Milton Friedman wrote that “[i]n order for men to advocate anything, they must in the first place be able to earn a living.” According to the late, great free markets economist, we cannot have a society with personal freedoms but not economic freedoms. When the state allows free speech but controls all the jobs, it does not take long for dissenters from state orthodoxy to find themselves out of work. They are silenced not by traditional “censorship,” but by the indirect punishment of being made destitute.

In America, we face a new twist on this old problem. The state neither censors us nor controls most employment. But what happens when an increasingly large group of corporations, non-profits, and other employers all subscribe to the same radical worldview — or cower to those who do? What happens when they use their power to fire anyone who speaks against certain established dogmas? Today’s “cancel culture” is not the exact socialism that Friedman feared, but it is something almost as harmful to those who deny the received truths of the woke establishment.

Cancel culture is hard to define, but that is generally what we label this state of affairs, and though it is wildly unpopular across demographics and age groups, it is increasingly a trend for private citizens expressing dissent (or even being perceived to). 

One such scenario is now playing out at St. Joseph’s University, a Jesuit institution that straddles a quiet corner of Philadelphia’s western edge and Lower Merion township. Gregory Manco has been an assistant professor of math at St. Joe’s since 2005. He also is the volunteer assistant baseball coach. The South Jersey native has had his contract renewed by the school every year for fifteen years. There was nothing controversial about Manco until an anonymous online group announced that Manco did not conform to prevailing left-wing opinions — and began a pressure campaign to eliminate his job.

Around 1:00 on Friday, February 19, Manco was tipped off by a former student that screenshots of tweets from his private account were circulating on Twitter along with accusations of racism. Manco’s account, @SouthJerzGiants, is anonymous and displayed no affiliation with St. Joseph’s University, but the woke online group soon doxxed him.

The tweets do not contain anything racist. In them, Manco expressed opposition to reparations for slavery and to critical race theory “bias training” in workplaces, two positions that fit comfortably in American mainstream opinion. Nevertheless, within an hour of the complaint, Manco heard from the head of the math department. By the close of business that day, Manco was placed on paid leave indefinitely, pending an investigation.

In an email from the school’s chief human resources officer, Manco was told that “the University received several complaints regarding online postings that were allegedly made by you and are of a biased or discriminatory nature.” The tone of the email should trouble anyone interested in fairness: within hours, and without even talking to Manco, the university concluded that statements opposing mandatory critical race theory, even those made online without citing one’s employer, “are biased or discriminatory.” The only question the St. Joe’s administration had left to investigate was whether the tweets “allegedly made” by Manco were in fact made by him.

Manco does not deny that they are his words, but a look at those tweets shows nothing racist, biased, or discriminatory. After the fact, Manco told me that the university said several anonymous bias complaints were filed against him from people claiming to be his students. If so, he says, it would be the first time any such thing has been alleged in all his years of teaching — and he has student evaluations and performance evaluations to prove it.

Universities are meant to be places where ideas can be developed and exchanged, but here we find an esteemed professor under investigation for expression that is not only inoffensive but was also made anonymously and outside the classroom. 

Essentially, the story played out in familiar order: someone on Twitter got mad, and now a man’s career hangs in the balance.

St. Joe’s seems to recognize the ancient freedoms of thought and expression in their faculty handbook, which holds that when faculty “speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” Does St. Joe’s still stand by its own faculty handbook?

Noting that their words could reflect on their profession or on the school, the handbook goes on to say that “faculty should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, should refrain from giving any expression that they are institutional spokespersons, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”

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Manco followed all of these guidelines. No one thought he was tweeting on behalf of the school — no one even knew it was his account until a Twitter user informed on him. His posts were respectful, civil, and nuanced; the only problem was that the opinions behind them, though within the American mainstream, are no longer allowed to be stated publicly at most American universities.

Essentially, the story played out in familiar order: someone on Twitter got mad, and now a man’s career hangs in the balance.

The response of St. Joe’s would be bad enough without a glaring inconsistency of how they treat much more inflammatory left-wing statements by professors.

After Donald Trump’s election in 2016, St. Joe’s associate professor David Parry participated in a forum at the school entitled “Making Sense of the Presidential Election,” where Parry ranted: “I am not sympathetic to the white voters who make over $50,000 a year and said we are going to vote for Trump… I do not believe that you have to open your heart to them. If you are a person of color, if you are a woman, you do not have to open your heart to them… it is okay to deal with that how you want.”

Parry said of Trump’s election “this is violence” and that “people are going to die because of what happened.”

These comments led to a minor firestorm, with stories at Campus Reform and Fox News. The university’s reaction was to support Parry. In a statement, school officials said that “‘Saint Joseph’s University, as an institution of higher education, is fundamentally committed to free speech and the exchange of ideas.” They went on to explain “No one, including Dr. Parry, spoke on behalf of the University at the forum, which was not part of any class.”

In concluding the statement (which has since been deleted from the school’s website but was quoted in several contemporaneous news stories), the St. Joe’s administration states that “fostering a safe learning environment is one of the University’s primary obligations. Freedom of expression is integral to this effort… this always has been and will remain a central principle at Saint Joseph’s University.”

The student government echoed the university administrators’ sentiment at the time, reaffirming their “dedication to a respectful, unitive, and free exchange of perspectives.” 

Something has changed in the core principles of St. Joe’s in the past few years.

Gregory Manco neither spoke at a university event nor uttered nearly as inflammatory or hyperbolic comments. 

Maybe what made St. Joe’s distinct has become less important than fitting in with the latest passing trend in progressive dogma, an intellectual blandness that makes every school the same, repressive and mediocre.

As a loyal alumnus (B.A., 2001) this story pains me. I remember a school with open-minded students and tolerant faculty, a place where ideas could be shared without fear of repercussion. I would not have been afraid to speak against reparations or “bias training” in the same way Manco did in his tweets, on campus or off. People might have disagreed, but no one would have shut down the conversation. 

I chose to attend a Jesuit university because of the order’s tradition of learning, independence, and intellectual rigor. Since 2015, St. Joe’s has no longer had a Jesuit as President, and very few remain on the faculty. Maybe what made the school distinct has become less important than fitting in with the latest passing trend in progressive dogma, an intellectual blandness that makes every school the same, repressive and mediocre.

Manco told me that he loved St. Joe’s, but that “there is an unhealthy atmosphere at the university right now.” The school’s actions this month prove the point. Academic freedom is under threat everywhere, but Manco’s case is a new low for intellectual discourse in the Philadelphia region. Instead of kneeling to anonymous radicals online, St. Joe’s should listen to their students, their alumni, and their own principles, and cease this baseless harassment of a respected professor who has done nothing wrong.

Kyle Sammin is a senior contributor to The Federalist, co-host of the Conservative Minds podcast, and resident of Montgomery County. He writes regularly for Broad + Liberty. @KyleSammin

5 thoughts on “Kyle Sammin: Cancel culture comes to Hawk Hill”

  1. Today, I received an email from the University asking me to give again this year as I have before. I responded that not unless this kind of behavior by the administration was reversed. I included the following message that I sent, last week, to the HR, Alumni, and PR departments. I hope all fair-minded alumni push back against this action:

    I am a graduate of St. Joseph’s (Class of 1975) when it was still a bulwark of intellectual freedom and diversity of thought. I was a proud alumnus until today.

    I was disgusted to see the Jonathan Truly tweet describing the gross overreach of the University and its lack of adherence to the basic academic tenet of searching for philosophic truth through a rigorous discussion and analysis of opposing positions. The suspension of Professor Manco for the expression of views that are held by many decent and charitable persons, but not within the narrow politically correct confines of thought, is something I never thought I would live to see. It now appears that the voicing of an opinion that is contrary to and outside of the boundaries of current institutional “group-think” is a de facto ground for discipline and threat of dismissal for faculty and students alike.

    This is a sad and infamous day for the spirit of Hawk Hill and the principles that my cherished Jesuit education was based upon. I will no longer speak proudly of my days spent in those halls discussing all manner of the human and natural reality from opposing points of view. In that environment, we were all simultaneously student and teacher; givers and takers of knowledge and collegiality within another time of turmoil and opposing views. The University was at the pinnacle of what the words “universitas magistrorum et scholarium” enshrine.

    Now, I fear, it is nothing more than a collective of minor minds who are unable to respond to an opposing thought position with anything except bully tactics and the application of a pall over the coffin of reasoned academic discourse. I am saddened that my beloved alma mater has become nothing more than another ash on the funeral pyre of the free expression of ideas and intellectual honesty. “The king is dead”, but I do not respond with “Long live the King” for the new royal house is nothing more than a pack of academic pretenders whose rabid fangs are now exposed for all to see.

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  2. I wonder how St. Joe’s feels about faculty or students expressing pro-choice opinions. Is that allowed? I’m betting it’s not.

    1. Considering almost all my comments to Broad + Liberty on this site and on social media get censored with no explanation despite the fact that I’ve never attacked anyone personally, never incited violence, never used hate speech, never even cursed – I’m not sure how it’s possible to conclude anything other than their “free speech” “free thinking” thing is completely bogus.

  3. As a fellow alum, this disturbs me greatly. I too sent an email to various members of the administration. Here it is

    Today, I am writing something that I never thought I would say- I am ashamed of my alma mater. Specifically, I am embarrassed at the treatment of a member of the SJU faculty, Mr. Greg Manco.
    When I made the decision to attend SJU years ago, I did so because I believed in the Jesuit ideas of education. I graduated from a Jesuit high school where I was taught the values such as the pursuit of excellence, academic rigor, open debate, and free speech. I was taught that you could not engage in debate of ideas if you did not listen and understand the opposite argument. I was taught not to belittle, dismiss, or seek to silence debate. I was taught to counter it with logic, reason, and fact. When I visited SJU back in the fall of 1991, I believed I had found a place where such values were highly regarded and valued. It would be an extension of the same learning environment I had in high school- an environment I had grown to cherish. Today, I do not recognize the school that I attended and graduated from in 1996.
    While I attended SJU, I had the opportunity to write for The Hawk. During my time there, I penned a column that drew the ire of the athletic department. I was critical of the basketball coach. Almost immediately, the faculty advisor to The Hawk, Dr. Owen Gilman, reached out to me to make sure that no one with the University acted to suppress my view or force me to retract my column (thankfully, that did not occur). He let me know he was prepared to defend me and my column on the grounds of free speech. For a few weeks, my column created a bit of stir and plenty of people on both sides who had opinions and passions about the subject. But, in short order, the subject died down and people moved on to other things. This brings me to the subject of Mr. Manco and his tweets- instead of standing by the principles the school used to defend, the school, has cowered to the mob. For this, you deserve all the scorn and shame you get.
    I am embarrassed that the supposed adults in the room caved to the mob. I recall being told years ago that college was where you went to hear uncomfortable opinions, and where I should expect to have ideas challenged. Instead of protecting the ideas of speech and free exchange of ideas and opinions, you allowed a bunch of small-minded children take over. If someone isn’t prepared to hear opposing views, then they aren’t ready for college and they certainly aren’t ready to be seen as an adult. The school should be ashamed that they failed to stand behind one of their own. You should be ashamed that you failed to defend the principles of free speech and expression against the mob. Mr. Manco was not speaking in his capacity as a school employee. He was speaking as a private citizen. One does not have to agree with all or any of his statements to defend his right to make them, and without facing vengeance from a mob. AS a society, we cannot demand that people listen to our perspectives if we are not willing to listen to the perspectives of others. We cannot expect to force one side to listen while ignoring the other.
    There was a time when SJU valued and adhered to these principles- when all sides had the expectation of airing their views with fear of retribution. When one’s employment or presence at the school did not depend on which side of a debate you were on. We were free to debate or to not debate and move on. We didn’t hound opposing views into the shadows and off of campus. We were free to challenge, and we expected to be challenged. Sadly, those values have been lost on campus. The fact that no one stood up for Mr. Manco and his right to free expression is an absolute dereliction of leadership, for which all involved bear shame. The job of the administration is not to pick a side and punish the other side. It is to ensure that all sides have an open forum to debate and listen. To Mr. Manco, I can only apologize. Those that were entrusted to preserve and defend that forum failed him. I pray that SJU regains its appreciation for free speech and the dogged determination to preserve those rights and freedoms. Until that happens, I will remain ashamed and embarrassed by my alma mater.

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