In my post on the firing of Taylor University philosophy professor Jim Spiegel, I wrote:
Should he be fired for “Little Hitler”? I can’t answer that question. I would need to know more about the local culture on campus at Taylor and the way Spiegel and his song fit into that culture. Perhaps there is a larger story here. Maybe this is more than just an academic freedom issue.
I do know, however, that Taylor University Provost Michael Hammond, a historian of American evangelicalism during the civil rights movement, is a good man with the best interest of Taylor in mind.
You want to commit yourself to taking out loans to pay for a college at which the administration will not support faculty, and presumably not students who cross an invisible line? The firing of Spiegel sends a signal to every other professor on campus, and every other student: you could be next. All it takes is a single absurd accusation, based on even the simplest joke, to ruin a professor’s life.
Some of you think I’m exaggerating when, citing the testimony of Soviet-bloc emigres, I say that life in the US is starting to resemble life under Soviet totalitarianism. Here is the connection: under the Soviet system, all it took was an accusation of disloyalty — including telling a joke that offended the Party — to lose your job and even be sent to prison or into exile. This happened over and over. Last year, I visited Rudolf Dobias, an 84-year-old Slovak former political prisoner, sentenced to 18 years of hard labor in a uranium mine on a false accusation that he had drawn a cartoon making fun of Stalin and Czechoslovak communist leader Klement Gottwald. After release from prison, Dobias and his family lived a life of internal exile; he couldn’t get a decent job, his kids suffered from their father’s punishment, and so forth. All because of a single joke, one that he didn’t even tell! After our interview, Dobias mentioned to my Slovak translator that he was in constant pain now, the result of all the beatings he took in prison as a young man.
Obviously — obviously — Jim Spiegel is not Rudolf Dobias. But he’s on a spectrum. As more than a few Rudolf Dobiases told me for Live Not By Lies, free people have to resist this stuff the moment it starts. Jim Spiegel was absolutely right to refuse to take down his satirical song. The prissy authoritarians at Taylor University ought to apologize to him and hire him back. And they had better make it clear that they have done so, because this is a black mark on the school’s reputation, and a warning to students about an emerging climate of censorship, at a time when liberal arts colleges cannot afford them.
If I were a Taylor student — presuming that they are back on campus this fall — I would gather with a group every day outside Provost Michael Hammond’s office, and sing “Little Hitler” cheerfully, to cause Hammond and the university’s leadership to reflect on the nature of what they have done to a professor who has wronged no one.
Read the entire screed here.
A few thoughts:
- Dreher, with very little knowledge of Taylor University, its culture, or the history of the administration’s relationship with Spiegel, compares this situation to Soviet totalitarianism. (Dreher doesn’t even know if Taylor is currently holding face-to-face classes). Soviet totalitarianism at Taylor University? Again, his piece shows absolutely no understanding of Taylor or Christian colleges.
- Dreher’s ignorance about schools like Taylor is surprising since he is the author of a book titled The Benedict Option which argues that serious Christians should form intentional communities designed to uphold traditional beliefs. On one level, Taylor University is such an institution. I have no doubt that the administration’s decision to remove Spiegel was made in this context. For whatever reason, Taylor University concluded that Spiegel’s continued employment at Taylor was detrimental to the Christian community that they were trying to sustain. Wouldn’t the Bruderhof, an intentional Anabaptist group Dreher likes, make a similar move if one of its members was undermining community?
- Dreher has now put himself into a position where his anger about “cancel culture” and “academic freedom” seems to be butting-up against the Benedict Option.
- Finally, my sources at Taylor tell me that the reasons for Spiegel’s firing go well beyond his song “Little Hitler.”