Ilya Shapiro's Cancel Culture Nightmare at Georgetown May Just Be Beginning | Opinion

"My cancel-culture nightmare is over," wrote the hopeful constitutional law scholar Ilya Shapiro in The Wall Street Journal on June 2. Earlier that day, Georgetown University Law Center Dean William Treanor announced that Shapiro would finally begin his appointment as senior lecturer and executive director of Georgetown Law's Center for the Constitution, a job he was originally scheduled to start on February 1.

On January 26, shortly before Shapiro was originally due to begin his Georgetown career, he got into hot water for tweeting criticism of President Joe Biden's announcement that he would nominate only a black female to the Supreme Court. Limiting the choice by race and gender, Shapiro argued, could exclude the most qualified candidate and result in the appointment of what he called a "lesser black woman" who "will always have an asterisk attached" to her name for being an affirmative action choice. In another tweet, Shapiro posted a mock poll asking whether Biden's intent was racist, sexist, both or neither. According to public opinion surveys conducted at the time, 76% of Americans—and 54% of Democrats—agreed with Shapiro's premise that neither race nor gender should factor into a Supreme Court appointment.

Nevertheless, the woke mob swarmed, with widespread calls for Shapiro's contract to be withdrawn. Shapiro apologized for his "inartful" tweets, but the damage was done. Treanor denounced Shapiro's words as "appalling," "at odds with everything we stand for at Georgetown Law" and "damaging to the culture of equity and inclusion." Bowing to the mob, Treanor placed Shapiro on administrative leave, effective the first day of his employment, and engaged two parallel investigations by Georgetown's diversity and human resources bureaucrats to determine whether he had violated the policies of a university that had not yet employed him.

It took those brilliant arbiters of interpersonal relations 122 days to conclude what common sense might have established within hours: An institution cannot discipline an employee for statements made before he started his job. This reasoning apparently escaped Dean Treanor, who thought it wiser to deliver his new employee to inquisitors who spent the next four months making his life a living hell. Shapiro described the experience in the Journal as "a roller coaster of emotions and instability," "a personal and professional purgatory," and "an experience I wouldn't wish on anyone."

Some have hailed Shapiro's apparent triumph over cancel culture, but the outcome is, as he describes it, at best a "technical victory." Had he made his tweets five days later, as a Georgetown employee, he almost certainly would have been fired. Pardoning him on the sole basis of timing, Shapiro's diversitycrat inquisitors also decreed that his tweets "had a significant negative impact on the Georgetown Law community" and recommended that Treanor take "actions" to address it. One of those "actions" will require Shapiro to meet with student leaders who wanted him removed—essentially to deny before them that he is a racist and a misogynist. He will also have to participate in mandatory "implicit bias, cultural competence and non-discrimination" training, which senior faculty members in other divisions of the university have invariably described to me as useless and demeaning. Shapiro is further obliged to "consult" with his supervisor, Professor Randy Barnett, about how to communicate in a "professional" manner and "comply" with his employer's speech restrictions.

The campus of Georgetown University is seen
The campus of Georgetown University is seen nearly empty as classes were canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, in Washington, D.C., May 7, 2020. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Treanor told Shapiro he would "have [Shapiro's] back" as long as he behaves "in a professional manner"—presumably as defined by Treanor and the student radicals who push him around like a cheap shopping cart at a rancid Washington, D.C. Safeway. Shapiro should not believe a word his frightened, duplicitous dean says. Many of Shapiro's new colleagues and students regard his mere presence on campus as an existential threat.

Those colleagues and students subscribe to an ideology that labels him racist because he is white and "toxic" because he is a man. They believe his words are actual, and unforgivable, acts of violence. They object to his legal and professional rights as obstacles to their peculiar vision of social justice. They think the U.S. Constitution, which Shapiro's Georgetown Law center is meant to study, is an arcane relic of a slaveholder society that should be torn up and replaced. Ironically, Shapiro now has an asterisk next to his name, as Georgetown's social justice warriors can muckrake his past and private life, microscopically examine his every word and deed, and look for any excuse to further torment him. No matter how humbly or cautiously he approaches his job, he is entering a minefield laid by woke bigots who badly want him to misstep.

Treanor has already proved he will not stand up to the mob. In March 2021, in response to student demands, he fired an adjunct professor who observed in an accidentally recorded Zoom conversation that her black students tended to academically underperform—a fact she lamented. The adjunct professor's interlocutor, who said nothing, was placed on administrative leave and promptly resigned. Even if Treanor suddenly grew a backbone, his announcement on Shapiro reiterated that his tweets were "harmful" and had caused unacceptable "pain." Ominously, Treanor further insisted that Georgetown's free speech protections do "not mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish."

Despite it all, Shapiro is brave and upbeat. On his first morning on the job, he told me by phone that he was "excited to finally get to work." "The test of the university's commitment to the free exchange of ideas," he added, will come when classes resume this fall, when he plans to "approach my role at Georgetown with the same zeal with which I approach everything."

As a Georgetown alumnus myself, I hope my alma mater will pass that test, as it did when I was a student. But it seems unlikely unless Georgetown replaces its pusillanimous leaders, their inhuman tactics and the heinous ideology they hide behind.

Paul du Quenoy is president of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.