By the Staff of The Hesperian
A solicitation to 159 faculty members asking them to join a request for an ethics probe into a Chapman University history professor’s racist attacks on a popular conservative black woman has opened a chasm of rage that threatens to expose Chapman faculty to charges of racial hypocrisy.
On March 23, Dr. Liam O’Mara, a Chapman history professor, sent a tweet to black conservative commentator Candace Owens featuring an image of a napkin resembling a Ku Klux Klan hood with the message “Yikes. You may have dropped this.” Klan hoods have always been associated with racial intimidation and lynchings of black Americans, which is why O’Mara’s racist tweet has been interpreted as a legitimate racial threat by some people, including Owens.
The Hesperian drafted a request for an ethics inquiry into O’Mara’s harassment of Owens. The request is being sent today to Chapman’s chief ethics compliance officer, Gail Nishida.
The Hesperian’s email to faculty members sought their permission to add their name to the request. Of the 23 who responded to the solicitation, just three faculty members agreed to allow us to include their names with the request. The majority of responses received by The Hesperian consisted of threats of retaliation, intimidation and indignation.
The 159 faculty members were specifically solicited to co-sign the ethics inquiry request because of their prior involvement last December in co-signing a statement denouncing John Eastman, the former dean of Chapman’s Fowler School of Law. Eastman had filed legal challenges on President Donald Trump’s behalf questioning the integrity of the presidential election’s outcome.
The faculty statement (which was mysteriously removed from the internet within the last few days after The Hesperian had emailed the 159 faculty members) condemned Eastman’s representation of Trump into election irregularities, characterizing his legal arguments as representative of views which are “contrary to the core values of this university.” The statement added that Eastman’s role in representing Trump “should be regarded as an embarrassment.”
Eastman subsequently resigned from his tenured position under pressure from his peers in the faculty, whom he contended had created “a hostile environment.” The timing of the faculty statement’s removal coinciding with the emails sent to faculty appears calculated to conceal the foundational basis for The Hesperian’s purpose for contacting the 159 faculty members. The website displaying the statement identifies Chapman English Professor Tom Zoellner as the moderator of the page. (An archived copy of the now-deleted statement signed by the 159 faculty can be found here.)
In addition to soliciting faculty members to join its call for an ethics inquiry, The Hesperian reached out to Chapman President Daniele Struppa, O’Mara’s department head, Dr. Alexander Bay, and black law Professor Bobby Dexter seeking their response to O’Mara’s racist attack on Owens. Both Struppa and Bay declined to comment, and Dexter did not respond at all. The Hesperian followed up asking each of them whether they believe that O’Mara acted unethically, violated any university policies, and whether they think there should be an investigation into the racist conduct. None of them responded.
The majority of faculty members responding to the ethics inquiry solicitation expressed fierce indignation, some even threatening legal action. While refusing to explain their reasons for withholding their consent to add their name to the request, some faculty members responded instead with long-winded lectures. Some faculty requested additional information regarding O’Mara’s behavior. Even after providing them with the extra information, The Hesperian never received another response from any of them.
The Hesperian’s solicitation to faculty is reprinted here in full:
Dear faculty member,
We are sure you have heard of Dr. Liam O’Mara’s recent racist social media attack on Candace Owens, a popular conservative black political commentator. Dr. O’Mara had the temerity and remarkably poor judgment to create an imitation KKK hood and send it to Ms. Owens. It is difficult to understand what motivates an educator to engage in such open racial hostility. The presentation of KKK hoods to black Americans has always been associated with racial intimidation and lynchings. We believe that Dr. O’Mara violated numerous university conduct codes.
This is Dr. O’Mara’s racist tweet:
Dr. O’Mara’s racist tweet became public in the OC Register and other major news outlets, which in turn has blemished Chapman’s reputation. The OC Register article can be read for free here.
We are reaching out to you specifically because you recently co-signed a statement to the Chapman administration objecting to former Chapman Law Dean Dr. John Eastman’s representation of former President Trump challenging election irregularities and expressed the view that you “have had enough” and condemned his conduct as being “contrary to the core values of this university and should be regarded as an embarrassment.” Certainly, you must agree that O’Mara’s conduct is equally contrary to the core values of this university and should be regarded as an embarrassment.
How could Dr. O’Mara’s racist conduct not invite an ethics investigation and discipline? We believe it mandates such scrutiny. Yet despite the opprobrium of Dr. O’Mara’s conduct blemishing Chapman’s reputation, the administration has thus far failed to publicly condemn Dr. O’Mara’s conduct or disassociate the university from it.
We therefore are including your name as a signatory of a letter (attachment can be found below) we are sending to Chapman’s chief ethics compliance officer, making an official “report of a violation of the code of ethics,” and calling on the Administration to condemn Dr. O’Mara and have him face discipline for his repugnant and racist stunt.
Please respond to this email before Friday, close of business, confirming your willingness to sign the request. We require either your affirmative written consent or affirmative written lack of consent. If you do not consent, please explain why you are withholding your consent, as we intend to publish a story identifying all faculty members who refuse to sign the letter.
The email was signed by The Hesperian’s editors, Ryan Marhoefer, a former Chapman student and co-founder of The Hesperian, and Abbey Umali, a current student.
O’Mara’s tweet to Owens was not the first time he had directed racism at her. Here is another KKK-related tweet from O’Mara to Owens last May:
“Liam has followed and harassed me for no other reason than my being a black Republican, for approximately two years,” Owens told the OC Register. “I had never responded to him previously, but the Klansmen hood was a step too far.” As Owens tweeted about O’Mara’s racial harassment,
Owens has opened a criminal complaint into his harassment of her. O’Mara subsequently offered a dubious apology, blaming his “white privilege” and attempting to justify his actions as “trying to criticize… the rhetoric, not her… I was saying that [Owens’] argument should be relegated to the past.” In the same apology, O’Mara again accused Owens of promoting white supremacy. In a public comment on The Hesperian’s Instagram, Owens said, “If it isn’t obvious – no, I’m not a white supremacist. I would be more forgiving to [O’Mara] if he didn’t keep lying.”
O’Mara, then a Democrat congressional candidate, dropped out of his race after his campaign staff revolted in response to his tweet. Dr. O’Mara’s congressional campaign staff issued a statement condemning O’Mara for his “act of hate” and “racist actions [that have] materially harmed the African American community.” The statement said the staff members “neither condone nor forgive his racist actions.” The Riverside County Democratic Party also denounced O’Mara’s actions as “wrong and completely unacceptable,” adding that their party will never tolerate “discrimination, harassment, and racism.”
O’Mara’s apology – delivered only after his campaign staff and party denounced him – seemed to satisfy some faculty members.
A physical therapy professor attempted to justify her not signing the ethics inquiry by saying, “Unlike Dr Eastman, who did not apologize for a series of racist and inflammatory/incorrect statements, Dr. O’Mara has apologized for his offensive tweet.”
Curiously, Dr. Peter Simi, who teaches a course at Chapman called “White Supremacy in America,” refused to sign the ethics inquiry request. Simi said that he does condemn O’Mara’s tweet, but, “more importantly, Dr. O’Mara has acknowledged that it was wrong and apologized for the Tweet.” Simi refused to sign The Hesperian’s ethics inquiry request because it was “unnecessarily confusing.”
Tom Zoellner, who supported the “outrage machine” against Eastman resulting in his resignation, dismissed legitimate concerns of O’Mara’s racism and white supremacy by telling The Panther, “[O’Mara] recognizes his mistake and has offered an unequivocal apology, but the conservative outrage machine is still eager to twist this into something that it isn’t and destroy his career in the process.”
A physics professor explained his refusal to sign the ethics inquiry request by saying, “Liam O’Mara’s tweet of a KKK hood is racist and I condemn it. However, I refuse to be a signatory of your letter… On the other hand, O’Mara is an adjunct professor. He is hired by contract on a semester-by-semester basis… The chair of the History department or the dean of Wilkinson college can remove him from his teaching position by just not renewing his contract for the next semester. They do not need to give reasons or conduct an investigation in order to do this. Therefore, if you think that O’Mara’s conduct is unacceptable then your complaint would be better directed to the chair of history or the dean of Wilkinson college rather than to the upper-level university administration.”
However, when The Hesperian reached out to O’Mara’s department chair, Alexander Bay, for a response, Bay refused to comment on O’Mara’s behavior. When reached out to again one week later, Bay did not respond.
As an excuse for not signing this ethics inquiry request, a biological sciences professor said, “Being a non-white and non-male and signatory might invite significant levels of harassment from anyone who might read your coverage. This is extremely stressful and simply unfair for those of us in precarious positions to begin with.”
Of course, the same fear of harassment did not deter the exact same professors from publicly speaking out against the perceived racism of Eastman. The biology professor claimed that due to “personal issues” she is “simply too exhausted at the moment to have this type of battle.”
Although the solicitation to faculty explicitly stated that The Hesperian required each faculty member’s “affirmative written consent or affirmative written lack of consent” before adding an individual’s name to the request, many of those responding didn’t seem to have read nor understood it, fiercely protesting their name’s inclusion on the draft email, some calling the draft ethics inquiry request’s reference to the 159 Eastman statement participants as “unethical” and “unprofessional.”
At least one faculty member misrepresented The Hesperian’s email to school administrators and to The Panther newspaper. That faculty member misreported that The Hesperian had already sent a letter to the chief compliance officer, Nishida, with professors’ names on it without their consent. Multiple faculty members complained to campus administrators that The Hesperian’s emails “constitute a violation of university policy.” Their complaints were determined to be unfounded.
The flurry of indignation from the faculty consisted of condescending lectures and either veiled or direct threats of legal action. Here are a few of the responses from faculty members who specifically refused to give us permission to add their name to the request:
A peace studies professor, without understanding what The Hesperian was requesting in the email, suggested The Hesperian would be liable if her name were incorrectly used: “Note that it would be libelous of you to claim that faculty have signed a petition merely because you put their name there.”
This professor inconsistently endorsed the censure statement targeting Eastman. She told Voice of OC, “Given that Chapman has made diversity and inclusion a central value of the university – especially over the last decade – we felt we needed to take a stronger stand. There’s a great need at Chapman to demonstrate what we truly value.”
An English teaching assistant leveled an incorrect accusation at The Hesperian: “It was brought to my attention that I was being added to a list of faculty who refused to participate in a petition. I was rather alarmed when I heard about this because this is the first time that I have received any correspondence from your publication. This is very unprofessional conduct. Please remove my name from any and all articles. I do not give consent or permission for you to publish my name under any capacity. If you refuse to do so, I will take action.”
Don Cardinal, a former dean of educational studies, characterized the request as a form of “bullying” and “strong arm tactics”: “I do not grant you the right to invade my personal freedoms. This includes this current attempt at intimidation (‘requiring’ me to perform) and the subsequent request for me to explain my action or inaction… I do not grant you the right, to question my legal and moral behavior and demand a rationale from me… I do not respond well to attempts at bullying behavior that you exhibit in your attached letter, especially during these demanding times. Your strong arm tactics are unambiguously in bad taste. And, yes, you may publish my statement. Please note I have copied the Chapman Faculty Senate President and the Dean of Students to assure that my note to you is not misrepresented by you.”
A film professor adamantly refused permission without explaining her reasoning: “Please remove my name from this document. Please consider this legal notification that you do NOT have permission to use my name now or at any time in the future. Please do not email me again for any reason.” (The Hesperian responded once, respectfully requesting an explanation for the benefit of our readers. Without responding, she unsuccessfully reported The Hesperian to Chapman’s Dean of Students for violating university policy.
A history professor seemed to be inconsistent in his responses: “Do not sign my name to this letter. If you do, under false pretenses, I will take appropriate action.” In a petition calling for Chapman “to reiterate its commitment to diversity and inclusion” in regard to Eastman’s controversy, this same professor had said that the university needs to “state publicly its values in this controversy.”
Only three faculty members have consented to their names being added to the ethics inquiry request. Out of respect for the likely possibility of their peers retaliating against them, their names will not be published, though their signatures will still be included on the private ethics inquiry request sent to Nishida.
Two of the faculty members simply gave their consent while the other, a music professor, elaborated. “Thank you for this. Yes, I would like you to include my name on the letter. This is not acceptable behavior for a Chapman professor. The whole story is filled with surprising twists and turns!”
In preparing its requests, The Hesperian consulted with its unpaid legal counsel, Bill Becker, president of Freedom X, a non-profit public interest law firm. “The threats of retaliation constitute an unconstitutional prior restraint in violation of the First Amendment’s freedom of the press clause,” Becker said. “It really is remarkable to see the level of hypocrisy on display here. Just three among 159 instructors recognize O’Mara’s overt unethical act of racism. The sanctimonious refusal of others to join in the request speaks loudly to their hypocrisy regarding racial justice. Are black conservatives considered fair targets by the leftist academy?”
He added that The Hesperian acted properly when it included the names of the public Eastman statement participants in the proposed draft request. “The Hesperian in no way suggested that the names on the draft represented their willingness to endorse the request. It was very clear what the point of featuring them was. Each of those faculty members lent their names to the Eastman statement to express their outrage. It seems logical they would want to be morally consistent by fulminating against O’Mara’s unethical behavior. Their indignation is laughable.”
Becker, a former journalist, continued, “The news story is that they are not just inconsistent, but hypocritically so, and I think they know that.”
The Hesperian will be filing its request with Nishida today. It will include the names of the principled three faculty members brave enough to defy the campus orthodoxy.
In response to a question about the power of the faculty after Eastman’s forced departure, an anonymous, high-ranking official familiar with the inner workings of Chapman University told The Hesperian, “The inmates are running the asylum now.”