SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse University officials are defending a political science professor who was criticized and threatened over a series of controversial tweets about the 9/11 attacks.
In a tweet posted Friday, Sept. 10, Prof. Jenn M. Jackson said, “We have to be more honest about what 9/11 was and what it wasn’t. It was an attack on the heteropatriarchal capitalistic systems that America relies upon to wrangle other countries into passivity. It was an attack on the systems many white Americans fight to protect.”
Jackson is an assistant professor of political science and teaches courses in women’s & gender studies, African American studies and LGBT studies, according to their biography on the university’s website. Their tweets are currently "protected," meaning only Twitter users who follow Jackson's account can view their tweets.
Some critics of Jackson’s tweets accused them of defending 9/11 and the extremists responsible for the attacks.
Television journalist Megyn Kelly, a graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, called out Jackson’s remarks and tweeted at the university, “you ok with this?”.
Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud and Dean David Van Slyke issued a joint statement Monday, saying it was within Jackson’s rights to post the tweets. They also said Jackson has faced threats because of their remarks, and the university has connected with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies over those threats.
Some critics have called for Jackson to be fired, which Syverud and Van Slyke said will not happen. The university also will not condemn Jackson’s actions, the statement said.
“As the home of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, free speech for all people across the political spectrum, within the limits of the law and the University’s anti-harassment policy, is one of our key values,” the statement read. “Speech can be offensive, hurtful or provocative. Still, Syracuse University will stand by the principles of free speech and by our commitment to keeping our community safe in the face of threats and harassment.”
"It doesn't matter where you stand politically. This is a free speech right that we all have. Just like critics have the right to criticize her, question the thoughts and question the analysis and question the message." - Roy Gutterman - Director, Tully Center for Free Speech, Newhouse School
Last year, Syracuse University placed chemistry professor Jon Zubieta on administrative leave after he included the words "Wuhan Flu" and "Chinese Communist Party Virus" on a course syllabus. Zubieta later released a statement explaining his actions, which was posted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
“My intention was to mock the euphemistic conventions of PC culture rather than the Chinese people or their great heritage and traditions,” Zubieta wrote in the statement. “The actions of the university in placing me under suspension and in practice seemingly supporting the accusations of racism and Sinophobia are deeply disturbing.”
Zubieta applied for reinstatement and is currently listed as being a faculty member on the university's website.
CNYCentral is reaching out to leadership at Syracuse University in the hopes of learning more about the school's position on what speech is deemed acceptable and unacceptable and who makes that determination.
Why did the university respond differently to two free speech issues? CNYCentral took that question to a non-profit that defends the rights of students and faculty at colleges and universities. "Maybe they were just getting sick of the negative publicity for censoring people in the past. That is not a good look for a university," said Adam Steinbaugh, Director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). "It doesn't help the university and their accreditation requires that they protect freedom of speech. So they may have done the wrong thing in the past, but it's good to see them doing the right thing now."