Controversial Professor Quits

After a year of turmoil over his social media comments, George Ciccariello-Maher writes that it is no longer safe for him to teach at Drexel.

January 2, 2018
(George Ciccariello-Maher)

The last 12 months have seen one controversy after another over the tweets of George Ciccariello-Maher, an associate professor of politics and global studies at Drexel University. In a series of incidents, he has made statements that led to calls for his dismissal. In several instances, the university has criticized him. Ciccariello-Maher and his supporters have said that his comments have been distorted and that his academic freedom has been attacked.

On Thursday, he announced on Twitter that he was leaving his tenured job at Drexel. "After nearly a year of harassment by right-wing, white supremacist media outlets and internet mobs, after death threats and threats of violence directed against me and my family, my situation has become unsustainable," he wrote on Twitter. "Staying at Drexel in the eye of this storm has become detrimental to my own writing, speaking and organizing."

Ciccariello-Maher went on to say that his situation illustrated the limits of tenure protections (he has tenure). "Tenure is a crucial buffer against those who would use money to dictate the content of higher education. But in a neoliberal academy, such protections are far from absolute," he wrote. "We are all a single outrage campaign away from having no rights at all, as my case and many others make clear. The difference between tenure-track and the untenured adjunct majority -- which has far more to do with luck than merit -- is a difference in degree not in kind."

He added, "In the past year, the forces of resurgent white supremacy have tasted blood and are howling for more. Given the pressure they will continue to apply, university communities must form a common front against the most reprehensible forces in society and refuse to bow to their pressure, intimidation and threats. Only then will universities stand any chance of survival."

Drexel, which has sought to distance itself from Ciccariello-Maher's positions and suspended him from teaching in October, issued this statement: "Associate Professor George Ciccariello-Maher has decided to resign his employment from Drexel University in order to pursue other opportunities. Drexel University has accepted his resignation and recognizes the significant scholarly contributions that Professor Ciccariello-Maher has made to the field of political thought and his service to the Drexel University community as an outstanding classroom teacher. Drexel University wishes Professor Ciccariello-Maher well in his future pursuits."

The controversy over the professor started Dec. 24, 2016, when Ciccariello-Maher tweeted, "All I want for Christmas is white genocide." The tweet went viral, with many conservative websites calling for Drexel to fire Ciccariello-Maher. Drexel condemned the tweet but didn't fire him.

Ciccariello-Maher and his supporters said that the irony and purpose of his tweet were lost on many. Ciccariello-Maher argues that white genocide doesn't exist, and is a false image used by the far right to scare white people. So he says he was making a point, not calling for anyone to be hurt.

In April, Ciccariello-Maher was again in the news when he tweeted about his reaction when he saw a passenger in first class give up his seat on a flight. "Some guy in first class gave up his seat for a uniformed soldier. People are thanking him. I'm trying not to vomit or yell about Mosul." The reference to Mosul was to a March air strike by U.S. forces that The Washington Post reported "could potentially rank [as] one of the most devastating attacks on civilians by American forces in more than two decades."

In subsequent comments, Ciccariello-Maher said he wasn't trying to attack that particular solider, but to question the way many Americans make symbolic gestures of support for the military without examining military actions or demanding that the United States provide sufficient health care and support for other needs of veterans and active-duty military service members.

Then in October the university placed Ciccariello-Maher on leave after his tweets about the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Ciccariello-Maher posted a series of tweets after the shooting in which he noted that the shooter was a wealthy white man and that he didn't think gun control, as advocated by liberals, would prevent such shootings. "To believe that someone who would shoot down 50 people wouldn't circumvent any gun law you pass is the height of delusion," he wrote.

But the attacks on the professor have focused on what he said was the cause of the tragedy in Las Vegas. Ciccariello-Maher blamed "Trumpism" and the entitlement of white men. "White people and men are told that they are entitled to everything. This is what happens when they don't get what they want," he wrote. And "the narrative of white victimization has been gradually built over the past 40 years."

The university said at the time that it was suspending Ciccariello-Maher not because of his views, but for safety, given the threats he was receiving.

In an essay in The Washington Post, Ciccariello-Maher acknowledged that he was receiving death threats, but said that Drexel was wrong to suspend him as a result of those threats. "By bowing to pressure from racist internet trolls, Drexel has sent the wrong signal: that you can control a university’s curriculum with anonymous threats of violence," he wrote.

The American Association of University Professors backed the professor, expressing concern that the suspension was "at odds" with norms of academic freedom.

Share Article

Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

Back to Top