UNC Wilmington Professor to Retire Following Backlash

Mike Adams, a sociology and criminology professor at University of North Carolina Wilmington, will retire on August 1, Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli said in a statement on Monday.

Additionally. the day before, he had tweeted that universities shouldn’t be closing but that they should shut down “the non-essential majors. Like Women’s Studies.”

The latest controversy began in late May when Adams tweeted that he dined with six men at a six-seat table and “felt like a free man who was not living in the slave state of North Carolina.” He then wrote: “Massa Cooper, let my people go!”

It wasn’t a first for Adams, who in 2016 posted an article about a student activist under the title “A ‘Queer Muslim’ Jihad,” The News & Observer reported at the time.

Prior to his decision to retire, he had responded to those calling for his removal by saying “When you write the university asking them to fire me don’t forget to leave a mailing address so I can send you a box of panty liners.”

Statement from the University:

“Over the past several weeks, many of you have inquired about the status of a UNCW faculty member, Dr. Mike Adams, in light of the public attention generated by comments he made on his personal social media channels,” the university’s statement said. “We can now share the update that after a discussion with Chancellor Sartarelli, Dr. Adams has decided to retire from UNCW, effective August 1, 2020. We will have no further comment on this matter at this time, but we plan to share an update later this week regarding how we hope to move forward as a university community.”

This situation was complicated by the fact that as a Tenured Professor at a publicly-funded school, the 1st amendment applied directly to his comments. This was the reasoning the school gave for not taking action with his statements in the past.

Worse, the school had actually been forced to give him tenure and payout from trying to clamp down on his behaviour before:

He sued UNCW for discrimination in 2007, saying he was denied a promotion because of his “political and religious views,” the Wilmington Star-News reported. That lawsuit resulted in him getting $50,000 in back pay and hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees, according to The News & Observer. He then earned tenure and was given a raise.

It’s good to see that public opinion seems to have been enough to turn the tide here, though I’m interested to know what it was that actually pushed him to retire in the end.

13 Likes

Is it really so hard not to be an asshole?

22 Likes

Current evidence would suggest that yes, it is apparently very hard, at least for a select few individuals.

22 Likes

Apparently so… depressing.

10 Likes

For me, him being an asshole mysoginist and bigot is one thing, but it’s another entirely to show how the current protections in higher education - the protections designed to shield professors from action taken for controversial statements or subject matter, can be used with equal force to shield the same bigots and misogynists, provided they hide their true selves until far enough along in the process, especially in schools where the 1st amendment applies directly.

In Canada, this is much more difficult because the Charter of Rights and Freedoms takes precedence over free speech - you’re not going to be protected if you make racist remarks, while the 1st amendment in the US, as clearly shown in this instance, makes taking action against people like this far more difficult (and worse, far more risky for the university itself, which chills action further).

15 Likes

Wiki confirms garbage mind…

Harbor House published Adams’ first book, Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel , in 2004.[6] Sentinel published his second book, Feminists Say the Darndest Things: A Politically Incorrect Professor Confronts “Womyn” On Campus , in 2008.[7] Later that year, Adams joined the faculty of Summit Ministries in Manitou Springs, Colorado, where he spends his summers lecturing against abortion and defending First Amendment rights on college campuses.[8] His third book “Letters to a Young Progressive: How to Avoid Wasting Your Life Protesting Things You Don’t Understand” was published by Regnery in 2013.

Yet Faculty Member Of the Year in 2000. :man_shrugging:

4 Likes

There is something very wrong with the systems in place if they can 1) protect this type of asshole and 2) have him win awards while doing so.

9 Likes

Yep. Tenure generally speaking is used to not only shield people like this, but to keep others who might say uncomfortable things about white male authority out of the academy. It’s no accident that the right wing attack on tenure has come at around the same time that women and people of color have started to make up larger percentages of tenured positions in the humanities and soft-sciences. As long as it was protecting people like this, they were fine, but once you start going after the power structures in our society, it’s all of a sudden a problem.

Sounds like a good trade off to me.

Right, in part because it’s a set of protections built to protect a particular class of people. When people are challenging systemic racism or misogyny, they are far less likely to be afforded proper protections under the first. It essentially makes it moot.

He probably did his service work, got good evals from his students (which are notoriously weighed in favor of white men), and did his publications.

11 Likes

I was thinking the same thing when reading the swastika pizza story. In Germany those two would have been arrested and would probably have had to pay a fine in the order of several thousand dollars. That’s because the German constitution puts protecting the dignity of all humans (note: not citizens, humans) above every other principle. And based on this, certain symbols are just straight up illegal. The US has a real problem with fundamentalism when it comes to the constitution, especially with the first two amendments. Just like with biblical fundamentalists there is no nuance, the holy writ is being taken literally every time.

I often hear online that laws such as that German one are a slippery slope and pretty soon they will be used to make other symbols illegal. However that slope has existed for 70 years now and nobody has yet slipped down. Plus, there is a very high threshold to change or amend the list.

That first principle, “Human dignity shall be inviolable. To respect and protect it shall be the duty of all state authority.”? That cannot be changed. Ever. By anyone.

8 Likes

I’m more in line with both what Canada and Germany has in place… however, in the debate about how to best combat the rise of right wing political activities in generally, both the free speech and the more curtailed speech model has failed to prevent the rise of right wing nationalism (Trump here, AfD in Germany… I can’t say about Canada, though). I think it just shows us that there are forces outside of just how the government treats speech at play.

4 Likes

So interestingly. this is actually happening right now in Canada, with the Quebec religious symbols law:

Essentially the equality argument has been twisted to be a ban on the display of religious items by government employees to ensure the government appears neutral in such things. In practice, the law effectively targets face coverings and head coverings more than most other symbols, which in turn has been pointed out to be a defacto ban on islamic beliefs as a result.

So the slippery slope is there, and this is an issue that will need to be addressed going forward, but, IMHO, it is far less destructive to society as a whole, and easier to remediate, than a blanket protection of hate speech, which seems to me to be the case in the US.

4 Likes

A small clarification. He got tenure in 1998, long before the suit. If he was still untenured, they could have fired him for just about anything. He sued to force UNCW to promote him from associate to full professor, which is bullshit.

If you looked at his work from before he got tenure, the department knew exactly who he was when they hired him and gave him tenure. His graduate work included things like arguing that rap videos were to blame for sexual violence

10 Likes

The AfD, while being absolutely horrible fascists, just to be clear, are currently polling at c. 10%.

This is intolerably high but it’s not in the same league as Trump or Boris Johnson, etc. And I would argue that it has been a factor that the state and society have kept them at arms length fostered very much by the above legal environment. If they had a first amendment to invoke it would be much worse. Of course that doesn’t stop them from bleating about “free speech” anyway.

4 Likes

Yeah, but that’s still not great, especially since Germany is a parliamentary system, as you say…

I agree.

My point is that neither approach is full proof for avoiding the rise of the hard right, so there are other factors we should always consider. I’d also argue that Germany has a far more robust education around the Holocaust, compared to what the US does for education on slavery and Indigenous genocide (which is nothing comprehensive and until relatively recently could be utterly downplayed and white washed).

7 Likes

This again to me is the heart of the matter - what systemic issues exist that someone who presents as a misogynistic bigot is accepted into the institution in the first place. I have a sad feeling the answer will be “traditional conservative family values” which, in and of itself is all sorts of wrong, but if we can’t trust our educational institutions to thread the needle between “conservative voice” and “bigot” with precision, then how can we expect students or the broader population to do so?

9 Likes

I don’t know what the department was thinking when they hired him, but the nature of his research, and even his conclusions, does not mean that he presented as a terrible person when he applied for the job. Universities should be places where unpopular ideas can be carefully studied. That means unpopular on all ends of the spectrum. In retrospect his research is highly suspect because we now know he is a bigot who probably projected his views on the work, but most academic vetting processes, such as thesis defenses and peer review, assume good faith on the part of the researcher, and are not designed to catch this.

During the probationary period – before tenure was granted – he could have been let go for practically anything, including the catch-all “fit”. Likewise fit can be used in tenure decisions in many places. However, the AAUP for decades has argued against this, on the basis that it can be capricious and that in practice it is almost always used to maintain departmental homogeneity, which works against women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups.

The good news is that academic assholes often find a way to violate some concrete condition of employment at some point in their career. I don’t know what is in this campus’s faculty handbook, but publicly attacking a student (as he did in 2016) would qualify in many places, as would being publicly racist.

There are many problems with the current tenure system in the US – callous mass exploitation of untenured academic labor being first among them – but I wouldn’t say that the unassailable strength of tenure protections is one of them.

2 Likes

but that’s … just as much an interference in academic freedom as forcing it to fire him :confused:

1 Like

No.

Bigotry and misogyny are not “unpopular ideas”, they are not part of civilized society. Now, you may be right, that perhaps he kept these parts of his beliefs hidden from the hiring process, but if he did not, there is no excuse for hiring him.

This idea that “shitty people with good ideas need to be preserved” is the same thing that results in people like Linus Torvalds being in a position of power for so long despite being a complete asshole to everyone. Sure you get their great idea, but how many better ideas were turned away because the environment was toxic?

It’s proliferation of the “great man” theory of history, and I bet you we have some historians in our membership that could talk for hours on how wrong a view of history that truly is.

Assholes do not deserve a pass because they also happen to have edgy unpopular ideas. If they didn’t know at the time, fine. But that also doesn’t excuse keeping them around later when the reality is apparent.

7 Likes

He was apparently researching connections between rap music and violence. My personal view would be that even thinking there might be a connection, or that this is the thing you want to devote your thesis research to, would be a reflection of innate bigotry, conscious or subconscious, but I can also see that the lack of connection is just enough not obvious that it could be a valid thing to study; academics have been studying connections between various kinds of media and various kinds of behaviors for a long time.

This idea that “shitty people with good ideas need to be preserved”

That’s not my idea, or the idea of tenure. However, tenure’s protections are important so that what we are allowed to study is not subject to the capricious whims of administrators, who are often more interested in cash flow than the value of ideas. And there is a lot of academic history that says it is really hard to put processes in place that let you boot out shitty people without the same processes being used to boot out people who you just don’t like.

It really is, but it’s how academia was built. The push to make it more egalitarian has gone hand in hand with the right wing attacks on academia, and that’s no coincidence (and some of those attacks are coming from inside the ivory tower). Far too many academics are getting a phd and then going for years as part time instructors, while people like this jack ass get golden parachutes. It most certainly is no sort of meritocracy at this point and never really was. It’s a myth academics tell ourselves to make us feel as if the very real problems of the university aren’t really there…

10 Likes