“Cancel Culture” is typically a left-wing phenomenon, with “woke” social justice warriors and progressives trying to get people fired for everything from poorly worded tweets to innocent hand gestures. But the Texas Tribune just reported on one of the most egregious Cancel Culture stories I’ve ever seen—and this time, Republicans are the ones allegedly doing the canceling.
It all started when Texas A&M University professor Joy Alonzo gave a guest lecture at the University of Texas Medical Branch on the opioid crisis, her speciality. We don’t know exactly what was said during the lecture, but a student reportedly accused Alonzo of insulting Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick in connection with his approach to opioid policy. As the Tribune explains, this complaint quickly escalated.
“In the few hours it took to drive [home], the complaint had made its way to her supervisors, and Alonzo’s job was suddenly at risk,” Kate McGee and James Barragán report. “Alonzo was right to be afraid. Not only were her supervisors involved, but so was Chancellor John Sharp, a former state comptroller who now holds the highest-ranking position in the Texas A&M University System, which includes 11 public universities and 153,000 students. And Sharp was communicating directly with the lieutenant governor’s office about the incident, promising swift action.”
“Less than two hours after the lecture ended, Patrick’s chief of staff had sent Sharp a link to Alonzo’s professional bio,” the report continues. “Shortly after, Sharp sent a text directly to the lieutenant governor: ‘Joy Alonzo has been placed on administrative leave pending investigation re firing her. shud [sic] be finished by end of week.’”
That’s right: Top university officials were directly communicating with the lieutenant governor about punishing a professor who had dared criticize him in a lecture. And, this communication comes as Texas A&M is actively seeking additional funds from the state government. See the problem yet?
Thankfully, Alonzo was not ultimately fired, after suspension and investigation. But the investigation itself is a form of punishment—and one that risks chilling free speech on campus.
In a letter to the university, the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) wrote, “Texas A&M’s punishment of Alonzo to please powerful political forces is a stunning abdication of its constitutional obligations, deeply chilling faculty and student expression on campus.”
“An informed citizenry depends on, among other things, public university faculty performing educational duties free from outside influence,” FIRE concludes. “When confronted with inevitable pressures to encroach on academic freedom—whether from powerful Alumni, donors, or, as here, politicians—institutions like Texas A&M must abide by the constitutional principles that instill trust in our public universities.”
Imagine, for a moment, the alternative scenario.
A conservative economics professor at a California college criticizes, say, Governor Gavin Newsom, a prominent Democrat. Newsom’s office—and Newsom himself—then communicated directly with top university officials as that professor was suspended, investigated, and publicly denounced. Right-wing media would be all over this story. They’d be screaming bloody murder about free speech and Cancel Culture—and they’d be 100% right.
But consistency and intellectual honesty demand that free speech advocates on the Right be just as upset when a left-leaning professor is censored for criticizing a Republican. Free speech isn’t a one way street, and if you only support it for your allies, you don’t actually support it at all.
So, if we really want to restore free speech and open debate on campus, we must vigorously defend those principles regardless of partisan politics or ideological persuasion. And, in this case, that means calling out Dan Patrick’s office and the Texas A&M administrators for one of the most egregious Cancel Culture cases yet.