NYU has been in tumult over far-right tweeting by a self-declared “deplorable” professor who revealed himself last week as Michael Rectenwald, assistant clinical professor of liberal studies. Yesterday he made another revelation in a Washington Post op-ed: his alt-right burst of opinions was a pose, a “thought experiment” intended to provoke an authoritarian reaction at NYU. He was placed on paid leave, but his saga took yet another turn when NYU said the leave was purely voluntary.
In his op-ed, Rectenwald wrote, “I’m not a conservative, or an alt-righter. I find Donald Trump repugnant. But over the last couple of weeks, I’ve become a campus pariah to some (and a hero, perhaps, to a few) in my nontenured NYU faculty job, thanks to the humorless, Social Justice Warrior-brand of campus culture run amok and a misunderstanding about a Twitter account. Enmeshed in a conspiracy — thinly disguised as sympathy — of my colleagues’ design, I’ve lost my academic freedom and I potentially stand to lose my appointment.”
Rectenwald excoriated “the predictable, censorious responses of so-called progressives, self-appointed thought police at NYU and elsewhere who have, in the name of maintaining a culture of civility on campus, policed their little corner of the Twittersphere.”
His op-ed listed a few PC excesses: the suggestion at some colleges that students report to authorities on inappropriate Halloween costumes, and the disaster last year at Yale where a house master was as abused and threatened over a mild Halloween-costume suggestion by his wife (an assistant housemaster) while four Yale deans looked on and said nothing.
Though his opinion of Trump is low, he wrote, “The whole episode makes me reluctantly agree with Trump’s assertion that political correctness “has transformed our institutions of higher education from ones that fostered spirited debate to a place of extreme censorship.”
The Daily Caller reported that NYU insisted his sudden departure on paid leave was purely voluntary. “It was not demanded by the University and is unconnected to his social media postings,” says chief spokesman John Beckham. “He requested the leave, and we look forward to having him back when he is ready. His leave has absolutely nothing to do with his Twitter account or his opinions on issues of the day.”
The editorial Board of Washington Square News, an independent NYU paper, said Rectenwald’s version of events “was quickly proven to be false when NYU released a copy of the email correspondence between Rectenwald and Liberal Studies Dean Fred Schwarzbach. The conversation revealed that his previous comments were inaccurate and that university officials had never forced him to take a leave of absence. … NYU officials have stated that they are ending his self-imposed leave and expect him to return to classes immediately.”