Auburn University will not fire or otherwise take action against an incoming faculty member who recently sparked controversy for incendiary comments about law enforcement.
Yellowhammer News last week broke the news about Jesse A. Goldberg, Ph.D., who was set to begin as a lecturer in Auburn’s English department this fall semester.
The Auburn faculty member tweeted the following (censoring added by Yellowhammer News):
F*ck every single cop. Every single one. The only ethical choice for any cop to make at this point is to refuse to do their job and quit. The police do not protect people. They protect capital. They are instruments of violence on behalf of capital.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Goldberg in other social media posts. He also tweeted, “Whiteness is violence. Abolish whiteness.”
Goldberg, as he has noted before on social media, is himself white.
Yellowhammer News’ reporting last week reached national publications and others across the state, leading elected officials to weigh in.
Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) tweeted that Auburn “should FIRE Jesse Goldberg for venomous hate of America’s law enforcement community.”
“Auburn: please investigate, determine truth, fire this guy IF media reports accurate! Tax dollars should not fund police haters,” he added.
State Rep. Brett Easterbrook (R-Fruitdale), a member of the House Education Policy Committee, reacted to Goldberg’s statements about law enforcement in a Facebook post of his own.
“You wonder how our society raised a bunch of communist that hate our country? Here is one of the main sources of the problems in our society. Universities!” Easterbrook said. “Not all college professors are complete liberals that are educated beyond their understanding, but here is a prime example.”
“He also thinks we should abolish a society that could have prisons. Simply release all prisoners? Obviously he has no idea what type of people are in those prisons and yet he is educating our youth,” the freshman state legislator continued. “Professor Goldberg needs to resign today. If not, Auburn University, should fire him immediately. Our tax dollars are paying for this foolishness. As an Auburn graduate, I am ashamed that someone like this is ‘educating’ our children.”
A statement from an Auburn spokesperson to Yellowhammer News last week said, “Auburn officials are considering options available to the university.”
However, after that consideration, no “adverse action” will apparently be taken.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) had written to Auburn on August 3 defending Goldberg’s social media posts as protected speech under the First Amendment. FIRE argued that since Auburn is a public institution, they could not punish the employee for his views.
Writing back to FIRE in a letter this week, Auburn University President Dr. Jay Gogue noted that he was “pleased to respond in order to confirm Auburn’s commitment to the Constitution.”
“Your letter specifically requests that Auburn ‘publicly disclaim the possibility of disciplinary sanctions against Dr. Goldberg,” Gogue continued. “Dr. Goldberg, in expressing his thoughts, was not authorized to and did not purport to speak on behalf of Auburn University. Auburn affirms that it will not take adverse action against Dr. Goldberg or any member of the Auburn community based on that person’s engagement in individual speech or conduct protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States or the State of Alabama.”
He added, “That is true even when such speech is deemed by many to be offensive, indecent, of little value, and of great cost to the institution. Indeed, even when a message may be viewed as disrespectful and abhorrent, Auburn will not violate the law or Auburn policy.”
This letter was praised by FIRE, who noted Auburn currently holds their highest possible rating for free speech policies among college campuses.
However, not everyone is a fan of the university’s decision on Goldberg. Reacting to Auburn’s announcement, State Rep. Proncey Robertson (R-Mount Hope), also a member of the House Education Policy Committee, said he was “very disappointed.”
“As you consider where to send your student to college, or where to spend your money on sports memorabilia, etc. I would encourage you to remember this decision by Auburn University,” he wrote in a lengthy Facebook post.
“This professor and Auburn Universtiy has a right to their views,” Robertson concluded. “But, they do not have a right to your personal tuition money or your tax dollars.”
Yellowhammer News has requested comment from Auburn.
UPDATE 10:10 a.m.
Goldberg’s Twitter biography has been changed to say that he is now a “Visiting Research Fellow” at Auburn rather than a “lecturer,” meaning he might not be teaching students anymore. This article has been edited to reflect that he may no longer be a “lecturer.” However, his Humanities Commons profile still says he is a lecturer who will be teaching classes at Auburn. Yellowhammer News is still awaiting comment from the university.
UPDATE 10:50 a.m.
Auburn University said in a statement to Yellowhammer News, “Auburn agreed to Dr. Goldberg’s request that his role transition to a research-focused assignment.”
According to a social media post by Goldberg before last week’s news, he was scheduled to teach four classes during the fall semester. He was planning on teaching all of these classes in an online format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn