Newly promoted professor set up a ‘strawman right-winger’?
Not everyone at New York University is thrilled that “Deplorable NYU Prof” is back on campus with a promotion and a raise.
A conservative student told The College Fix that by using a Twitter alter ego to criticize politically correct culture, Liberal Studies Prof. Michael Rectenwald – a self-identified communist – had actually made it harder to be conservative at NYU.
“I’m not a fan of a Marxist impersonating a caricature of a right-winger just to prove a point,” said Xavier Malaussena, a junior studying politics and secretary of the NYU College Republicans.
Rectenwald’s ruse, which garnered nationwide attention, came “at the expense of actual campus right-wingers who have just been given more work to do to legitimize their beliefs in this left-dominated atmosphere,” Malaussena said.
Six months later, application for full professor approved
Rectenwald began tweeting against identity politics, political correctness and safe-space culture three months ago, under the handle @AntiPCNYUProf. (Rectenwald has since changed his screenname to “Contemptible Prof.”)
He explained his anonymity in a September tweet: “[T]he PC Gestapo would ruin me” if he went public. After he was identified in campus media, which led departmental colleagues to denounce him, Rectenwald accepted a paid-leave offer.
It was short-lived. Six months after Rectenwald had applied to become a full professor – and “just days” into his paid leave – the assistant professor finally got his promotion, which came with an 18 percent raise to $80,000, the New York Post reported Sunday.
He told the Post that he was “very relieved” because he thought “the administration might use my views [as Deplorable NYU Prof] against me.”
— Contemptible Prof (@antipcnyuprof) November 15, 2016
Rectenwald is more popular among students, however, than suggested by the hostile response from his department’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group.
He boasts a 4.4 out of 5 rating from 95 student reviews dating back to 2008 on RateMyProfessors.com.
“If I were to choose one teacher that made the most positive impact on my education in NYU, it would have to be Dr. Rec,” said one glowing review from 2009: “The topics we study are controversial and fun to think about.”
Professor implies ‘it’s ok to attack, or at least revile,’ campus conservatives
Malaussena, the conservative student, is not among those singing Rectenwald’s praises.
“We’ve got a leftist professor acting against campus PC culture,” he said in an email. “And to do so, he’s pretended to be a Trump supporting staff member”:
When he gets attacked, he gets to pull back the curtain and go “Surprise! I’m not actually conservative, I’m a Marxist!” … His goal is to “correct” the course of the campus left to his old-fashioned version, not help conservatism in campus.
The implicit message from Rectenwald is that “it’s ok to attack, or at least revile, people who are [conservative], and it implies that that is an accurate representation of Conservatives on campus,” Malaussena said.
The end result is “yet another strawman right-winger to project on actual right-wingers.”
Other current students don’t fault Rectenwald for creating an alleged strawman.
Freshman Ashley Choi told campus newspaper Washington Square News before Rectenwald’s return that the professor was the same person in his Liberal Studies class that he was on Twitter, calling him a “mad-genius type.”
“I think he certainly deserves better though because he’s really sophisticated and intelligent but he’s only a part-time professor,” Choi said, also characterizing Rectenwald as caring: “As a student, all I care is if the instructors are good or not.”
— Washington Sq. News (@nyunews) November 7, 2016
Some NYU students who have not taken Rectenwald’s class told The Fix in emails that they have positive opinions of him and what he represents.
Ivan Teo is “glad the professor has been reinstated,” he said: “Intellectual diversity is extremely important on college campuses and other institutions of higher learning — as it is a necessary prerequisite to allow for a free and fair debate on issues.”
Louis Bartholomew said he was glad the professor was brought back, especially in light of the political homogenization he sees on campus.
“In many of my classes … there is a culture of shutting down opposing opinions because they are deemed racist, sexist, homophobic, etc,” he said.
“Academia should never be an echo chamber. A university that shuts out other views, especially hateful or inflammatory ones, is an authoritarian state,” Bartholomew said.
Rectenwald responded to an initial Fix inquiry, before his return to campus, but said he wasn’t doing any more interviews. He has not responded to further inquiries since his return.