Professor Mark Crispin Miller was recently cleared of accusations that he failed to follow the New York University (NYU) Faculty Handbook.
A student and a group of 25 of his colleagues had demanded that Miller be fired for encouraging them to research both sides of the scientific debate on the efficacy of mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Masks are mandated in schools and public places by New York state, which follows the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines that anyone aged 2 or older who isn’t fully vaccinated wear a mask in indoor public spaces.
Miller told The Epoch Times that his academic freedom was attacked under the banner of gross misconduct. He was accused of hate speech and of attacks on students and others in the community. At one point, Miller collapsed under the stress and had to go to the emergency room.
He was finally exonerated by the university on Dec. 8.
The professor has been teaching in the Media, Culture, and Communication Department at NYU since 1997 and has been teaching specifically about propaganda for roughly 20 years. It’s a very popular class that’s always full and extra students are allowed in. Miller started teaching the course via Zoom for NYU students in the first semester of 2020, the first time that he had taught the class virtually.
He introduced the subject by giving the example of mask mandates during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, since it was a subject that qualified for their coursework.
“If we were to do that, you would want to read all the scientific literature on masking,” Miller told the students during the virtual lesson. “It may interest you to know that all the randomized controlled trials on masking in hospitals have found that masks are not effective barriers against respiratory viruses. You would want to read all those studies. And you would also then want to read the more recent studies finding otherwise.”
He also gave students some tips as to how nonscientists might assess the quality of a new scientific study (pdf). A student was then allowed to join the course after the first class, so she didn’t hear the introduction.
In a subsequent class, Miller said that another student started arguing with him about the efficacy of masks, and was “almost verbatim” repeating the points of an article from Psychology Today.
“He had found it on Google,” Miller said. “So I was having this back and forth with this student, and [it] was very valuable because it allowed me to make the point that you can’t just go to Google and search something and believe the first thing you read, right?”
The next week, Miller learned that the late-coming student, who, he said, didn’t look happy during the Zoom class, had posted demands on Twitter for him to be fired.
That week, Miller said that his department chairperson had publicly thanked the student for demanding that he be fired and had noted, without consulting the professor, that the department was already working on it.
“I called [the chairperson], and he was evasive,” Miller said.
“The next day, the dean and the doctor at NYU who dictates COVID policy emailed the other students in my class without putting me on copy and without talking to me, intimated that I had given this class dangerous misinformation, and included a list of links to studies recommended by the CDC calling them authoritative and then ending by warning them to wear their masks on campus, as if I had told them not to.”
A total of 25 lecturers sided with the student and wrote a letter to the dean, who ordered a review before having talked to Miller.
Miller sued 19 of his colleagues for libel, excluding six junior lecturers who had also signed the letter against him.
Recently, he was told that NYU had found that he hadn’t violated their regulations, but was also told that he might need to “reconsider his teaching style” and “even get some coaching.”
“Here I was accused of bullying my students into agreeing with my crackpot views,” Miller said. “Well, several students who defended me actually said that my classes are unusually tolerant and open and that I do not punish anyone for disagreement. And I do not hold the party line on any issue, whereas other professors at NYU, specifically in my department, do precisely that. They hold forth with all kinds of social justice pieties, and the students are intimidated, and they censor themselves, and they are afraid to disagree.”
Miller wasn’t given any specific complaints about his teaching style, he said.