There is a campaign to fire Professor Joshua Hochschild, who teaches philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s University. We have seen a number of these campaigns against the Faculty, but the efforts against Hochschild are noteworthy as he is being denounced for participating in the January 6 protest in Washington, although he is not accused of participating in the Capitol riot. The effort is part of a building narrative that anyone who protested the election was an insurgent, even though the vast majority were peaceful and did not enter the Capitol. Hochschild condemned the insurrection in an “Once Upon a Presidency” column for The American Mind. However, his recognition of being present at the protest was enough to endeavor to get him released. The only thing missing is the claim that he “corrupts the youth” with his dissenting views. In this case, the goal for the teacher is not the hemlock, but the dismissal.
I have spoken out against contesting votes, but such challenges have arisen from Democrats before. In his column, Hochschild reported firsthand about the protest and said that he hadn’t known about the violence in the Capitol until later:
Tens of thousands of people from all over the country take part. They are cheerful and patriotic, generous and civic, orderly and polite. Responsible, proud citizens. They love their country and respect its lawful processes. They know that the rally, while not really helping Trump politically, promises to raise awareness of problems with our electoral system and to testify to the importance of peaceful democratic protests. Perhaps there will be a determined will to reform the system and make sure that next time people can trust the elections. The country cannot allow its winners to be suspected of “stealing” elections. …
It was a protest and some people seem to have taken it too far. On the way home, one hears of violence and arrests, vandalism and theft in the Capitol. You hear of a woman who appears to have been shot and killed, apparently unarmed. It’s a sobering end to the day. Out of a huge crowd, a fraction seems stupid, shameful, and lawless … barely representative of the type of people who have been there or the purpose for which they have gathered. A small portion of a major civil rights event turned into an outlaw mob. You’re disappointed that a respectable event should be so blotchy.
But you wake up the next morning with something much worse. Defamatory headlines. By your presence in DC, you are being accused of being a traitor who is part of a dangerous movement. Every point of sale calls it a “riot”. The lawlessness was “instigated” by Trump. There was a violent attempted coup. Obviously they pushed too far. You will have voted this back. Do not you want? The words are disproportionate: no one had a strategy or opportunity to take power. Oh, and it was a racist uprising, a manifestation of white nationalism. Despite the sea of American flags, news always seems to show an image of a Confederate flag.
According to conservative website College Fix, the article led to a petition from MSMU graduate Brea Purdie:
I find it repulsive that Hochschild is calling for respectability and humanity when it turned out that the actions of Trump supporters were lower on Jan. 6. I find it significant that he asks for decency when there are prominent white supremacists who rub their elbows at the same event as him and proudly boast of racist symbolism along with the American flag.
There is a fair basis to criticize the basis for the protest and to question whether violence should have been foreseen. Many of us have condemned Trump’s speech as ruthless and wrong. In fact, I tweeted my objection to the speech as it was delivered. In addition, from the outset, I have spoken out against the challenge of Congressional voting against, rejected Trump’s claim that the electoral votes could be “sent back”, and praised Vice President Pence for opposing Trump. I asked Trump to be censored about the speech. Trying to fire a professor for his political views, however, is a rejection of the core values of free speech.
It is noticeable that this narrative contrasts sharply with the reaction to violence during the protests this summer. When Conservatives tried to label Black Lives Matter and other groups as violent, many rightly stated that the vast majority of people at these protests were peaceful and tried to express political and social views.
In her honor, the university recognized the Free Speech Campaign for what it is. Provost Boyd Creasman made no mention of the controversy, but said that everyone has the right “to express their views with respect without fear of sanctions,” in a statement tweeted on Feb. 24.
That’s a far better answer than any previous controversy at school.
According to media reports, this statement infuriated figures like Purdie on Instagram, who they described as “ridiculous”.
I don’t know Professor Hochschild, but I have no reason to believe that he would hesitate in promoting freedom of speech for students or alumni like Purdie if he were to express their opposing views. That is the essence of free speech. However, we have discussed efforts to dismiss professors who express dissenting views on the fundamentals or demands of the recent protests, including efforts to oust a leading economist from the University of Chicago, as well as a leading professor of linguistics at Harvard and a professor of literature at Penn. The silence of many faculties in the face of raids on freedom of expression has been appalling in recent years. Even academics like Colorado law professor Paul Campus are calling for people with opposing views (including myself) to be fired.
It is comforting to see that the university supports free speech, but there is also a growing movement against free speech in our locations and in our public discourse, as discussed in my recent testimony from the House. Once again, the silence of many faculties in the face of such campaigns is deeply worrying. There is a palpable fear of many faculties that they will not be able to speak freely about such topics without being targeted or flagged for themselves. This can lead to your peers treating you as a pariah and directly affect your ability to get published or move between universities. The costs are simply too high for many professors. However, this silence creates a vacuum in which such anti-free speech campaigns can thrive. Hundreds signed this petition to dismiss a professor who attended a political rally but also denounced the latter riots in the Capitol. That’s the scariest aspect of this controversy.