By Janet Phelan
An NYU professor has filed a lawsuit against a number of his academic colleagues, alleging libel after an uproar of official reaction ensued when one of his students called for his firing based on in-class comments he had made on the utility of masks.
The pleadings, filed in the Supreme Court of the state of New York on November 30, 2020, stated that a letter signed by nineteen of Professor Mark Crispin Miller’s academic colleagues included “numerous misstatements of ‘fact’ maliciously intended to portray plaintiff in a negative light” and intended to “diminish, if not destroy, his professional reputation and standing.”
In a modern day rendition of the silencing of Socrates, the furor surrounding Professor Miller began shortly into this semester at New York University. Miller has for many years taught a course on propaganda in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication, in which he discusses current events and historical trends in the light of their propagandist purposes. This semester, he states he had encouraged students to research the scientific utility of masks.
One student took public issue with Miller’s mask comments and launched a Twitter campaign against him, stating that he was “spouting dangerous rhetoric that serves to cultivate fear and confusion during a pandemic” and called for his firing.
I hope @nyuniversity, @nyusteinhardt, and @mccNYU agree that this professor should not be trusted with educating and advising students, and I hope they take immediate steps to relieve him of these duties. 8/
— Julia Jackson (@julia_jacks) September 21, 2020
First, his department chair, Rodney Benson, tweeted his thanks, saying “We as a department have made this a priority, and are discussing next steps.”
At that point, the University disseminated a cautionary email to Miller’s students, which he states was sent out prior to any conference or consultation as to the veracity of Jackson’s claims. According to Miller, Department Chair Benson then pressured him to cancel the propaganda course for next semester.
A month later, the letter from Miller’s colleagues, condemning Miller’s actions, was sent to Dean Jack Knott and to Provost Katherine Fleming.
And Miller became the subject of a review board hearing.
Professor Miller’s political activities and viewpoints have sparked prior attention from NYU. An effort spearheaded by Miller to stop a physical expansion by NYU ended up in court, several years ago. He is also a named plaintiff in a class action suit concerning NYU’s mismanagement of the faculty’s retirement plans.
Earlier this year, Miller was called in to the Office of Equal Opportunity to explain some comments he had made in articles concerning transgender politics, including this one. Miller has unequivocally stated that he bears no animus towards transgender individuals and that his comments reflected concerns that the transgender movement had eugenics implications. He was quickly exonerated by the OEO concerning these statements.
Interestingly, the letter from the NYU colleagues to the University tries to resurrect these concerns and states that Miller has engaged in “direct mockery and ridicule of trans individuals” as well as “discrimination” and that he has created “an unsafe learning environment.” While paradoxically stating their support for academic freedom, the signers of this letter, all of whom are academics “…call on Steinhardt and University leadership to publicly support the NYU community and undertake an expedited review, as per the Faculty Handbook and Title IV, of Professor Miller’s intimidation tactics, abuses of authority, aggressions and microaggressions, and explicit hate speech, none of which are excused by academic freedom and First Amendment protections.” Curiously, the letter gives no concrete examples to support these allegations.
Miller’s situation seems to reflect a mounting campaign of political correctness, which is taking place on a number of fronts. The concept of the University as a stronghold of free speech and inquiry seems to have fallen under the sword of specific political imperatives.
In a recent conversation with this reporter, Miller had this to say:
What I am going through, my experience at NYU, is just one example of an ever -worsening wave of censorship that actually began decades ago with the Kennedy assassination, when questioning the official story was taboo. Anyone who attempted to investigate it honestly was dismissed as a “conspiracy theorist.”
That tactic has been used more and more through the years to shut down inquiry into major scandals of all kinds. This trend has been worsened by political correctness prohibiting debate over many other important topics, from climate change to “transgender medicine” to BLM/Antifa.
This year has seen the culmination of those trends, along with iron censorship of all divergence from the official story of Covid-19 . Any deviation from that narrative is instantly attacked as misinformation — even dangerous misinformation — and blacked out.
All three trends are apparent in my plight at NYU. First, I was publicly attacked for suggesting that my propaganda class read scientific articles about the effectiveness of masks, and then my colleagues piled on, accusing me both of promoting “conspiracy theories” in my classes and of “explicit hate speech” against transgender people. Those three propaganda clichés have the same purpose: to inhibit critical inquiry into propaganda narratives that serve some very powerful interests.
The ability to question underlying societal precepts has always been considered nearly sacrosanct inside the ivy- covered walls of higher learning. Following 9/11, a slew of professors were fired or put on “academic leave” due to their public comments about those events, including Steven Jones, Ward Churchill and Sami al-Arian.
A petition has been launched concerning Professor Miller and academic freedom. Signed by over 18,000 people to date, including such luminaries as journalist Seymour Hersh, filmmaker Oliver Stone, Robert F. Kennedy Jr and Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, the petition states the relevance of Miller’s cause:
We see his situation as but one example of a growing global trend toward rigid censorship of expert views on urgent subjects of all kinds; so this petition is not just in his defense, but a protest on behalf of all professors, doctors, scientists and journalists who have been gagged, or punished for their rights to freely research, study, and interpret data on a variety of matters regardless of their controversial nature.
Miller’s lawsuit asks for both compensatory and punitive damages, totaling $750,000.
Jack Knott, Dean of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at NYU, did not respond to queries by this reporter.
Mark Crispin Miller is the author of a number of books and has been the recipient of fellowships from the Rockefeller, Guggenheim and Ingram Merrill Foundations. He has taught at NYU since 1997.
Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist and author of the groundbreaking exposé, EXILE. Her articles previously appeared in such mainstream venues as the Los Angeles Times, Orange Coast Magazine, Long Beach Press Telegram, etc. In 2004, Janet “jumped ship” and now exclusively writes for independent media. She is also the author of two collections of poetry—The Hitler Poems and Held Captive. She resides abroad. You are invited to support her work on Buy Me A Coffee here: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/JanetPhelan
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