Philosophy Professor Fired After Posting Song on YouTube


James Spiegel, a professor of philosophy at Taylor University, a Christian liberal arts college in Indiana, was fired from his position after posting a video to YouTube of him performing one of his songs, “Little Hitler,” sharing it on Facebook, and refusing to take it down when asked to do so by the college administration.

Spiegel had been a professor at the college for 27 years. According to Taylor University student paper The Echo, he was fired on August 24th. Reporter Sam Jones writes:

Spiegel said the reason for his termination was connected to the song “Little Hitler,” a song written by Spiegel, and performed by the professor on more than one occasion on the campus of Taylor University. On Aug. 17, Spiegel uploaded a link to the song on his personal Facebook page. 

On Aug. 19, morning, Spiegel received an email from Provost Hammond, who ordered that Spiegel take down the video.

On Aug. 20, morning, Spiegel met with Hammond and Jones to discuss the issue further. Later that evening, Spiegel informed Hammond and Jones that the video would not be taken down. 

On Aug. 24, morning, Spiegel’s employment was terminated. 

Between Aug. 20 and Aug. 24, there was no additional communication between Spiegel and Taylor administration. 

“Yes, their decision was based on my refusal to remove a video of my song “Little Hitler” from my personal YouTube channel after the University received a harassment complaint about it,” Spiegel wrote. 

The song is about inner evil thoughts people have, with lyrics like:

We’re appalled at injustice and oppression
and every atrocity that makes the nightly news
but just give it a thought:
If you knew you’d never get caught
you’d be thieving and raping and murdering, too.

Here’s the video:

Spiegel appears to be an outspoken religious conservative who, according to Religion News Service, “wrote a petition opposing plans to bring Starbucks to campus because of its ‘stands on the sanctity of life and human sexuality’ and signed onto another supporting Vice President Mike Pence’s invitation to speak last year at graduation… [and] was one of the authors of an anonymous conservative newsletter that popped up on campus with complaints that the school had become too liberal.” You can read about that newsletter here.

The university administration denies that Spiegel’s termination was about politics or restricting academic freedom. According to The Echo, university leaders in an email wrote, “Taylor is not a political enterprise, nor was this an effort to silence disagreements with the University and/or its leadership… There is no mandate or effort to remove people based on politics or ideology, nor is there a desire to ‘cancel’ the opinions of others.” Apart from a vague reference to restoring “damaged relationships,” though, they have not offered any alternative explanation.

(via Tim Hsiao)

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Avalonian
Avalonian
10 months ago

Everyone: Well, this Cancel Culture thing might have reached its zenith.

Cancel Culture: [*reads  Plato, Republic, 360b–d*] Hold my beer! Report

Adam Omelianchuk
10 months ago

Well as a piece of artwork, the song is pretty “meh” to my ears but it isn’t out of the ordinary for a Christian to make a song about original sin and how it has the power to turn everyone into a monster. For example, Sufjan Stevens’s song “John Wayne Gacey Jr.” says:

“And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid”

Whatever one thinks of this kind of stuff — and from a secular point of view, the quote in the OP channels Glaucon — it is within the boundaries of protected speech . If I had to speculate as to why Speigel was fired, it would be that he has a long history of making the administrators displeased, and this act of “insubordination” was the last straw. But of course I have no idea. This is simply baffling. Report

Kris McDaniel
Kris McDaniel
10 months ago

He got fired over this video? That is outrageous. I don’t know how things work at Taylor University, but it doesn’t sound like anyone has tenure there if someone really can lose it that easily.

This does sound to me like a violation of academic freedom. He is expressing a point of view that one can find in numerous philosophical and religious texts.

Report

Wes McMichael
Wes McMichael
10 months ago

It probably had more to do with lingering anger over the anonymous newsletter he helped start at Taylor in 2018: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/march/excalibur-conservative-underground-taylor-university.html

Still, this seems like a clear violation of academic freedom, at least from the limited information available to me. I’m no fan of conservatives, and the song doesn’t appeal to me in content or style, but I would be alarmed if the dismal was based on the newsletter or music. I’m hoping there is more to the story; otherwise, this is very disturbing. Report

Jan Sprenger
Reply to  Wes McMichael
10 months ago

Exactly @WesMcMichaelReport

Hoss
Hoss
10 months ago

Will they also cancel the dialogues of Socrates from class?Report

Andrew Mills
Andrew Mills
10 months ago

Is anyone else bothered by the fact that he uses sigmas instead of omicrons in his spelling of Philonous?
But yes, this seems far away from a fireable offense. Report

James Stroble
James Stroble
Reply to  Andrew Mills
10 months ago

Probably using κσινή Greek, Christian School.Report

Dmitri Gallow
10 months ago

While I’m not a fan of the sentiment expressed in the song, I agree wholeheartedly with the comments above that expressing those sentiments in art produced during your leisure time should not be a fire-able offense at an institution whose mission statement “proclaim[s a] commitment to act justly.” It’s also worth noting that something not far from the position Spiegel expresses in the song is echoed in Taylor’s own mission statement (https://www.taylor.edu/about/index.shtml):

“Humankind, though uniquely created in God’s image, rebelled and stands in need of redemption.”

“There’s a little Hitler inside of you” is obviously a much cruder way of expressing that idea, but Spiegel seems to be expressing—however crudely—a view which Taylor takes to be central enough to its institution’s values that it is included in its relatively brief mission statement. Report

Allen Bundy
Allen Bundy
10 months ago

Anyone who would rape, and murder if it wasn’t for their religion is a psychopath. It is not surprising that a universe would not want a religious kook who is actually psychopathic as a representation of their “professors”.Report

Wes McMichael
Wes McMichael
Reply to  Allen Bundy
10 months ago

Someone who *would* rape or murder were it not for their religion is indeed a psychopath. It isn’t clear to me, however, that someone who *believes* they would rape or murder without their religion is a psychopath.

I was raised fundamentalist and believed that “but for the grace of God” I would be capable of horrible evil, but discovered that was untrue when I became an atheist and had even stronger beliefs about the value of my personal integrity.

I have a hard time believing the goofy-acting dude in the YouTube video would harm a fly, with or without his religion, regardless of his personal beliefs.

The point to me is that academic freedom requires the freedom to express radical ideas. If this song is truly the reason this tenured professor is being fired, that seems inappropriate. Report

Eric B Rasmusen
Eric B Rasmusen
Reply to  Wes McMichael
10 months ago

You have a utopian view of human nature to think that someone who had no religion wouldn’t murder or rape. Do you really think that someone with no ethical framework to constrain them wouldn’t be tempted to murder if he could get away with it and derive material advantages from it? Maybe you don’t think that– which is why Spiegel needs to make the point. You’re going to be tempted to do something immoral some day when the police aren’t watching— and even atheists fall prey to temptation. Report

Chris Tucker
Reply to  Allen Bundy
10 months ago

Allen, have you listened to the song? The characterization you give of the song and Spiegel seems uncharitable. to the extent that the song specifies a reason why folks (including him) don’t commit terrible acts, it had to do with the consequences of doing so, not because they hold a specific religion. The song brought to my mind hobbes’ state of nature and an exaggerated version of the situationist’s thought that our behavior is deeply affected by our circumstances. The lyrics are so strongly worded that it is understandably offensive to people. But there is a basic thought, in a less extreme form, that is pretty plausible: most of us would be behave a lot worse were it not for the positive social reinforcement when we behave well and the negative consequences of behaving badly.Report

Gnu
Gnu
Reply to  Chris Tucker
10 months ago

What’s weird is that is an argument in error theory. If a child asks why should I steal and the mom says because of consequences. The question isn’t answered. You’re essentially told you should steal if you can get away with it.
I kinda think he should be fired for being bad at philosophy for a philosophy professor. Report

Eric B Rasmusen
Eric B Rasmusen
Reply to  Gnu
10 months ago

The song is positive, not normative, and it’s hyperbolic. He’s saying that if he had the ring of Gyges, he would do what the Republic says Gyges did: rape and murder, for lack of fear of punishment. And he’s warning you that you’d do the same. People think they would not even be remotely tempted, but they’re wrong.
Christians like Spiegel have a second step, which is that they can nonetheless be forgiven, because Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross pays for their sinfulness, actualized and in desire.
A third step is Grace: that God bestows on some people a certain measure of resistance to temptation, though Protestant doctrine says that grace does not remove sin and even after 50 years of trying, the Christian will still fall prey to temptation, just like unbelievers. Report

Appreciator
Appreciator
10 months ago

Not that this is the main point, but this song is pretty good! Some of the best country music has this same sardonic and clearly tongue-in-cheek tone. It sounds like I wouldn’t find much agreement politically, morally, or religiously speaking with Professor Spiegel, but luckily I don’t find such agreement necessary for artistic appreciation (otherwise I’d have to throw out 3/4ths of my music collection.) And of course, as others have said, the fact that he has been fired over this is beyond ludicrous and is an embarrassment to Taylor University.Report

Chris Tucker
10 months ago

Assuming that the university fired Spiegel over his unwillingness to take the video down, I’m trying to figure out why Taylor University might have considered it a fireable offense. The only thing i can think is that, if some students/administrators took the lyrics very literally, they might interpret them as saying Spiegel would harm them “if [he] knew [he] would never get caught”. The worry, then, would be that Spiegel himself takes himself to be a threat to the safety of others and that his failure to take the song down reinforces his belief that he is a threat. I think this interpretation of the lyrics is uncharitable. but I am trying to understand why the university did not consider the song protected academic speech, and this is the best that i could come up with.Report

Eric B Rasmusen
Eric B Rasmusen
Reply to  Chris Tucker
10 months ago

Surely it is foolish to think that this is really why the university fired Spiegel. That the university officials are sincere is not something anyone can suggest without a smile, in this as in almost every case like it. This is about power, money, and grudges. Report

Curtis Franks
Curtis Franks
10 months ago

My “Arsenal: Manipulator” 45 was badly scratched in the mid-nineties, so I haven’t heard it in forever, but this new version is almost unrecognizable. Closer to Hans Meyer than Santiago Durango.
Report

Aaron V Garrett
Aaron V Garrett
Reply to  Curtis Franks
10 months ago

I thought it was “Bad Penny”.Report

Mark Alfano
10 months ago

If he was indeed fired for his extramural speech this is outrageous. The aesthetic quality of the song is irrelevant, and the sentiment expressed — to the extent that it’s his own rather than that of a persona — is far from hate speech or incitement. Does he have legal representation? Is the APA stepping up?Report

Juan S. Piñeros Glasscock
Juan S. Piñeros Glasscock
Reply to  Mark Alfano
10 months ago

I agree with Mark Alfano. If there are no further grounds for the firing this is unjust and a breach of academic freedom. If there are further grounds, the university should state so to do away with such an appearance (which appearance itself serves as a threat to such freedom). The APA should step up.

(In the meanwhile, I plan to write to Provost Hammond stating as much. I hope others will do the same. You can find Hammond’s email here: https://www.ccconsortium.org/taylor-university/)Report

Juan S. Piñeros Glasscock
Juan S. Piñeros Glasscock
Reply to  Juan S. Piñeros Glasscock
10 months ago

Below the lines is a draft of the email I just sent to Dr. Hammond, in case people want to quickly modify it and send accordingly:

Dear Dr. Hammond,

I am writing in regards to the recent firing of Prof. James Spiegel from the Philosophy Department, as reported in The Echo, Religious News Service, and the site dailynous.com, among others. I am extremely concerned about this: the articles make it sound as though this was an act of vengeance in response to Spiegel’s pacific artistic expression and political expression, both protected under academic freedom. Academic freedom is a central value of any serious university, and it is the task of administrators to protect it, rather than endanger or violate it.

As things stand, this looks like a clear violation of academic freedom, calling into question the seriousness of the university. I am writing to ask whether there were legitimate reasons for the firing, reasons not being reported. If so, this should be made public, to do away with the appearance that Taylor University lacks respect for academic freedom. If I don’t hear back from you by week’s end (Sep 11), I shall assume there are no further reasons, and the firing was unjust.

Sincerely,
——-Report

Igweolisa Sunday Nebeolisa-Igwe
Igweolisa Sunday Nebeolisa-Igwe
10 months ago

I think there might have been other pending circumstances that had pushed the institution to test his diplomacy and loyalty. Hence the video becane a golden opportunity. Unfortunately,he failed the diplomatic and loyalty test. Philosophers should beginning to understand that knowledge might not be sufficient without wisdom(which stands as the application of knowledge).
Wisdom is what brightens up knowledge.
He might not have had a negative intention but in employer and employee relationship,outright no to the boss could be understood as disrespectful,disloyal, dishonour,and most still,a way of saying I don’t need this your employment. However, it is said that he that pays the Piper, dictates the tune of the music.
In employment,right and wrong seem to be dependent on the boss.
Although,if he feels his contract is breached,he could seek redress.
ISN: Nebeolism-Igweism.Report