Few things invoke fear in a college administrator like receiving a letter from FIRE — The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Georgetown University Law Center “GULC” is the latest recipient for its decision to place Ilya Shapiro, its incoming Senior Lecturer and Executive Director of the Center for the Constitution, on administrative leave for self-described “inartful” tweets.

The tweets in question? Shapiro responded to President Biden’s declaration to choose only a Black woman for the Supreme Court, and he expressed regret that Biden’s intersectional litmus test would exclude Judge Sri Srinivasan, the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals who is male and of Indian descent. Shapiro continued that Srinivasan “doesn’t fit the intersectional hierarchy so we’ll get a lesser black woman” and alleged that the nominee would “have an asterisk attached.” 

Shapiro quickly removed the tweets and apologized for “[his] poor choice of words, which undermined [his] message that nobody should be discriminated against for his or her skin color.”

Cue the outrage, student demands to rescind Shapiro’s employment offer, and GULC Dean WIlliam Treanor’s condemnation email, calling Shapiro’s comments “demeaning” and “appalling” and at odds with the GULC DEI culture. Another woke cancellation attempt. Lather, rinse, repeat.

So, why the fear when FIRE sends a letter? Because FIRE fights. And FIRE usually wins.

FIRE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.

FIRE does not take a position on the merits of Shapiro’s speech or the merits of the outrage. Asserting constitutional principles, FIRE simply argues in favor of free and open debate — and in favor of the ability to misspeak without retribution.

FIRE asserts:

Freedom of expression protects both Shapiro’s tweets and the criticism that followed. Shapiro asserts that his critics have misinterpreted his remarks. He must be free to argue as much without fear of termination, just as his critics must not fear reprisal for their interpretations. The dialogue between Shapiro and his critics must be allowed to continue. Academic freedom relies on this exchange of ideas, however sharp and uncomfortable it may sometimes be.

FIRE’s position finds support in Georgetown’s own speech and expression policies and from the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the American Association of University Professors. Specifically, Georgetown University’s Speech and Expression Policy commits to protect the “broadest latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.” That broad latitude includes the right to offer views that are “thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or ill conceived.” When adopted by a university, the 1940 Statement seeks to protect free expression:

When they speak or write as citizens, [university teachers] should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.

It is worth nothing that Georgetown took no action when anti-Trump professor Dr. Carol Christine Fair referred, during the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, to the United States Senate as a “chorus of entitled white men justifying a serial rapist’s arrogated entitlement.” Continuing, Fair opined, “[a]ll of them deserve miserable deaths while feminists laugh as they take their last gasps. Bonus: we castrate their corpses and feed them to swine? Yes.”

Twitter is an unforgiving medium. Georgetown should live up to its own policies, which permit unpopular, and even ill-conceived, views and the ability to refine those views over time. All college campuses — once beacons of free expression — should model the free exchange of ideas, however sloppy the debate. Colleges that capitulate to cancel culture will hear from FIRE.

Ilya Shapiro’s wife, Kristin, is an IWF Fellow. Jennifer George has not met and does not know either Ilya or Kristin Shapiro.