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The Privilege Of Teaching Future Heroes

John Jay College's New Building
The "New Building" at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Manhattan. Photo by Wikimedia Commons user JZX422.

Soon-to-be-former adjunct professor Michael Isaacson of John Jay College in New York City was 100 percent correct when he tweeted that “it’s a privilege to teach future dead cops.” It is a privilege he never deserved and, I expect, will soon be denied for good.

The Sept. 11 Memorial is just five miles due south of John Jay’s campus on Manhattan’s West Side. Sixty-eight students and graduates of John Jay died at ground zero, most of them while trying to save ordinary citizens. A lot of first responders begin their training at John Jay, which is a unit of the City University of New York. The college is perhaps best known for its criminal justice program. As has long been the case in the City University system, many of its students are poor, and frequently the first in their family to achieve higher education.

Is it a privilege to teach them? You bet.

If a bomb goes off or an active shooter attacks innocents in the five boroughs, a John Jay graduate is apt to be one of those in uniform who run toward the danger when everyone else runs away. If people are trapped in a burning building, a John Jay graduate may well risk her or his life to try to save them. When families line the streets for the Thanksgiving Day parade or revelers pack Times Square to ring in the New Year, John Jay graduates are on the job, scanning the surroundings for those would turn joy to mayhem. Is it a privilege to teach them? Yes, it is a privilege, of the highest order.

Isaacson plainly was not thinking in these terms when he issued his now-infamous tweet last month. Its full text was this: “Some of y’all might think it sucks being an anti-fascist teaching at John Jay College but I think it’s a privilege to teach future dead cops.”

There are many stupid tweets in the world, and this one went more or less unnoticed at first. But it eventually came to the attention of John Jay’s administration, as well as police organizations and politicians. The New York City police union demanded Isaacson be fired, and it wasn’t alone.

For now, Isaacson has been placed on administrative leave. He will likely never teach again at John Jay or anywhere in the City University system. His adjunct status gives him no tenure protection, and despite some misplaced First Amendment platitudes, the faculty union is unlikely to waste any of its own political capital to benefit a boorish, underqualified loudmouth who is so far outside the mainstream that even the city’s liberal Mayor Bill de Blasio has denounced him, tweeting “New York City won’t stand for the vile anti-police rhetoric of Michael Isaacson and neither should John Jay College.”

At age 29, Isaacson has no public record of accomplishing anything of significance outside a college campus. He studied economics and philosophy at the University of Mary Washington, got his masters in economics from Howard University, and earned his doctorate at the New School for Social Research. I doubt any of those institutions will soon be listing Isaacson as a distinguished alumnus in their fundraising appeals.

Isaacson identifies as a political activist as well as an academic. He co-founded a group aligned with the anti-fascist or “antifa” movement, best known for its black-clad, masked thugs, who make a pastime of bullying or beating anyone whose views they deem “fascist.” Apparently none of them own a mirror or have heard the adage about choosing your enemies carefully, because they are who you will become.

Isaacson authored a self-published work with the cheerful title, “You Can’t Punch Every Nazi.” He runs a website called Vulgar Economics, which includes such pearls as this post: “Since the election of Trump, I’ve been getting a lot of people reaching out asking how to get involved in the resistance against him and his fascist acolytes. While I have on occasion been giving out the names of organizations for people to tap into, I’ve also been pushing people to organize the heretofore apolitical spaces that they frequent (work, school, church, synagogue, union, etc.).”

He also observes that he abandoned using textbooks for his introductory class on economics and global capitalism. His students receive whatever he regurgitates from his own schooling, supplemented by “a select number of readings” according to the course syllabus, plus the apparently very modest store of wisdom he has accumulated in 29 years of avoiding, as much as possible, exposure to the capitalism he teaches.

Isaacson received death threats and reportedly has left New York City since his post on future dead cops gained attention. Of course the death threats are atrocious. Isaacson has every right to publish any inane, insensitive or idiotic remark he chooses. He hasn’t otherwise been a shrinking violet, however, engaging with his critics on social media and elsewhere. Though The Wall Street Journal reported that he has apologized for endangering his colleagues and students, he has remained mostly glib about the post that triggered the backlash. “This is what people do on social media, they say tongue-in-cheek things,” Isaacson said. He also shot back at de Blasio, claiming “he messed up big” by allegedly interfering with John Jay’s administrative autonomy.

That supposed interference has, as of now, not resulted in any real action. As of this writing, the school had only suspended Isaacson, along with issuing the typical generic statement from its president, Karol Mason. Mason never mentioned Isaacson by name, even while describing his comment as abhorrent. CUNY’s faculty union, in contrast, had the good sense to condemn Isaacson’s words outright. But ultimately this is just a replay of what we have seen previously at schools like the University of Delaware and the University of Missouri, where leftist adjunct and assistant professors of small personal accomplishment have put their personal political agendas ahead of the welfare of the young people they teach.

Such people do not deserve the privilege of teaching anywhere. Especially not at a place like John Jay College where, inevitably, they teach future heroes. Or as some might call them, future dead cops.

It is becoming tiresome to watch administrators feign shock at discovering that the socially stunted ideologues they hire could say or do the things they actually say and do. It is not enough to suspend the nontenured faculty member and then decline to renew his or her contract. Students won’t get the education or the respect they deserve until deans and department heads and college presidents see their own careers suffer for hiring teachers who have done so little to earn the privilege to teach.

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