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Drexel Calls Professor’s Controversial Tweets Protected Speech

Drexel University on Thursday called a professor’s controversial social-media remarks “protected speech,” after the professor sparked an uproar online by tweeting that “all I want for Christmas is white genocide.”

George Ciccariello-Maher, an associate professor of politics and global studies, drew harsh criticism over the tweet, which he posted on Christmas Eve. He followed up the post with another that stated, “To clarify: When the whites were massacred during the Haitian revolution, that was a very good thing indeed.”

At first the university responded by calling his tweet “inflammatory” and saying that his remarks were “utterly reprehensible” and “deeply disturbing,” even as it recognized its faculty members’ free-speech rights. Drexel said at the time that it had contacted Mr. Ciccariello-Maher to discuss the matter.

Faculty advocates then criticized the university’s response, saying that it raised questions about Drexel’s commitment to academic freedom. For his part, Mr. Ciccariello-Maher said that the controversial tweet was satire intended to mock the idea of white genocide, a concept that he said had been invented by white supremacists and had been used “to denounce everything from interracial relationships to multicultural policies.”

Mr. Ciccariello-Maher asserted that the university had responded to his remarks without understanding them.

On Thursday, Drexel posted a second statement in response to the controversy, signed by John A. Fry and M. Brian Blake, its president and provost. The university declined to comment beyond what its leaders said in that statement.

“The university vigorously supports the right of its faculty members and students to freely express their opinions in the course of academic debate and discussion,” they said in the new statement. “In this vein, we recognize Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets as protected speech.”

They reiterated that the professor’s tweets did not represent the university’s values, and added that platforms like Twitter were “limited in their ability to communicate satire, irony, and context, especially when referencing a horror like genocide.”

“While Professor Ciccariello-Maher has defended his comments as satire, the wide range of reactions to his tweets suggests that his intentions were not adequately conveyed,” they continued. “These responses underscore the importance of choosing one’s words thoughtfully and exercising appropriate judgment in light of the inherent limitations presented by communications on social media.”

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