Recent discussions of academic freedom have focused on one particularly egregious case of professorial racism and anti-Semitism. In class and in public lectures, Professor Leonard Jeffries, then the chairman of the black-studies program at the City College of New York, expounded his theories of the genetic supremacy of blacks and of the responsibility of Jews for the slave trade. In 1992 City College removed him from the chairmanship, but he was reinstated after a federal court found that the school had violated his right to free speech. This April that court decision was reversed, and Jeffries has now stepped down as chairman, though he continues to be a tenured professor.
The academic and legal communities, to say nothing of civil-rights organizations, have tied themselves in knots trying to sort out the issues raised by the Jeffries case. Would there have been a problem if the professor had preached his doctrines only outside the university and not within? Or in the university (in a meeting of a black-student organization, for example) but not in the classroom? Or in the classroom while permitting other views to be heard and assuring students they would not be penalized for expressing such views? Or in a private rather than a public university?
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