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Professor defends teaching students to question COVID-19 ‘propaganda’ as NYU investigation continues

Colleagues’ claims are ‘so false as to seem downright psychotic’

A New York University professor is suing several colleagues for alleged defamation in relation to his unpopular views on COVID-19 interventions, including the efficacy of masks and particular treatments.

The private university opened an investigation against Mark Crispin Miller, a tenured professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communications, after 25 faculty called on the department to respond to his “ongoing harm to our students.”

Their letter refers to a September incident in Miller’s class “Mass Persuasion and Propaganda.” A female student, who has since dropped out of the course, accused him of promoting right-wing conspiracy theories about COVID-19, and the department chair quickly responded that MCC was considering “next steps.”

Miller (above) responded by blogging about the dispute, asking readers to sign a petition in favor of his academic freedom. He mentioned NYU communications to his students and a department email urging him to stop teaching the course, and claimed he was acting in self-defense.

The professor told The College Fix that NYU Steinhardt School Dean Jack Knott told him the investigation would conclude by the end of the semester, but gave him no other details.

Miller, who has spent more than 20 years on the NYU faculty, filed a lawsuit in New York State court Nov. 30 after his colleagues did not retract their statements and apologize as he demanded.

He shared several NYU communications with The Fix to illustrate his legal claims. Miller explained in a phone interview that he wasn’t suing any of the junior professors who signed the letter: “Whether they signed it, willingly or not, I’m sure they had no choice.”

According to the suit, Miller’s colleagues intended to “disgrace and humiliate” the professor “under the guise of phony and uninformed political and cultural correctness and orthodoxy.” He’s seeking $750,000 in damages, saying their letter led to loss of professional standing and the worsening of his Lyme disease.

The faculty letter “takes every conceivable opportunity to cast me in a bad light,” Miller told The Fix. He also said in a separate email that the charges from his colleagues are “so false as to seem downright psychotic.”

MORE: Judge tells NYU it can’t punish students for breaking after-the-fact COVID rules

The left has ‘changed radically over the years’

If Miller is a right-wing conspiracy theorist, he’s an unconventional one. The professor is named on Turning Point USA’s Professor Watchlist, which identifies faculty who allegedly promote “leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

He also helped lead a movement in 2012 to halt NYU’s redevelopment plans for the Greenwich Village campus. The resulting lawsuit successfully challenged nearly half of the university’s expansion plan, though Miller told The Fix the experience also convinced him not to sue NYU itself this time.

Politically, Miller considers himself a leftist: “I’m anti-war, I believe in empowering the working class, cutting back corporate power – I could go on and on.” He said progressive luminaries such as Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Oliver Stone signed his petition, and Ralph Nader provided a separate statement of support.

The Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who publicly accused NYU of forcing him out of a fellowship because of pressure from Beijing, also signed Miller’s petition, the professor said.

MORE: NYU declines to testify in Congress about its China campus

But Miller also believes the left has “changed radically over the years. I don’t really recognize it anymore.” The left today wants “censorship and government authority to be accepted without question—except if it’s Trump,” he said.

Some of the professor’s colleagues have long despised him for his course content and extramural statements on subjects including the Sandy Hook massacre and transgender ideology.

But a civil liberties group told NYU that Miller’s alleged conduct is expressly protected by its own policies, and cited court rulings against private universities including New York City’s Fordham.

One group is not weighing in on the dispute: the American Association of University Professors. A representative told The Fix in an email that AAUP’s department of academic freedom and tenure confirmed “we haven’t been involved with this case,” and declined to comment further.

Teach cinema instead – it gets higher enrollment

Student Julia Jackson tagged NYU in a tweet thread Sept. 20 to complain that Miller had “spent an entire class period telling students that wearing masks doesn’t prevent the spread of COVID-19.” She also claimed that he said “hydroxychloroquine trials were made to fail so more people would be given the vaccine and have their DNA changed.”

She linked to articles and videos shared by Miller, including a twopart interview of Canadian physicist Denis Rancourt on One America News Network (below), describing them as conspiratorial and “far-right.”

Jackson called on NYU to “relieve him” of educating and advising students. MCC Chair Rodney Benson thanked her for reporting the issue and said the department had “made this a priority.”

Miller responded Oct. 6 on his News From Underground blog, explaining that his pedagogical style is to teach students how to identify propaganda drives and seek out alternative claims.

He urged his students to read studies that conclude masks and ventilators are ineffective at preventing transmission of the novel coronavirus and saving lives, “with due attention to the scientific reviews thereof.” Miller cited “possible financial links between” researchers and interests such as “Big Pharma and the Gates Foundation.”

The blog post embedded Jackson’s tweet thread and mentioned a Sept. 21 email to Miller’s students from Knott and Carlo Ciotoli, who leads NYU’s COVID-19 Prevention and Response Team.

MORE: Miller’s student tries to get him fired

Miller provided The Fix with this email (below), which he said a student forwarded to him. Prefaced by the claim that NYU has the “utmost respect for the principles of academic freedom,” it referred students to “the most authoritative public health guidance” – CDC recommendations.

The evidence backs it up,” the email continued, linking sources. “And we remind you that wearing a mask is required at NYU.” The NYU leaders said “we do not feel we have a choice” in pushing back on Miller’s alleged comments.

Miller said he didn’t tell students to break the university’s mask mandate, which he actively observes – a point emphasized in his lawsuit.

The blog post alleged that NYU had urged Miller to cancel his propaganda course because it would be “better for the department” if he instead chose to teach two sections on cinema. (Miller told The Fix Sunday that the quoted phrase was from an email sent by the department’s administrative assistant, while a later phone call with Benson, the MCC chair, claimed the change would be better for enrollment.)

It linked to a petition to back Miller’s cause, which as of Monday night has been signed by more than 20,000 people. Miller told The Fix last week that the blind Chinese lawyer Guangcheng, who memorably escaped house arrest in China, was among them.

Guangcheng claimed to have been forced out by NYU following “great, unrelenting pressure” from Chinese communists, at a time when the university was building a campus in Shanghai.

NYU stated that Guangcheng’s stay was based on a one-year fellowship and that his claims were “both false and contradicted by the well-established facts,” including that the foreign campus was approved to be built before the dissident’s arrival at NYU.

Citing student’s public tweets invites ‘cyberbullying’

The Oct. 21 faculty letter to Steinhardt Dean Knott and Provost Katherine Fleming criticized the views that “Miller has espoused on his highly visible website” over the years.

While it doesn’t say what is “highly visible” about Miller’s blog, the letter complains that “he prominently displays his title as a full tenured professor in our department.”

Miller has characterized “transgender surgery as a eugenic form of sterilization,” mocked transgender people and denied “the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting,” they alleged.

While Miller has a right to his views, his colleagues object to “discrimination, attacks against students and others in our community, or advocacy for an unsafe learning environment.” Students have complained about his discussion of controversial viewpoints and “non-evidence based arguments” for years, yet frequent complaints to bias review offices and administrators have not “improved” the situation. (The letter does not mention any specific complaints.)

Miller’s post that linked Jackson’s public tweets opened an opportunity for “cyberbullying and threatening communication directed toward the student,” which “subsequently occurred and continues,” the letter claimed.

MORE: Cornell vaccine mandate only applies to white students

It called for an “expedited review” of Miller’s “intimidation tactics, abuses of authority, aggressions and microaggressions, and explicit hate speech,” to be followed by “whatever further disciplinary measures are deemed appropriate.”

In an email provided by Miller, Dean Knott told the professor Oct. 29 that an investigation had been opened that day. “I will ask Vice Dean for Faculty Affairs LaRue Allen to begin this review immediately” and decide, based on the collected information, whether to proceed “with next steps as outlined in the Faculty Handbook,” Knott wrote.

Miller conveyed his shock at receiving the email in a Thursday phone call with The Fix. “I was completely surprised that he hadn’t talked to me first,” he said. In a Zoom meeting requested by Miller, Knott said that NYU “lawyers and provost told him that they had to” investigate.

Knott wouldn’t give him the scope of the investigation except that “they would talk to people,” according to Miller. “And I said what people? And he said, faculty and students. And I said, what faculty? None of them have seen me teach. And he said: well yeah, so the students.”

Miller then told the dean that he would solicit and send testimonials from current and former students, “maybe 40 letters” so far that “make abundantly clear that there is not a shred of truth” in the colleagues’ letter. He excerpted several in his blog post.

Beware ‘multibillionaires with large investments in Big Pharma’

A few days after this meeting, Miller confronted his colleagues’ charges in a rebuttal he shared with The Fix.

He called “nearly all” their claims “demonstrably untrue,” and the letter “misleading in its various insinuations.” Miller did not launch an email campaign against the department, as they claimed, but rather highlighted “NYU’s violation of my academic freedom.”

Miller reiterated his public assertion that he simply encouraged students to read “scientific studies—eight randomized, controlled trials, conducted among health professionals over the last 15 years or so—finding that masks are ineffective against transmission of respiratory viruses.”

On Sunday he pointed The Fix to his Sept. 5 essay “Masking Ourselves to Death” for sources: research from Rancourt, the Canadian physicist, as well as Joshua Jacobs, B. J. Cowling, Faisal bin-Reza, Jeffrey Smith, Vittoria Offeddu, Lewis Radonovich and Youlin Long.

The essay mentions the two-part interview with Rancourt and a debate he had with “another COVID-19 dissident,” physician Joseph Mercola, whose videos “have been banned on YouTube and Spotify since mid-June.” Miller also provided a link to Mercola’s website pertaining to the censorship.

Miller emphasized that he “very clearly” told students that he was “not telling you not to wear masks,” but simply engaging in an intellectual exercise. Responding to the email from Knott and Ciotoli, he noted the CDC guidelines “that you regard as gospel truth abruptly changed in early April.” Previously they had “echoed the consensus of the [randomized controlled trials] that I encouraged my students to examine.”

It is “wholly false” that he “attacked” Jackson, when in fact “the student attacked me, on Twitter, demanding that NYU fire me.” She didn’t speak up during that class and did not “bother reading any of those studies,” he claimed. “How, and where, and when, I ‘attacked’ her your letter fails to specify—as it could not, because I never did.”

NYU professor who questions COVID orthodoxy demands colleagues retract false claims about him by The College Fix on Scribd

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By publicly writing under her own name, Jackson tweets “provoked attacks by others, which had nothing to do with me,” Miller continued, adding that he had received similar attacks spurred by Jackson’s tweets. (While he mentioned “three media hit-pieces” against him, Miller did not identify the articles.)

He only identified Jackson by name once, in the petition defending himself, to show that she demanded his firing. “To cast me as the aggressor in this case is as perverse as your accusing me of having attacked” the department, he said.

His website does not have “a single mention of Sandy Hook” and he only mentioned the school massacre in a class discussion on gun control. Miller recommended “some troublingly compelling scholarship on Sandy Hook” to students, because “we cannot simply rule out any argument that deviates from the official story.” (He exempted speculation about child-sex-slave colonies on Mars, which The Washington Post said was shared by a guest on the Alex Jones Show.)

Regarding the alleged transgender mockery, Miller said the university “quickly exculpated” him from secondhand claims by a colleague, defendant Nicole Starosielski, based on “three brief online writings.”

His writing on the subject is “highly critical of transgender ideology” because of its “troubling real-world consequences” in sports and prisons and the “radical medical intervention in the sexual development of children.” The ideology has also been aggressively promoted throughout the corporate media with the backing of “multibillionaires with large investments in Big Pharma,” which might have “eugenic purposes.”

Miller cited his own “pleasant” email exchange with a transgender colleague at NYU. Though this person signed the letter against him, he understands “why she may have felt obliged” to sign it.

The professor said he could make his own allegations about a “hostile work environment” going back “some time, but especially this semester,” citing comments from students about faculty disparaging him.

Galileo and Copernicus were also ‘condemned for exploring unpopular truths’

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education told NYU President Andrew Hamilton in a Nov. 13 letter that the university’s own stated commitment to academic freedom meant it must end the investigation into Miller.

The civil liberties group noted a New York court ruled in 2019 that Fordham violated its contractual commitments by refusing to recognize a chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.

In a 2018 case closely paralleling the factual allegations in Miller’s dispute, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Marquette University could not punish a professor’s extramural expressions because of its contractual promises on academic freedom.

NYU did not respond to Fix queries on how its Miller investigation was any different from the rulings cited by FIRE.

When the university ignored FIRE’s Nov. 20 deadline to respond, the group publicly condemned NYU’s investigation. A spokesperson for the civil liberties group told The Fix last week that NYU has still not responded.

Miller has long been a bee in NYU’s bonnet. He’s one of several named plaintiffs in an ongoing class action suit against its “mismanagement of our retirement funds,” he told The Fix. Having seen the university’s lawyers in action, Miller said they are “extraordinarily aggressive when it comes to legal action.”

He’s more surprised by criticism from colleagues – “people whom I did everything I could to serve in trying to halt the real estate plan” and protecting pension funds. Some of them “wrote letters of recommendation” when Miller was “nominated for a distinguished teaching award in 2012.”

He emphasized that “I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying this to demonstrate how egregious this attack is.” Only one faculty member – untenured, from the School of Professional Studies – went to bat for him.

Miller is the one person “above all” that the instructor recommends to her students, she wrote to President Hamilton and Provost Fleming Dec. 6. (Miller removed the colleague’s name from the email he showed The Fix.)

MORE: Trump advisor blasts Stanford colleagues for shutting down COVID-19 debate

His propaganda course is the “best” to make students “critical thinkers, a person who can question mass delusions whether they be scientific or political.” She compared Miller to Galileo and Copernicus, who were “condemned for exploring unpopular truths.”

The colleague asked rhetorically, whether “Christopher Columbus was a hero or whether masks do prevent the spread of a virus, don’t we want to encourage one and all to look at all the material out there?”

Miller told The Fix he doesn’t attribute the hostility to his political views, but rather to the “discomfiture” his work causes colleagues. He closely studies “official narratives to determine whether they are true or false and to try to figure out what purpose they serve and what interests are behind them.”

The political right doesn’t have a monopoly on critiquing the “echo chambers” of academia, he said: “I think it’s also possible to make the same critique from a left-perspective.”

Miller sees something similar occurring with the COVID-19 pandemic. “Just for urging the study on the scientific literature on masking as a barrier against respiratory viruses is like a high crime now; that’s killing grandma.”

MORE: Prof says anti-maskers support white supremacy, policy brutality

IMAGE: Renegade Inc./YouTube

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About the Author
College Fix contributor Henry Kokkeler is a student at Washington State University studying political science and history. He is a contributor to The Libertarian Republic and enjoys studying conservative intellectual history.