A hostile public and a wounded university go head to head
When my editors at The California Aggie gave the green light to publish my op-ed “A UC Davis professor thinks cops ‘need to be killed’” on Feb. 25 — after weeks of hard deliberating that both delayed and strengthened the final result — we hardly expected to get national attention.
We had a simple goal: to drive a conversation about faculty standards and the limits of academic freedom. But there were also inherent risks to publishing. Suggesting that the police were potential victims, instead of offenders, seemed risky on this campus. The possibility of death threats against Professor Clover and those involved in the publishing process seemed real — all irony aside. Would bringing this story to light invite more closed-door responses and reinforce existing tribalisms?
Student opinions of Clover are mixed. The story trended on the campus news app Wildfire and drew a range of comments on Facebook. The Davis College Republicans hosted a “Fire Joshua Clover” rally that drew a 100 people. On the other hand, a small number held signs of support for Clover and “occasionally shouted down” student speakers, according to The Davis Enterprise.
Regardless of how students felt, the response from those beyond the borders of UC Davis showed that bringing Clover’s comments to light was a necessary exercise in transparency. First came the emails from all over the country, from police officers and lawyers to UC Davis alumni who said they wouldn’t donate to the school as long as Clover remained employed.
Next came the interviews for Sacramento TV networks and call-ins to radio stations from places including Napa, Calif. and Sioux City, Iowa. Media outlets like Newsweek, the Daily Mail and Fox News ran stories about Clover’s comments.
California Assemblyman and UC Davis alum James Gallagher, who represents California’s Third District, submitted an Aggie op-ed and personally delivered a petition with 10,000 signatures calling for Clover’s termination. (Gallagher also introduced a like-minded resolution to the State Assembly on Mar. 12.) UC President Janet Napolitano told Capital Public Radio that Clover’s comments are “repugnant to university values,” though she cited academic freedom as a reason not to fire him.
Although Chancellor Gary May eventually asked campus counsel to review Clover’s conduct, the weeklong delay in doing so — prompted only after intense public outcry — reinforced the common refrain that universities are elitist and partial to lofty, alienating behavior. The response to Clover simply underscores the disconnect between higher education and much of the public.
And while administrators are right to be skeptical of public scorn over its academic decision-making, the public too has a right to demand accountability from a university system partially funded by taxpayer dollars.
There’s been a small, and unfortunate, side-effect of bringing the Clover story to light. When Breitbart News picked it up, commenters were quick to plug their own narrative of campus “libtards” with abandon. Based on Breitbart’s account, every liberal college student and professor wants cops to die and Marxism to take over the world.
Over at National Review, my piece was criticized by David French as the “right-wing analog” of left-wing “fake outrage” seen over debates about Tucker Carlson, for example.
The problem with making Clover’s comments a distinctly political issue is that constructive dialogue rapidly deteriorates when groupthink cordons off individualism — support for law enforcement means you’re anti-black; promoting police reform means you hate all police. You either support progressive politics or conservative ones. It’s one or the other — a zero-sum game.
I received many emails from people across the political spectrum who decried Clover’s comments, not for ideological reasons, but rather for their assault against human values. One email came from a self-described liberal Democrat who recognized the importance of taking the long view for issues that breach our collective value system, whether we lean left or right.
“We can differ in our political views, we can want different systems for our country, but actively wishing for and supporting the murder of humans is not a political statement, but the ravings of an unstable person who has no business in a position of authority or power,” she wrote.
The Clover piece was designed to kickstart a conversation about who UC Davis is, what we represent and where our institutional values lie.
It seems to have worked.
Written by: Nick Irvin — firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.