ANALYSIS: Rules for campus radicals; or, how not to respond to Campus Reform
The website singles out several conservative publications, including Campus Reform, as part of a 'right-wing media ecosystem' and gives strategies to combat our reporting.
Faculty First Responders is a a rhetorical guide for left-wing professors and university administrators to respond to conservative media coverage.
A left-wing professor provides a rhetorical guide for universities to respond to conservative media coverage, including Campus Reform.
Faculty First Responders is a resource blog started in 2021 by Trinity College in Connecticut political science professor Isaac Kamola, whom Campus Reform covered in 2020 when he tried to hire student researchers to monitor this news site.
Kamola’s current website alleges that Campus Reform is part of a “right-wing media ecosystem” that produces “outrage pieces” leading to “targeted harassment” of professors.
Kamola has a history of hostility towards Campus Reform.
In 2017, Kamola’s colleague, Professor Johnny Eric Williams, shared a blog post entitled, “Let Them Fucking Die,” as the picture below shows.
The post called for the deaths of Republicans at the Congressional Baseball Game shooting. Williams also posted a message endorsing that view with the hashtag #LetThemFuckingDie; he also posted a second message calling for people to “confront” white people, whom he called “inhuman assholes,” and “end this now.”
Kamola defended Williams’ comments and attacked Campus Reform, writing in a 2017 op-ed for the Chronicle of Higher Education that his “controversial posts are contributions to an academic conversation — a conversation that holds value even if it makes us feel uncomfortable, challenges our preconceptions, or questions things we hold dear.” He also claimed that white supremacy should “die” in the abstract, not any individual person.
Kamola then posted a job listing on the Trinity College website for a “Campus Reform Early Responder,” using much of the same attacks that the Faculty First Responders page currently uses. The project intended to do much the same thing as Faculty First Responders, monitoring Campus Reform’s reporting, and developing response strategies for subjects. The listing was taken down days later.
Faculty First Responders stresses that it is unacceptable to accept or even consider the framing of conservative reporting; instead, universities must defer, excuse, or shield professors who make inflammatory remarks from conservative criticism.
“Campus Reform and The College Fix pay students to write outrage pieces about academics.” Kamola writes in the “What We Do” section of the site. He goes on to accuse Campus Reform of publishing “political attacks” that are fed into a “right-wing media ecosystem” that amplifies stories to push a narrative that higher education is hostile to conservatives.
Campus Reform is one of the “Usual Suspects,” the site targets, along with The College Fix, Turning Point USA, Young Americans for Liberty, Young Americans for Freedom, and national conservative outlets like Breitbart, Daily Caller, The Daily Wire, and Fox News.
“Campus Reform… claims to be the ‘#1 Source for Campus News,’” Kamola writes. “The site’s explicit mission, however, is to expose so-called liberal bias on college campuses. It does so by paying students $50-100 to write outrage pieces that feed the highly partisan narrative that colleges and universities are hostile to conservatives.”
Kamola accuses Campus Reform of distorting the words of the subjects it reports on, cherry-picking quotations, and using “sensationalized headlines” without context “to feed a narrative of moralized outrage.” He then claims that Campus Reform uses outlets like Fox News and TPUSA to spread its reporting.
He further alleges that faculty members receive “hateful and threatening” messages from donors, alumni, parents, and the public; he claims that, according to research he himself conducted, 40% of faculty members reported on by Campus Reform receive threats of physical harm.
Kamola then gives faculty and administrators advice on how to respond to Campus Reform inquiries.
He tells professors to block Campus Reform and its correspondents, and other conservative outlets. He also suggests making social media accounts private and disassociating them from the professor’s institution. In the classroom, he suggests putting language in syllabi about the importance of considering multiple perspectives, but also warning students of punishments for unauthorized recordings. He also recommends professors join the Academic Association of University Professors (AAUP) and purchase professional liability insurance. Finally, he recommends “[educating] yourself, your colleagues, and your administration about the threats posed by Campus Reform and other right-wing organizations that harass faculty.” He offers teach-ins to assist with this.
When contacted for comment, Kamola recommends ignoring conservative outlets, claiming that responding gives them “undeserved legitimacy.” If a professor chooses to respond, Kamola recommends a written response that attacks Campus Reform as a “partisan outlet” funded by “dark money sources, to write outrage pieces.” Furthermore, he suggests using these same talking points in a public attack.
Campus Reform requires both its student correspondents and staff writers to reach out to every relevant party that is a direct subject of its reporting before an article is published. Should a subject issue comment after a story is published, Campus Reform also updates its articles after publishing to include it. We do this to ensure transparency and to allow the subjects equal opportunity to present their side of the story to our readers.
In 2021, Campus Reform Reporter Ophelie Jacobson sat down with University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign Professor Illana Redstone. Professor Redstone is a critic of Campus Reform but did write in a Tablet article that, “We should also be open to recognizing that some of the events those [Campus Reform] articles describe raise legitimate concerns.”
The following year, Campus Reform launched its Higher Education Fellows program to give university professors and administrators the opportunity to speak about issues plaguing campus speech and experiences.
Once the story is published, Kamola says subjects should contact trusted colleagues and administrators for support. Professors should demand that, if the situation demands a public statement, the university should clear it with them first. If it gains traction, professors should demand that administrators defend them and remove their contact information from the school’s website. He also suggests reaching out to the professors’ union or himself for advice, especially if the school does not defend them. He also recommends regularly deleting university communications so as not to be legally required to provide them under a public records request.
In the event of doxxing, Kamola suggests relocating until the harassment and threats subside, and using friends and family to screen “hateful messages” online and forward them to administration and law enforcement. He also recommends contacting campus police and using identity protection services to take private information down.
Campus Reform unequivocally condemns doxxing, and Kamola is right to suggest that a professor should report doxxing to law enforcement. But as Campus Reform has repeatedly documented, left-wing professors, students, and groups routinely harass, intimidate, and doxx conservative students on campus.
When it comes to administrators, Kamola complains that they often take conservative reporting “on face value, responding in ways that side with the attackers and chastise faculty.” Kamola says administrators should be unequivocal and public in defense of their faculty, to keep stories from spreading too quickly and retain the confidence of faculty.
Preemptively, he suggests creating campus-specific resources to respond to conservative outlets, with clear guidelines that defend the professor’s freedom of speech. Administrators should meet with particularly controversial faculty and learn their work to better defend them. They should perceive conservative reporting as an organized attack to gin up outrage about liberal bias on campuses, so as not to give them “more credibility than they actually deserve.”
Administrators should not “debate or comment” on a statement, Kamola writes, since it accepts the framing of the report. Kamola alleges that Campus Reform and other outlets are “interested in waging a culture war against higher education in general,” and conservative media and upset alumni, donors, parents, and the public will simply move on once the story passes. But faculty will remember how an institution responded for a long time.
Faculty should not be sanctioned or disciplined for statements outside the classroom. Instead, the university should let the subject construct their own narrative of events, including supporting documents, that describes how the story spread online and the main actors promoting it. Administrators should also provide the professor with a support network and resources about academic freedom, and legal consultation. If discipline is necessary, it must follow AAUP guidelines and be done by a faculty committee that provides due process and an opportunity for appeal.
Indeed, according to Kamola, the only acceptable response to a controversial statement is “a strong, public defense.” Administrators must defer to the professor or another expert, to assume that he or she has a thoughtful, scholarly argument behind the statement. Good responses must unequivocally defend or even excuse a professor’s inflammatory statement and instead condemn the reporting and reaction to his or her comments. Bad responses react to the reporting and condemn the inflammatory comments themselves, thereby accepting the framing.
Kamola also includes sample text for how administrators could respond to a Campus Reform report. Examples include:
”Faculty speech is protected by the First Amendment, by the American Association of University Professors’s (AAUP) principles of academic freedom, and by our university policies… We trust that our faculty engage in speech–inside the classroom, in their research, and in the public sphere–that is well-reasoned, principled, and deliberate. However, we live in a world in which centuries of injustice have left much to be frustrated and angry about. If our faculty member decided to express him/her/them-selves in a manner deemed harsh by others we assume they did so with good reason.”
”Campus Reform is a political operation [funded] by right-wing billionaires, designed to attack those faculty they politically disagree with. They exist to gin up outrage about the academy, for political purposes. In contrast, Professor X is a scholar with a long track record of thoughtful, engaged scholarship on the very topics that Campus Reform takes partisan objection to. We have no reason to prioritize a political attack levied against our faculty member over his/her/their comments grounded in scholarship. We might agree with Campus Reform that the tone could have been different. However, we trust our faculty when it comes to conveying ideas and arguments that he/she/they deem are in the public interest.”
”We have reviewed the comments made by Professor X, and find Campus Reform’s account to be a gross misrepresentation of what actually occurred.”
“Professor X is an expert in the study of Y. We therefore have taken her at her word when she explained to us that Campus Reform’s story offers a gross misrepresentation of her work, and the broader academic field in which these arguments are situated.”
Campus Reform reached out to Kamola for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.
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