Michael Rectenwald — the PC-bashing, “deplorable” New York University professor behind the Twitter handle @antipcnyuprof — is suing NYU and four of his colleagues for defamation, alleging that he was subjected to a campaign of ostracism and harassment when he criticized campus political correctness.
Rectenwald’s suit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court on Friday, alleges that current and former NYU faculty members used official email distribution lists to defame him in May of 2017, calling him a “right-wing misogynist,” an “asshole” and “Satan” in messages sent to over 100 NYU faculty and administrators.
When contacted by The Daily Caller, John Beckman, New York University’s chief spokesman, brusquely dismissed the allegations. “The suit is without merit,” Beckman stated.
If Professor Rectenwald is a villain, he is a surprisingly personable one. Having readily agreed to an interview to discuss the state of campus politics, the 58-year-old instructor and author cracked a few jokes before spending nearly two hours reflecting on the smear campaign he says he endured when he spoke out against PC obsession on campus. [Disclaimer: the author of this article is a senior at New York University]
“The thing that is interesting here is that they were saying that because I don’t think like them, I am sick and mentally ill,” Rectenwald said. “So you have to be crazy to not believe what they do. Now, it may be true that you have to be crazy to say it, because look what happened!”
So what inspired Rectenwald, a former self-declared “longtime communist” and “ex-leftist,” to crusade against the screeching menace of campus leftism?
“In the fall of 2016,” the NYU professor recounted, “I was noting an increase of this social justice ideology on campuses, and it started to really alarm me. I saw it coming home to roost here at NYU, with the creation of the bias reporting hotline, and with the cancellation of the Milo Yiannopoulos talk because someone might walk past it and hear something which might ‘trigger’ them.”
Rectenwald, an ardent free speech advocate, took great issue with the proliferation of “no platforming” activism across college campuses. But he became especially concerned with the prevalence of what he calls “pure indoctrination” in the classroom:
It says so much to me that Stanford admitted a student who [submitted] one ‘essay’ for admission that said #BlackLivesMatter 100 times. That was one of his ‘essays.’ They admitted him to Stanford in a year during which they had the smallest ever freshman class in the history of the university; furthermore, they said they had an extremely rich field intellectually and diversity-wise. So here is a major top-flight university in the United States that is essentially saying that it is extremely important that universities have social justice sloganeering on campus, and that they have these acolytes who will repeat, ad nauseam, certain phrases.
Rectenwald stated that on Facebook, one former friend of his (a Marxist feminist) bragged that by the end of her course, “every student was now an avowed Marxist feminist.”
“I was the only person that demurred,” he remarked of the post. “I said, ‘I have to beg to differ that this is the objective of any course.’ If you have a teleological model of pedagogy in which you are trying to steer students to a particular end, that is not teaching. That is actually indoctrination. You can do that if you have a political party, but this is absolutely not the role of education, at all. This is absolutely anti-education and anti-intellectual.”
Rectenwald also articulated fears that turning campuses into surveillance states will only exacerbate the anti-individualism and cult-like tribalism he is already witnessing:
Harvard has a social justice activist student extension of their administration. Several other universities as well… They’re even calling them ‘Social Justice Aides,’ et cetera, and they’re paying them really good money – like $15 an hour – to surveil the rest of the student body, to be the extra eyes and ears for microaggression detection. And then they have apps for the phone. Instead of having to go open up a website and click on a link to report a bias incident, you can just open up an app on the phone and report the bias right there on the spot.
Rectenwald expressed concern that such a system makes it even easier for campus collectivists, postmodernist professors and activist administrators to exercise power over those who refuse to conform to the progressive orthodoxy. In essence, the campus becomes a miniature Stasi state, in which every student is a potential informant and every action is a potentially actionable microaggression – regardless of intent.
“And these infractions are never defined, by the way,” Rectenwald added. “There is no definition of ‘bias’ on many university websites … There is no definition of what a ‘microaggression’ is, and there is no definition of what constitutes a bias infraction… And, as far as we know, most administrations won’t answer any questions about anything. There is no transparency.”
The professor explained that as he grew increasingly frustrated with the illiberal agenda he witnessed taking root, social media played a key role in bringing about his “social justice tipping point.” That arrived when he shared a news article on Facebook.
The article focused on a student from the University of Michigan who, when he was offered the chance to claim any pronoun he wished, chose to be referred to as “His Majesty.”
“All I did was post the link to the article,” Rectenwald recounted, with an expression of bemused disbelief. “Then, I went to teach two classes in a row. When I came back after that, there were hundreds of scathing posts marked by vile vituperation against me for being a transphobe, for committing discursive violence, and for betraying the trans community.”
Shortly thereafter, the deplorable professor made the decision that solidified his status as an outsider within his own university. He took up Twitter, and pulled no punches.
“That was the root of all evil,” he said with a chuckle. In an interview with the Washington Square News in October of 2016, he outed himself as the operator of the controversial Twitter account. According to Rectenwald, this was the moment that “all hell broke loose.”
Virtually overnight, he became a social pariah, losing hundreds of Facebook friends and being shunned by colleagues. When asked how his colleagues responded to his newfound celebrity — or infamy —
Rectenwald indicated that although he had previously assumed that most of his colleagues liked him, many must have harbored animosity stemming from his publishing success. After the unmasking, they had no qualms about openly displaying their disgust.
“For the first semester,” he recalled, “[it was] 100 percent shunning. Since the first semester, I’ve had a peeling off of about three to five people out of 100 and something. There was a peeling off of a few people who would actually say hello… That was very rare. Everyone else averts their gaze, or gives me this look like I’m a moral leper, or they try to avoid me. One person refused to get on an elevator with me, because I suppose moral leprosy is contagious. They really are quite histrionic.”
Rectenwald claimed that mere days after he violated safe space orthodoxy by daring to “come out,” he was accosted in an open letter written by several colleagues from his department in the Liberal Studies Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group.
“We fully support Professor Rectenwald’s right to speak his mind and we welcome civil discourse on the issues that concern him,” the letter concluded. “But as long as he airs his views with so little appeal to evidence and civility, we must find him guilty of illogic and incivility in a community that predicates its work in great part on rational thought and the civil exchange of ideas. The cause of Professor Rectenwald’s guilt is certainly not, in our view, his identity as a cis, white, straight male. The cause of his guilt is the content and structure of his thinking.”
Rectenwald stated that being found guilty of committing thoughtcrime only reinforced his convictions regarding the illiberal state of campus leftism. According to the professor, the Liberal Studies Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group’s authoritarian response — and the university’s seeming support of it — reflected the worst tendencies of Maoist struggle sessions and autocritique.
Additionally, according to Rectenwald, NYU’s lukewarm response to left-wing political violence at events featuring conservative speakers Gavin McInnes and Milo Yiannopoulos provided evidence that the administration is being cowed by radical leftists – or, at the very least, is turning a blind eye to their activities.
“I like to call it the ‘Conformity, Inequity and Exclusion Group,’” Rectenwald responded. “I call it that because their enforced orthodoxy is to conform to this prescribed ideology, be deemed a lesser being if you don’t, and then hopefully be excluded from the university – which is what they tried to do with this letter. This letter was a response to my interview, which was given to the Washington Square News, and this letter represents an official NYU committee. That means that that letter carried the force of the dean of our program.”
Rectenwald, a free speech advocate, said that he considers this caustic letter problematic not because it criticized him, but because it represented the official position of the dean – and, by extension, the university.
“That letter was official,” he explained. “That was official. That’s, like, ex cathedra right there. In other words, that came from an official committee. … That means the university took a particular position on this issue and also made extremely inaccurate responses to what I said. They accused me of ad hominem remarks, and they must not know the definition of ad hominem. I spoke of no individuals at all. I never mentioned a single person!”
Rectenwald minced no words when describing the colleagues who lambasted him.
“The people who headed that committee at the time were largely writing factory people, and they’re very anti-intellectual,” he told me. “I remember in early meetings of the writing faculty committees, I would talk about things like having an argument in your paper, and I was given a cross look like I was Satan because I mentioned a thesis statement. That was a verboten idea, because you’re supposed to be gushing some impressionistic horse sh*t all day, I suppose.”
Rectenwald’s unmasking brought him even more fame and infamy, and he was summoned to the dean’s office within days of going public.
“So the dean comes up to me,” he recounted, “about four inches away while I’m walking in and we’re shaking hands, and whispers to me, ‘this has nothing to do with your Twitter account or the publicity you’re receiving. I just want you to know that.’ Whispered it. I said, ‘Oh, okay.’ But I’m thinking, why then did you do it like this? If it had nothing to do with that, why did you say that first? Usually when people make statements like that, it means exactly the opposite. And that’s exactly what it meant.”
After the awkward handshake, Rectenwald said he was informed that several colleagues were worried about his mental state due to the views he expressed, and he was pressured to take a leave of absence.
The NYU professor added that he had been waiting for news on a promotion for six months, and that although he had agreed to take the leave, it was in no way voluntary, because he felt that he had no real choice.
NYU, on the other hand, has maintained that Rectenwald voluntarily took the leave of absence. In response to his statements to the press, the university released an email exchange between Rectenwald and the Dean of Liberal Studies.
“The fact of the matter,” Liberal Studies Dean Fred Schwarzbach stated in an email to Rectenwald on November 11, 2016, “is that this leave has nothing to do with your opinions or your take on the academy and was not involuntary; rather, the truth is, the leave is something you said you wanted and needed.”
Rectenwald returned from his leave of absence last year, and was granted the promotion he had been waiting on. This was a major relief because the meeting had left him worried that he might well lose his job, and the raise was necessary for him to be able to afford to live and work in Manhattan.
According to Rectenwald, the welcome pay bump and promotion may well have been a result of the university’s instincts for self-preservation, not any true belief in the importance of free thought and diverse viewpoints. By keeping him around, Rectenwald argued, NYU shielded itself from one potential lawsuit for discrimination or retaliation.
But Rectenwald maintains that the university never adequately addressed the smear campaign and ostracism. Once he returned from his leave, he was asked if he wanted to move offices to get away from his liberal studies colleagues, an offer he accepted.
Now, seeking refuge from his leftist colleagues’ supposed witch-hunt, he remains “holed up” in the Russian department. Given the left’s obsession with the Russian collusion narrative, Rectenwald finds this development particularly amusing.
Looking ahead to the future of academia, the polarizing professor is optimistic. He is of the opinion that identity politics and social justice movements, especially on campuses, have morphed into a sort of religion with cult-like recruitment. But, as frustrated as he is by the current trend, he thinks it can be reversed.
Rectenwald is by no means alone in his skepticism of PC culture and its collectivist tendencies. He has a friendly relationship with the University of Toronto’s Professor Jordan Peterson, as well as fellow NYU Professor Jonathan Haidt, the founder of Heterodox Academy, which encourages diversity of thought on college campuses.
Rectenwald believes that young people are especially hungry for Peterson’s and Haidt’s ideas, yearning to think critically after having to sit through classes marked by “mindless indoctrination.”
Professor Rectenwald believes that the proponents of safe spaces and trigger warnings will one day wake up, venture out into the world and find it to be very different from the pipe dream of the intersectional left. It will be a rude awakening, but Rectenwald believes that sanity will prevail in the fight against campus orthodoxy, ideological enslavement and totalitarian impulses.
As the interview concluded, Rectenwald was deep in thought. “We’re gonna win,” he said in a measured tone, nodding his head. “It’s gonna be tough, but we’re gonna win.”
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