Since 1997, Mark Crispin Miller has been a Professor at New York University, teaching courses on propaganda, cinema and other subjects in the field of media studies, in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication (MCC) in NYU's Steinhardt School. On Nov. 30, Prof. Miller filed suit against 19 of his department colleagues for libel, some five weeks after they had sent a letter to the dean, demanding that he order "an expedited review" of Prof. Miller's "conduct" in the classroom and beyond: "conduct" so vile that it should nullify Prof. Miller's academic freedom, and therefore merit "public condemnation" by the dean, and "whatever further disciplinary measures are deemed appropriate"—presumably including termination.
That letter was the latest shot in an attack that started on Sept. 20, when a student in Prof. Miller's propaganda course became enraged by his suggestion that the class look into the scientific studies—pro and con—of masks' effectiveness against transmission of respiratory viruses. Instead of speaking up in class, the student took to Twitter three days later, demanding that NYU fire Prof. Miller, for his "excessive amount of skepticism around health professionals," and the "harm" his teaching therefore poses—and NYU quickly took her side. (The details are in Prof. Miller's petition, via the link to "background story.")
All this prompted Prof. Miller to put up a petition in defense of academic freedom and free speech—not just his, but those of professors, journalists, scientists, doctors, activists, whistle-blowers and others who have been gagged, or punished for their dissidence, for decades, and especially this year. (The petition has, to date, drawn over 22,000 signatures, from people the world over—including notables like Seymour Hersh, James K. Galbraith, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Dr. David L. Katz, Sharyl Attkisson, Oliver Stone, and Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng—and a public statement of support from Ralph Nader.)
Deeming the petition "an attack on the department," Prof. Miller's colleagues, on Oct. 21, responded with their letter to the dean, charging that Prof. Miller not only "attacked a student who had publicly objected to his criticism of mask usage," and "intimidate[d] students who choose to wear masks" (both charges completely false), but has long engaged in "explicit hate speech," "attacks on students and others in our community," "advocacy for an unsafe learning environment," "discrimination" and "aggressions and microaggressions." On the basis of those charges, the dean at once initiated the "review" that they demanded, and that continues (and that has prompted over 50 students, and visitors to Prof. Miller's classes over the years, to rebut those charges with strong letters of support).
Prof. Miller sent the group a point-by-point rebuttal of their letter, calling it "a pack of lies," and requesting a retraction and apology. He followed up with a second such request. As they ignored both those appeals, Prof. Miller filed his lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court. As such litigation can be costly (and Prof. Miller's funds are limited, as he has heavy medical expenses for the treatment of his chronic Lyme disease), he hopes to raise $100,000 for the many depositions, motions, hearings and consultations that are likely to ensue over the coming months. (The funds will be deposited in an escrow account managed by his lawyer.)
Prof. Miller knows that this will be a difficult experience, but is resolved to see it through, because his plight is only one of many, in a world increasingly beset by iron censorship of free inquiry into urgent subjects of all kinds. As he told one reporter: "This is not just about me. We're living in a moment when academic freedom and free speech are at grave risk."
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