead of examining the specifics of Fair’s case, two university administrators sent the Georgetown community unsatisfactory notices that failed to explain the process fully or directly.

The first notice — an Oct. 5 universitywide email from University President John J. DeGioia that neglected to mention Fair by name — did little more than reaffirm Georgetown’s commitment to free speech, as outlined by current policy.

“I am responsible for protecting speech and expression for the members of our community, especially when that speech is unpopular,” DeGioia wrote. “If private comments made by faculty members are determined to substantially affect their teaching, research, or University service, we will address them through established University procedures.”

Ten minutes after DeGioia’s email, School of Foreign Service Dean Joel Hellman emailed the SFS community announcing Fair’s temporary move away from campus while she conducts research. He cited the safety of the professor and her students as the primary reason for the decision, acknowledging the “provocative and threatening” complaints that have been registered in the wake of the tweet.

“To prevent further disruption to her students and out of an abundance of caution for the security of our community, we have mutually agreed for Professor Fair to go on research leave effective immediately,” Hellman wrote.

These safety concerns are certainly valid, as affirmed by Fair’s account to The Hoya of threats she has received both before and after the late-September tweet.

“It would have been irresponsible for me to continue teaching my students,” Fair said. “It was absolutely essential that we signal to them that I’m no longer on campus so that they would stop harassing the university.”

Georgetown was right to keep its students safe. However, action cannot cease there: The university must clearly define what it deems acceptable and unacceptable.

On a campus littered with professors who have made a name for themselves in the political sphere, members of the Georgetown community can expect fiery opinions from some of their university peers. While this editorial board hopes these beliefs are always expressed constructively and with an understanding of disagreeing viewpoints, students, faculty and alumni must be prepared to confront more extreme rhetoric along the way.

If Georgetown is truly “predicated on protecting the free expression of ideas,” as DeGioia wrote in his email, the community deserves a thorough explanation of speech that crosses — or does not cross — boundaries of civility as understood by the university. Any other tactic would simply lead to discomfort among students and faculty members who wish to express unpopular opinions.

The Hoya’s editorial board is composed of six students and is chaired by the Opinion Editor. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.

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4 Comments

  1. Why does the editorial board of The Hoya ignore the racial component of Ms. Fair’s tweet?

    She was inciting racial hatred and violence against “white men”.

    Does the Hoya editorial board believe that this is not important? Is it because if it had acknowledged this racial hatred, it would have to admit that she crossed the line?

  2. Because, for the left today, it’s okay to hate and advocate violence against white people, and white men in particular. And if you support Trump, they don’t think you have a right to live in peace, hold jobs, or even exist.

  3. Disgraceful says:

    This is just disgusting. You are defending a teacher who has called for the murder and mutilation of white male US senators. I can’t believe that this is a private Catholic college. What ridiculously low standards. Shame on you.

  4. Dean Kenneth says:

    If a male professor had talked about mutilating the genitals of deceased, black, liberal females, who had died a gruesome death, that professor — with or without tenure – would be in the unemployment line fairly quickly.

    And this editorial board, composed of anonymous students who didn’t have the courage to reveal their names, wouldn’t be excusing and justifying such a vitriolic hate speech.

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