Jane Chu: sacked for being a snob
The campus You Can’t Say That culture has claimed its latest victim. Jane Chu, the dean at Pierson College in Connecticut, has stepped down after being suspended earlier this year for making disparaging comments about white people on review website Yelp.
She referred to the clientele of restaurants and a cinema as ‘white trash’ and questioned the intelligence of the staff. In an email to students, the college announced that Chu had left her position permanently, citing ‘multiple reprehensible posts, enough to represent a more widespread pattern’.
Before departing, Chu apologised, claiming that the experience had taught her ‘about the power of words’. She said her remarks were ‘insensitive in matters related to class and race’. Seemingly her apology wasn’t enough to save her job.
Snobbery among intellectuals is nothing new. From the backlash against Brexit to the howls of indignation at the election of Donald Trump, contempt for the masses is pretty widespread among academics. Chu’s comments about ‘white trash’ workers were hardly surprising.
But censorship is not the answer. An arrogant academic like Chu must be allowed to share her views, no matter how unpleasant. In sacking her, the college was both denying her right to speak and the right of others to challenge her. Some may say that, as a senior academic, Chu had a responsibility to set an example. But shouldn’t a university have a responsibility to uphold free speech?
This case does raise something of a double standard. Professors are often reprimanded on campus for expressing supposedly bigoted views, often when they’ve done nothing of the sort. Bret Weinstein, a progressive professor at Evergreen College, faced calls for his resignation after he criticised the tactics of an anti-racist protest. Meanwhile, Chu’s case aside, slamming rednecks is socially acceptable.
But supporters of free speech must be consistent. Chu’s comments were clearly nasty, but she should be free to express them without fear of losing her job. Free speech isn’t just for those we agree with, it must be defended for all. If that means letting professors write snobby restaurant reviews online, then so be it.
Benedict Spence is a writer based in London.