Writers and academics said Wednesday that they want a professor reinstated after he was fired for saying Iran should make a list of American cultural heritage sites to bomb.
“We, the undersigned, write to express our concern at the recent firing of Asheen Phansey by Babson College,” wrote nonprofit group PEN America in the letter posted to its website.
The letter continued:
As a group of writers, academics, and organizations committed to the principle of free expression, we find Phansey’s dismissal in response to a satirical Facebook post deeply disturbing. We call on Babson to immediately reinstate Phansey as both an administrator and adjunct professor.
Phansey’s post contained no hint of harassment, incitement to imminent violence, nor any other category of speech outside the safeguards of the First Amendment. His comment had no nexus to his role as a professor or administrator and fell squarely in the category of political speech warranting the highest level of protection.
Phansey’s initial post, which he said he meant as a joke, was written in response to President Trump’s January 4 warning to Iran regarding threats against the United States:
….targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. The USA wants no more threats!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2020
“In retaliation, Ayatollah Khomenei [sic] should tweet a list of 52 sites of beloved American cultural heritage that he would bomb. Um… Mall of America? Kardashian residence?” the professor wrote on Facebook.
More than 150 people have signed the letter urging the college to reverse its decision, including authors Amy Tan, Joyce Carol Oates, and Jonathan Franzen.
Actress Molly Ringwald and singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash also lent their signatures.
Following Phansey’s termination, Adam Steinbaugh, director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) called the school’s decision “censorship” and said its commitment to freedom of expression was “worthless.”
“Against a national backdrop in which punishments for speech are chilling open discourse, this draconian outcome risks compounding the constrictions on our public discourse,” the letter stated.
“As an institution of higher learning, Babson should be on the side of defending free thought, rather than punishing it.”