Indiana School Should Reinstate Professor Dismissed Over “Little Hitler” Video
PEN America says his dismissal is an affront to free speech, violates Taylor University's own policies
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — Taylor University, an evangelical school in Indiana, dismissed tenured philosophy professor James S. Spiegel on August 24 after Spiegel posted and then refused to take down a video on his private YouTube page of him singing an original song entitled “Little Hitler.”
“This dismissal is an alarming affront to free speech and the creative and artistic licenses that professors should enjoy as private citizens,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of PEN America’s Campus Free Speech Program. Even if some find Spiegel’s provocative lyrics offensive, he should be free to communicate this message in his private life, and Taylor administrators should support that. They should reverse course and reinstate him immediately.”
The video shows Spiegel seated with his guitar and singing, among other lyrics, “there’s a little Hitler inside you, there’s a little Hitler inside of me.” In the YouTube video’s description, Spiegel wrote that his intention was to provide “a theological corrective” to the lack of recognition of innate moral complications within each human being. Despite Spiegel’s explanation of the lyrics and the video being posted on his private account, a university committee investigated him after a complaint was filed over the song. The university dismissed Spiegel when he refused to take down the video, saying that he had damaged relationships at the university permanently. That’s despite the fact that Taylor’s faculty handbook states that when tenured professors “speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.”
“This decision was extreme, overly punitive, and completely inconsistent with the university’s own stated commitments to free speech,” PEN America’s Friedman said. “Taylor administrators could have proceeded differently. Instead of presenting Spiegel with an ultimatum to take down the video, they could have engaged him and the campus community in a conversation about the song, fostering dialogue about its meaning and impact. As is, this episode risks teaching students the wrong lesson that artistic expression, and even pedagogical messages, should refrain from being provocative for fear of possible offense. That’s no lesson an institution of higher learning should be promoting.”
PEN America has previously discussed the importance of free expression, academic freedom and open inquiry on college campuses and has identified key principles in its Campus Free Speech Guide.