Michael K. Young, president of Texas A&M University, softened his public stance Tuesday toward a professor receiving death threats as a result of years-old, recently resurfaced comments about race. “For those of you who considered my comments disparaging to certain types of scholarly work or in any way impinging upon the centrality of academic freedom at this university, I regret any contributions that I may have made to misunderstandings in this case, including to those whose work is contextualized by understanding the historical perspectives of events that have often been ignored,” Young said in a statement.
Last week, Young affirmed his campus’s commitment to academic freedom while taking a harsh tone toward Tommy Curry, an associate professor of philosophy and a critical race theorist who was recently partially quoted by a conservative publication saying that “some whites might have to die.” Curry made the comment as part of a much longer podcast interview response to a question about the violent Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained, and Curry has since said he was not advocating violence. Many called for his termination or resignation after The American Conservative published a blog post about Curry's remarks. Some also sent the professor, who is black, racist messages and physical threats.
Young in his original statement called Curry’s comments “disturbing” and standing “in stark contrast to Aggie core values -- most notably those of respect, excellence, leadership and integrity -- values that we hold true toward all of humanity.” The president has since faced backlash from some in Curry’s department, students and outside philosophers, for not explicitly expressing support for the professor.
Last week’s statement affirmed Texas A&M’s commitment to free speech even while implicitly criticizing Curry (who was not named directly), but Young’s updated message seems focuses more on academic freedom, saying that “Scholars have a responsibility to engage in deep dialogue and ask questions within their areas of expertise; however, through sound bites or social media headlines, profound issues can be oversimplified and distorted.”