I appeared recently the Daily Signal Podcast with Virginia Allen. The topic was various controversies in academia, including Harvard’s Claudine Gay, antisemitism on campuses including Cornell, and the ultimate question of whether academia can be saved:
I’ve been on the podcast with Virginia several times in the past, and alway enjoy it. Listen to the full conversation below:
(Time stamps correspond to separate mp3 used to generate the transcript, omitting intro)
Virginia Allen (00:00):
I am so pleased to have back with us today, Mr. William Jacobson. He is a Cornell Law professor and the founder and publisher of Legal Insurrection. Professor Jacobson, thanks for being back with us today. Thank
You for having me back.
Well, we have a lot to cover. There’s been some events happening on your college campus at Cornell recently that I want to discuss, and over the past three months, we’ve seen a really disturbing trend in a rise in antisemitism across college campuses. And honestly, this surprised me. Of course, we’ve covered many times, including with you on this podcast, just how far left so many universities have become, but it’s a whole other thing to see blatantly anti-Semitic language coming from students on college campuses. Were you surprised at what we saw from Cornell and other universities following Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7th?
At the time, I think it was pretty surprising and shocking, but with the benefit of being able to look back at it, I think it probably was not shocking and surprising. If you look at the trend, really over the last 20 years on campuses, this has been building and brewing, the gross dehumanization of Israeli Jews, delegitimization of Israel has been building, it’s been building among faculty more than anybody. You have thousands of faculty members around the country who have signed onto the boycott of Israel. You have multiple faculty organizations that have signed onto it. And I think a lot of people stuck their head in the sand and said, oh, this is just some crazy people, it’s not a big deal. But it was a big deal because you now have a generation of students on campuses who’ve never known anything other than Israeli Jews are the worst people on the face of the earth. And so it was kept under the surface, I think, for many years, but it burst forward. And I think we have to understand that the problem we have on campuses didn’t happen on October 7th. It just got exposed on October 7th.
Now, I know you said that you have been on sabbatical from Cornell for a couple months here, but have you spoken with students with other faculty and staff at Cornell about some of the protests, about some of the pro-Palestine protests on campus, their thoughts on the situation that unfolded on campus?
Yes, I have spoken to all of the above, and obviously I’m able to see what’s going on, even if I’m not physically present. There’s a lot of video floating around, a lot of students who have testified before Congress. Multiple students, I believe, have testified as to the atmosphere. So while I would probably have a better pulse on things if I were physically on campus, I think I have a pretty good sense. And what I’m hearing is consistent with what I’ve heard for many years at Cornell, which is that it’s a very toxic culture when it comes to Israel. And I’ve witnessed this, and we’ve reported on it at legal insurrection many times for a decade, very aggressive, abusive anti-Israel tactics by students which are tolerated by the administration in a way that would not be tolerated if they were directed at anybody else. And that’s the key thing.
Now, all of a sudden, administrations at colleges have discovered the First Amendment and they’re saying, oh, well, these people chanting for mass murder with their bullhorns running through the library, oh well, that’s free speech. Well, it wouldn’t have been free speech on any campus if targeting any other group. We live on campuses where there are microaggressions, if you misgender somebody you could get expelled, if you do any sort of thing.
So the way I would put it is that it’s been building, it’s been tolerated in a way that would not be tolerated to other groups. And if the administration at Cornell and elsewhere wany yo say, well, the only limits on speech on campus is the First Amendment, that’s great. I’m all for that. But that’s not how they operate. They have rules, regulations, bias, response teams, all sorts of administrative apparatus to punish speech on campuses.
So I think that it was building, but I’ve covered this for many years at Cornell, boycott motions brought to the student assembly over Passover, disruptions of Israeli events on campus. And so I think that it’s not surprising, but it’s also consistent with what has happened for a decade at Cornell. .
Well, we really saw this on display, a little bit of that, that double standard that you’re referring to on display when multiple university presidents testified before Congress. And following that congressional testimony, of course, both UPenn president Liz McGill and Harvard President Clatting Gay resigned. You’ve referred to gay in your writing at Legal Insurrection as the DEI President. She was Harvard’s shortest serving president. What do you make of this and why do you call her the DEI president?
I call her the DEI president because that was her advocacy. That was what she was known for. There were, it came out that she published a, not really a paper, but a memo is probably a better description, calling to inject DEI into every aspect of the campus. So she carried out the mission of pushing the issue of race into every nook and cranny of the university. And that’s why I call her the DEI president.
I think some people have called her that because they assume she got the position because of her identity as a black female. And that probably was part of it. But I used it in the specific sense that she was the messenger and the carrier of the DEI agenda.
One thing I think that’s really important about her ultimate resignation, which was forced, it wasn’t truly voluntary, was that it appears to have had very little to do with the antisemitism problem on campus at least superficially. It appears from the sequence of events that it was her plagiarism problem that created it. The New York Times reported the same thing, that the plagiarism problem caused her to lose credibility with the people who matter to the Harvard board, which are big donors and corporate executives and people like that. That loss of confidence appears not to have happened previously when her disastrous performance at the congressional hearing took place. So I think we need to understand that she was not forced out, she being Claudine Gay, was not forced out because of her congressional testimony or because of her failure to appropriately deal with the antisemitism problem on campus. She was forced out because she was damaging the Harvard brand. She had become a punchline. She’d become memes on the internet because of her plagiarism. And so she was doing extreme damage to the Harvard brand through the drip, drip drip of her plagiarism issues. And I, that pretty clearly is why they got rid of her.
And I think that’s a lesson for everybody, that it was really the damage to the Harvard brand that caused her to be removed. It wasn’t the underlying problems on the campus.
Now you’ve written for Legal Insurrection that you feel like the situation with former Harvard President Gay kind of highlights the issues with DEI and with a university putting so much focus and so much emphasis on DEI, but do you think we’re going to see the lessons manifest? Or is this just going to be kind of a quick flash in the pan where then you see the leftist universities go right back to pushing DEI on campus?
Well, if I were a betting person, and I’m not <laugh>, I would bet that it’s going to go right back. That there will be some period where there’s a little bit of superficial self-reflection. There’s some period of where donor pressure can make a difference. But we have to understand the bureaucracies and the ideologies are so embedded throughout most universities, but certainly all of the Ivy League and the quote unquote elite universities, that may not be members of the Ivy League, the top tier, this ideology is so deeply embedded.
As you know, we’ve got a website, CriticalRace.org, and for several years we’ve been screaming to anybody who would listen that this is going be a problem. And now it’s a problem. And everybody’s waking up. And a lot of people are new to the issue and saying, oh, we now need to get rid of DEI.
That’s the problem. Well, yes, I mean, I’m glad that we were right, but I wish we had been wrong because these bureaucracies, the ideology is everywhere on campuses and they’re going to fight for their jobs. There’s a lot of money involved here. The consultants are goint to fight for their consulting deals. The presidents of universities who got to where they are on the back of DEI are going to fight to preserve it.
So I think that this is not something that is going to be over. And I think the test will be whether the people who want to restore our universities to their original function of knowledge as opposed to political activism will stay the course. I’m not convinced that they will.
You recently published a piece on lLegal Insurrection titled Rearranging Chairs on the Sinking Academic Ship: Gay is Gone, but the DEI problems remain. So if the academic ship is sinking, I mean, that implies to me that maybe it, it can’t be saved. Is that true?
Depends which side of the bed I got up from. <laugh>. If I get up on one side, I say it’s over <laugh>. There’s no hope <laugh>, if I get up on the other side of the bed, it’s, well, maybe there’s hope, we can do this!
You know? That’s fair. That’s fair.
I think the reality is, I don’t know if academia can be saved. And I’ve said many times, for many years, it certainly cannot be reformed from within. And there are many reasons. One is the embedded interest groups, some of which are ideological, some of which are financial throughout the campuses. Part of it is that this is something that is really a religion to a lot of these people. And so I, I don’t think it can be restored.
And the third part of it is there’s no internal opposition. Conservatives have been purged from academia, as have pro-Israel professors, openly pro-Israel. And the way the purge takes place is not necessarily someone getting fired, it’s people not getting hired. If you look at who has been hired in the last 20 to 30 years, you would be very hard pressed on any substantial basis, I mean, there may be people here and there, but on any substantial basis to find conservatives being hired or to find openly pro-Israel professors being hired. We’ve had people who’ve written for my website who are pro-Israel PhD students, one in particular I’m thinking of , who had to use a pseudonym. He said, I’ll never get hired if they see me writing on a website like yours expressing pro-Israel views. And so I think that’s the reality we face, is that even in so-called Jewish Studies departments on campuses, they’re all far left. Many anti-Zionist Jewish professors, anybody else cannot get hired.
So there is no internal opposition left on campuses. The faculty is approaching 100% anti-conservative and approaching 100% anti-Israel. The administrations vary more, but they still have to deal with the faculty. And the faculty drive a lot of these issues. They teach the courses, they have a lot of discretion as to what they teach in the courses.
Do if you’re gonna have a course on most campuses dealing with the Israel Palestine issue, it’s almost certainly going to be taught by someone who is hostile to Israel. Again, there are exceptions, but that I think a fair summary of the general rule. So students, to the extent they’re studying these topics, are getting a skewed viewpoint.
So that’s why I think academia is in a really bad way. I think that, and again, I’m talking about the Ivy League and the elite universities, I think it’s less bad elsewhere. Someone pointed out, and I, I think this is true, uh, has there been a single pro Hamas or anti-Israel rally at a community college?
Hmm. That’s a good question.
I don’t think so. Maybe there was one, but certainly not these/ Ehere are these taking place? They’re taking place at Cornell. They’re taking place at University of Pennsylvania, at Harvard, to a lesser extent at Yale, at Columbia, that’s where these things are taking place. There are some others, U Michigan and some of the California Berkeley schools like that.
But for the most part, this is an elite leftist problem, which has completely captured many campuses. And so they appear to have disproportionate impact on society. They don’t appear. They do have disproportionate impact on society, because whether we like it or not, these elite campuses are very influential when it comes to off campus.
Hmm. Now you have hung on at Cornell as a conservative professor, but it hasn’t been easy. You’ve faced a lot of pushback. For those who aren’t familiar with your story that you have shared in your past on the Daily Seal Podcast, can you just briefly share how you have survived at Cornell as a conservative?
Sure. How many hours do we have? <laugh> <laugh>? So I’ll give you, give you two minutes, short version. I’ll give you the elevator pitch. <laugh>.
Allen: There you go.
WAJ: So the elevator pitch is that I was nonpolitical when I was hired. I would never have been hired had I had Legal Insurrection. That wasn’t started till a year after I was hired. There was for the better part of a decade, really, through the Obama administration, because I started Legal Insurrection in 2008, a steady stream of harassment, threats and intimidation, all of which came from off campus.
So I never really had a problem at Cornell, really, until George Floyd. And then after George Floyd, I wrote what I’d written many times before at my website, which is that the hands up don’t shoot of the Michael Brown case, which people were marching to in June of 2020 was a fabrication. It never happened. The Obama Justice Department found, there’s no credible evidence that happened yet.
That was the signature slogan of the Black Lives Matter movement. So I wrote about it, it’s a fabrication. In fact, the Justice Department under Barack Obama found that Michael Brown was shot because he punched a policeman in the face and tried to steal his weapon. Not because he was black and not because he had his hands up saying, don’t shoot. I also wrote that the Black Lives Matter movement, which I had studied from inception, from when it was just a hashtag after the Trayvon Martin case to when it became a full-blown national organization after Michael Brown, was run by people who were anti-American, avowed Marxists, did not have our country’s interest at heart. And were trying to tear us down. So I wrote all those things that were absolutely true, and people lost their minds.
And there was, I think it was a sign of the times. I think people got swept up in the mania that was taking place throughout academia particularly, but society in general, where anybody who disagreed with the Black Lives Matter movement, or criticized it was, was run out of town. So there was an alumni petition to fire me. There was a student boycott of my courses by 15 student groups. 21 of my colleagues signed a letter denouncing me. The dean of the law school denounced me, but I did not back down. I was willing to debate it.
I’m right. I’ve been proven right. Three and a half years later, everything I said about that [BLM] movement has been proven to be true. But I hung on, I did have academic freedom, and some level of job security, not tenure, but a different level.
And I also had a lot of friends in the media, including you, and including your program who had me on to talk about it. And so the problem that a lot of faculty face, that sense of isolation, I didn’t go through. So that’s my story at Cornell. They’ve left me alone since then.
It was a moral, I would say, an immoral panic that they went through. And now, as far as I know, they leave me alone, <laugh>. I leave them alone. But it’s not easy. I mean, a lot of people will look at my story and say, well, he didn’t get fired, but who wants to go through that? Who wants to be demonized by essentially your boss with a completely misleading statement about me, who wants to be demonized by colleagues.
By the way, the people who least demonized me were the students. I got a lot of student support. They said quietly. And they said, look, we have to be quiet about it because we don’t want to be targeted either. My course enrollment, we beat the student boycott. There was no measurable impact of the boycott on my enrollment. So it, it turned out okay.
But you know, the story is, and this is why I say there’s no internal opposition left on campuses, is that when you do that to somebody, it doesn’t really matter whether they get fired or not, you have sent a message to everybody else on campus that this is what happens if you speak out. That’s my story. And I did it. And the elevator is landing <laugh>.
So we have <laugh>. Well done. Condensing it, <laugh>. Well, we encourage our listeners go back and listen to some of those older interviews. We’ll leave links in the show notes so you can find them where we do go into depth in detail about what happened at Cornell Law. I feel like I remember you saying that you’re aware of one other conservative professor on the Cornell campus. Is that right? Or is there not even one?
Yeah, I wouldn’t even say conservative. So the Cornell campus, there are a couple of people who, you know, are sore thumbs to the prevailing orthodoxy, one of whom I would say is more libertarian. The other I would say is, has come forward in just the last couple of years, I wouldn’t say he’s conservative, but he’s very outspoken in terms of free speech. So no, there, to my knowledge, are no other openly politically conservative professors. And I stress the politically, there may be professors who think of themselves as conservative in one way or another, but they don’t speak out on political related issues. So as to people who speak out on political related issues, who could be termed conservative, whatever that means nowadays, labels have changed a lot, I think I’m it.
<laugh> on a campus of 17 or 1800 professors or faculty, 20,000 students, I am the faculty advisor to virtually, or at least to every right of center undergraduate student group that I’m aware of, because I’m the only one, I’m the only one that can turn to I’m, I am among other things, faculty advisor to the Cornell Chapter of the Network of Enlightened Women, because apparently there’s no enlightened woman they can find in the faculty to be their advisor.
Wow. Well, for all of our listeners who wanna follow how you’re speaking out, the ways that you’re speaking out, make sure to check out Legal Insurrection website. It’s legalinsurrection.com, and you can find all of Professor Jacobson’s work there. And also make sure to check out CriticalRace.org. That’s a great resource that Professor Jacobson, we’ve had you on specifically. We had an episode just to talk about that. And it tracks universities, colleges across the campus that have DEI trainings, programs, initiatives, and explains very clearly just these are the facts of what’s happening on campus. A great resource CriticalRace.org. Professor Jacobson, thank you as always for your time. We really appreciate it.
Thank you for having me on again.
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