A spate of Twitter posts by a controversial University of Central Florida professor has prompted calls for his firing and denunciations from university officials who said his remarks were racist.
The school also said it will investigate the teaching practices of the faculty member, Charles Negy, a long-time psychology professor with tenure.
In remarks posted this week, Negy said leaders who encourage diversity are promoting divisiveness and tribalism, and he described African Americans as a privileged group “shielded from legitimate criticism.”
An online petition with more than 16,000 signatures calls for Negy to be fired for his “abhorrent racist comments” and “perverse transphobia and sexism.”
The university tweeted that Negy’s posts are “completely counter” to UCF’s values and that officials were “reviewing the matter while being mindful of the First Amendment.”
On Thursday night, the university also sent out a note signed by the UCF president Alexander Cartwright and other top administrators condemning Negy’s posts and thanking students who have spoken up.
“At a time when so many of our community members are hurting, we are disgusted by the racist posts one of our faculty members has shared on his personal Twitter account," the note said. “At all times, we uphold the principles of academic freedom, but we have a responsibility to denounce intolerance. Racism is an undeniable reality across our society, and people of color frequently experience overt and covert racism. That is why Negy’s words are not only wrong, but particularly painful.”
Cartwright addressed the issue at a virtual town hall meeting Thursday and said the university would be investigating complaints alleging bias and unfair treatment in Negy’s classroom.
“While we must acknowledge and support the right to free speech, our faculty cannot and must not allow that speech to translate into discrimination in the classroom or on campus,” Cartwright said. “If we find evidence of this behavior, we will take action.”
Cartwright, interim provost Michael Johnson and vice president Maribeth Ehasz for student development and enrollment services all reiterated their support of the students speaking out and each included “Black Lives Matter” in their statements.
The note sent to students encouraged current and former students who feel they have experienced abusive or discriminatory behavior by any faculty member to report them to UCF’s IntegrityLine website.
Negy did not respond Friday to calls and an email seeking response to the reactions by school officials and students.
In an email interview with the New York Times, Negy defended his comments and said he was not a white supremacist or racist and was critical of all ethnic and cultural groups.
“Despite what so many ‘haters’ are saying about me on Twitter, I’ve never said ANYTHING critical of George Floyd,” Nagy told the Times, referring to the Minnesota man who died May 25 at the hands of police. “The man was murdered in cold blood by a man who was a total sadist. So cruel.”
Eva Oliveri, a UCF senior majoring in political science, started the petition. She said she had Negy as a professor for a general psychology course her freshman year. She had heard the professor had a reputation before she took the course, she said.
Negy — a tenured professor who has taught at UCF since 1998 and identifies as part-Hispanic, according to his Twitter profile — authored the recently published book White Shaming: Bullying based on Prejudice, Virtue-Signaling and Ignorance.
In 2012, he gained attention when he sent a mass email to his students that was posted on Reddit criticizing some in his class who said Christianity was a superior religion.
“Bigots — racial bigots or religious bigots — never question their prejudices and bigotry,” the email said. “They are convinced their beliefs are correct.”
Oliveri said she never felt room to question beliefs in Negy’s class.
“It was so blatant he was weaving his views into the curriculum,” she said. “I have professors who I disagree with but they encourage debate and I enjoyed talking with them. With him, he was goading you.”
At times, she said, she felt Negy espoused views critical of Muslim cultures and the LGBT community.
“With my privilege as a white woman and as a freshman, I didn’t do anything at the time,” she said.
But she came across his tweets recently and decided to take action on behalf of future students.
“It takes the wind out of you,” she said. “He’s your professor and in charge of your grades. You just have to shut up and get through it. ... All the change we’re seeing, large or small, only happens when someone speaks up.”
Across the state, new attention is being devoted to online comments on race and the implications they carry. The University of Florida is investigating allegations of racist comments posted online from current and prospective students. The Pensacola News Journal reported a high school teacher under investigation for a Facebook post. And the Naples Daily News reported a Collier County school employee under review for a violent comment about protesters.