Professor, CMC, at odds over free expression claims
by Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
Claremont McKenna College government professor Christopher Nadon ignited a firestorm recently when he authored an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal questioning the school’s commitment to free speech, a contention the school disputes vociferously.
The opinion piece, “Censorship at a Top College for Free Speech,” was published August 22 and outlined actions the professor says Claremont McKenna took after a student complained that Nadon uttered the n-word while reading a book of literature out loud.
In an August 26 statement, which was also published in the Journal, CMC President Hiram Chodosh rebuts many of Nadon’s claims, including that he was barred for teaching certain courses.
“In my nine years as president, Claremont McKenna has never held a disciplinary review, conducted an investigation or taken any adverse remedial action against any faculty member, including Mr. Nadon, for classroom speech,” read Chodosh’s rebuttal, in part. “Playing the role of fragile victim, Mr. Nadon undermines the values he purports to uphold with false claims.”
Within days of Nadon’s op-ed being published, follow-up stories appeared in the Washington Examiner and Inside Higher Ed, as well as Chodosh’s response in the Journal.
Nadon’s Journal op-ed read, in part, “On Oct. 4, 2021, my class discussed Plato’s ‘Republic’ and his views about censorship. A student objected that Plato was mistaken about its necessity. Here in the U.S., she said, there is none. Someone brought up ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ She replied, correctly, that removing a book from curriculums doesn’t constitute censorship. I pointed out that the case was more complicated. The book had also been removed from libraries and published in expurgated editions.
“An international student asked me why. I told her, quoting Mark Twain’s precise language, which meant speaking the n-word. This caused the first student to change her mind and acknowledge the existence of censorship in America.”
On Oct. 14 of last year, Associate Dean of Faculty Ellen Rentz sent Nadon an email regarding “some serious concerns” a student had raised about one of his classes. Nadon asked Rentz more than once to submit the concerns in writing, but she wanted to discuss the matter in person or via Zoom. On Nov. 6, the Dean of Faculty Heather Antecol emailed the concerns, which did not include a “formal complaint,” to Nadon.
“After saying ‘This is not a disciplinary matter,’” Antecol said CMC still had a “duty to appropriately respond to concerns brought to the College’s attention” and demanded to know the “pedagogic principles” he thought justified using “the n* word expressly,” according to Nadon’s account in the Journal.
In response, Nadon said it was his duty and “good pedagogy” to tell the truth when answering a direct question from a student and to present the facts when a student makes a false statement.
“I also hold the view that before criticizing or praising an author, one should first attempt to understand that author as he understood himself, something that requires reading and discussing exactly what he wrote. Do you think I am mistaken in this approach?” he wrote in an email to Antecol.
Nadon claims he never received a response from Antecol, but alleges she worked behind the scenes with the government department and the college’s Open Academy Program to “ban me from teaching any required courses in the future, seemingly into perpetuity.” Asked about who told him he was banned for teaching certain classes, Nadon said he could not discuss the details because he has filed a formal complaint with the college.
Chodosh disputed this contention.
“Claremont McKenna Prof. Christopher Nadon claims he was banned ‘from teaching any required courses into the future, seemingly into perpetuity.’ He was never barred from teaching, never under investigation and never censured. Nor were any other faculty,” Chodosh wrote in his statement.
On Tuesday, the COURIER asked Antecol if she wished to respond. We did not receive a response as of press time Thursday. However, Gilien Silsby, CMC’s director of news and media relations, provided the following statement from the college: “Professor Chris Nadon’s claims are false. Academic Freedom is an absolute priority for CMC. The College fully endorses the Chicago Principles and takes them a step further in our Open Academy.”
In a separate political philosophy course Nadon teaches, he reads from the “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” which also contains the racial slur. He said Antecol knew about the selection of this text and agreed to its use.
According to Chodosh, a student reported Nadon had used the n-word independent of the reading of “Huckleberry Finn,” and a heated argument with another student was reported to “box her in” and “force her to support Mr. Nadon’s point of view.”
“I never used the n-word outside of the discussion of Huck Finn or reading directly from ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.’” Nadon told the COURIER on Monday. He also rejects the notion that he attempted to get anyone to agree with his opinion, stating he keeps his personal views out of classroom discussions.