A New Jersey professor claims she was “publicly lynched” after she was suspended “until further notice” following an on-air feud with Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
Former Essex County College professor Lisa Durden got into a heated argument with the political pundit during a live segment earlier this month where she passionately defended the Black Lives Matter movement and its “Blacks-only” Memorial Day event barring non-Black people from attending. At one point in the frenzied exchange, Durden tells Carlson, “Boo-hoo-hoo, you white people are just angry you couldn’t use your white privilege card to get invited into the Black Lives Matter all-Black Memorial Day celebration.”
The public dispute ultimately cost the professor her job.
Durden told Inside Higher Ed she was escorted from her classroom at the majority-Black college and whisked into a meeting with Essex administrators who told her she was being suspended and investigated. An angry phone call to the school from one of Tucker’s loyal viewers who griped about the professor’s “exclusionary attitude” likely spurred the suspension.
“They wanted to send a message,” Durden said, claiming Essex used her as an example to other outspoken professors. “‘[You] see what happened to Lisa Durden? You know it could happen to me.’”
“Free speech doesn’t matter if you’re a professor; make people mad and you’re in trouble,” she added.
Durden said the viewer’s complaint came as a surprise, seeing as she regularly appears on Fox News and other news shows to discuss everything from “Kim Kardashian’s ass to tough issues such as Black Lives Matter.” In fact, she claims it was her outspoken attitude and the fact that she had appeared on so many networks that led Essex College to bring her on as an adjunct professor of communications.
During her time on Carlson’s show, Durden never identified herself as an Essex professor and made it clear that she was speaking on behalf of herself, not Black Lives Matter. Still, the college moved to fire her. “
[Essex County] college promotes a community of unity that is inclusive of all,” Jeffrey Lee, vice president for academic affairs, told NJ.com in a statement. “[The] general counsel has handled this matter in a way that complies with New Jersey state law. I am not at liberty to provide further details.”
Durden said she feels the college is “kowtowing” to a “racist” critic instead of standing up for hers and other professors’ First Amendment right to free speech. Her suspension has since prompted students and fellow professors to pen letters to the administration calling for her reinstatement.
“For those of us who are involved in advocacy, politics, who may hold opinions which differ from those in different spaces, this kind of thing has a terrible chilling effect,” Rebecca Williams, an assistant professor of humanities, wrote in her letter to the administration. “As this suspension will become public in the world of academia — and especially in Black public intellectual circles — it will bring more negative publicity to our institution even as we are trying to move forward with our new president,”
Communications Professor Jennifer Wager agreed, saying, “I find it shocking that an African-American woman would be so disrespected at her place of employment for merely exercising her First Amendment right to free speech.”
Durden’s supporters have since launched an online petition toward her reinstatement that has amassed nearly 1,200 signatures. The ousted professor said someone else has taken over her course.