A black conservative professor who found herself the latest target of student protests nationwide has one thing to say to those calling for her to be suspended from the university where she teaches: “Grow up.”
Among other allegations, students accused Carol Swain, a professor of law and political science at Vanderbilt University for nearly 27 years, of “unprofessional intimidation on social media” and “discriminatory practices in the classroom.”
Swain actively posts her Christian conservative view points on her public Facebook page and website called BeThePeopleTV. She has authored numerous award-winning books and has been cited by the Supreme Court, according to her résumé.
But recently, her conservative values left her at odds with students on campus who started a petition demanding she be removed from the university.
Swain told The Daily Signal in a phone interview on Friday the petition, posted on Change.org, originally demanded that she be fired but has since been amended to read in part:
We are petitioning that Carol Swain be temporarily suspended from her position as professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University pending an investigation into student allegations of unprofessional intimidation on social media, discriminatory practices in the classroom, and unclear representation as a Public Figure with invocations of the Vanderbilt name on her Facebook page.
Over the past few years, Professor Carol Swain has become synonymous with bigotry, intolerance, and unprofessionalism. While Swain first and foremost has a right to her personal beliefs and the right to freedom of speech within and outside of the classroom, it recently came to the attention of the Vanderbilt community that Carol Swain has let her hate-filled prejudices negatively impact her work, our student body, and Vanderbilt’s reputation.
Swain said the students behind the protests never took any of her classes, all of which are elective.
“My classes are elective, so no one has to take any of my classes, and no one has to go to my blog page or go to my Facebook,” she said. “I feel that I have been defamed by the students and the petition has been filled with lies, and they ought to be held accountable for what they’ve done.”
Those students, she said, “don’t get to decide whose speech is more valuable than someone else’s.”
Since its release, the petition garnered more than 1,500 signatures. A petition in support of Swain has gained more than 1,000 signatures.
In response to the protests, Nicholas S. Zeppos, the chancellor of Vanderbilt University, released a statement that in part read:
Professor Swain’s opinions are her own. They do not reflect the opinions of the university in any way. They are not my opinions, the opinions of the provost, or the opinions of university leadership.
Vanderbilt University is committed to diversity, inclusion, and freedom from discrimination. Ensuring that our campus is a safe, welcoming, and supportive environment for every member of the Vanderbilt community has been, and will always be, our top priority.
Zeppos did not address whether or not the university planned to investigate allegations of discrimination made against Swain. According to the petition, those allegations include:
- Firstly, Professor Carol Swain has failed to clearly separate her role on her Facebook page as a “Public Figure” from the Vanderbilt name, creating a situation in which the public may misconstrue her as speaking on behalf of the University. We want to make it clear that Carol Swain in no way represents our alma mater, regardless of the fact that she teaches here.
- Secondly, there have been several instances in which students have contacted Professor Swain to hold an intellectual debate with her, and in return, she has resorted to name-calling and posting their personal contact information on her public page. In many cases, students claimed this led to public shaming, intimidation, and/or harassment by her followers.
- Additionally, several students who claim to have taken Professor Swain’s class(es) have expressed concerns that minority students enrolled in her class(es) – especially those who are LGBTQIA+ and/or non-Christians – expose themselves to unfair assessment in-class and may receive lower grades than their peers simply because of their identities. At a University that prides itself on fairness, diversity and inclusion, these allegations are entirely unacceptable if true.
Swain, who is currently on sabbatical, called those allegations “lies” and said she “earned the right” to call herself a professor on Facebook.
“They don’t own the word professor,” she said. “Professor is a word, and I’ve earned the right to call myself a professor.”
Swain did admit to paraphrasing a “threat” she received from a student via Facebook and said she shared a link to that student’s public Facebook on her own page. Swain has since deleted that post.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have done that, but the student contacted me,” Swain said. “My point in showing it was to show the level of disrespect and what I have to put up with at Vanderbilt University with this person saying I was a disgrace.”
“It’s something that has changed in the student body, that they think they can control what people do, not just inside the classroom, but outside the classroom,” Swain said.
While she’s strong in her views, Swain said the situation has taken a personal toll.
“It hurts more to be attacked because the students have been my life. That’s, to me, the sole reason why it’s been so distressing on a personal level.”
But if it causes people to look at the “attacks” on freedom of speech and freedom of religion, Swain says she’s “not sorry about it.”
“I’m very concerned about what’s happening across the nation, and I believe university administrators have lost control and that they’re making a serious mistake when they give into students using those 1960s, 1970s protest strategies,” she said.
After the University of Missouri president was forced to resign earlier this week over his handling of cases involving discrimination, protests have spread nationwide. Vanderbilt University is among a group of colleges and universities facing student protests over alleged incidents of racism and other types of discrimination.