A University of Georgia (UGA) alumnus’s expression of bafflement at his alma mater’s failure to condemn remarks made by a philosophy graduate student at the school and his call for other alumni to withhold donations has apparently prompted the university to consider action against the graduate student.
UGA philosophy graduate student and teaching assistant Irami Osei-Frimpong, who some readers may know as the creator of The Funky Academic YouTube series, often discusses racism, politics, and related issues on social media (Twitter, Medium). Some of his remarks caught the attention of Campus Reform correspondent and recently graduated UGA political science major Andrew Lawrence, who decided to attend one of Osei-Frimpong lectures at a meeting of the Young Democrats of UGA club and ask him about them (a brief video taken at the lecture is here, though see this interview with Osei-Frimpong in which he disputes the accuracy of what Lawrence says in the video).
Following this, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Lawrence “wrote a series of articles for Campus Reform concerning Osei-Frimpong’s personal views” and “met repeatedly with UGA officials, who were provided with the video and social media posts in September.”
Unsatisfied with the university’s initial responses, which were, first, to note Osei-Frimpong’s free speech rights as a private citizen and state that he does not speak for the University of Georgia, and second, to condemn, in a statement on Twitter, “the advocacy or suggestion of violence” and views “espousing racism and hatred”, Lawrence wrote and disseminated a letter last week voicing his complaints. Among them were that UGA “failed to properly address” Osei-Frimpong’s comments.
What did Osei-Frimpong say? Apparently one of the remarks that set Lawrence off was the following (according to Online Athens): “some white people may have to die for black communities to be whole in this struggle to advance freedom.”
Osei-Frimpong clarified this in a follow-up post on Facebook that led to his account being suspended by Facebook for 30 days. Here’s that post:
Once Lawrence called for alumni to withhold donations to the school, the school issued the following statement:
“The University is aware of statements made by a PhD student and Graduate Teaching Assistant. The University has been vigorously exploring all available legal options. Racism has no place on our campus, and we condemn the advocacy or suggestion of violence in any form. We are seeking guidance from the Office of the Attorney General as to what actions we can legally consider in accordance with the First Amendment.”
In response, FIRE sent a lengthy and detailed letter to UGA president Jere Morehead, stating, among other things, “The First Amendment does not permit UGA to subject the expressive rights of faculty members or students to the whims of donors, students, or members of the public who find those views uncomfortable, objectionable, or deeply offensive. UGA has condemned the teaching assistant’s expression; the First Amendment prevents the institution from taking any further steps. Instead, UGA must immediately abandon its investigation into protected expression.” The letter also noted that there was no evidence that Osei-Frimpong engaged in any discriminatory or harassing manner in his capacity as a student and teaching assistant at UGA.
In an email, Osei-Frimpong said that the Department of Philosophy at UGA has been supportive of him during these events. He also said that the controversy has shown a few things worth noting.
The first is “how important normalizing ethical courage in the discipline is.” That we are “rigorous and dedicated… when we write for each other” is fine, but it is of limited value “if we are scared to bring the general public along with us.”
Second, he says, “The industry around fake news is enormous, funded, and growing, and they are plotting a conservative takeover of higher education. Campus Reform is just one group, but they have paid stringers at multiple universities whose entire purpose is to shape scholarly inquiry in line with conservative comfort. If the opposition to them is confused or dithering, the regressive faction will win. The notion that courage is something you save for your second book is deep in young scholars.”
His last point speaks directly to the substantive matter of racism in the United States. Osei-Frimpong notes that “we have such an impoverished notion of racism that talking about White people as an ethnic determination is seen as racism—as if the cotton economy, the Klan, and the FHA didn’t attach substantive and relevant inducements to skin color in America.” He adds: “I’m only seen as radical because people have not read Fanon and psychology departments don’t teach Dr. Bobby Wright or Amos Wilson, or even contemporaries like Tommy J. Curry.”
You can read more about this story at FIRE, Online Athens, Flagpole, as well as watch an interview about it with Osei-Frimpong here. Osei-Frimpong has created a video sharing his take on the events and issues here (note that the sound appears to be out for the first minute).