Michael Rectenwald, known on Twitter as Deplorable NYU Prof, is now on paid leave for the semester, the New York Post reported on Sunday. However, Rectenwald told WSN that he believes the paper misconstrued his story.
“Everybody is sort of exaggerating things here and there,” Rectenwald said. “The final [New York] Post article makes a causal connection between my getting a leave of absence and the tweets, whereas the NYU dean and the NYU administrator in HR assured me there is no causal connection between the leave of absence — paid leave of absence by the way.”
Rectenwald said that the LS department called him into its office last Wednesday to speak about his mental health after a colleague reported concerns about his mental state. Rectenwald knows the person who filed the report and thinks they did it for the sake of saving him from being attacked by the NYU community for his differing viewpoints.
Rectenwald said that he will try to relax and begin preparing for what might come next, especially as he waits for a decision on whether he becomes a full-time professor on a tenured track.
“I’m going to think this through to get a handle of what’s going on — I may have to get representation for the possibility that my promotion will be foiled somehow,” Rectenwald said. “And my return might be jeopardized somehow, so I’ll probably have to get representation. Getting a job outside of NYU would be very difficult.”
However, Rectenwald said that during his meeting with the dean, they assured him that his leave would have no impact on his possible promotion.
“I asked many times, ‘Are you sure that you’re not just trying to push me off into the sidelines because of my remarks?’ and they said no,” Rectenwald said. “Many times they said no, no, no. So the interesting thing will be whether in fact this has any impact on my promotion, which was due to be announced fairly soon — my file is apparently complete, so my file is waiting on a determination by the dean.”
He said that although the leave was not mandatory, it was heavily offered by the LS administration and university HR department. In response to WSN’s original article, members of the Liberal Studies Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group wrote a letter Rectenwald called “extremely unfair, mistaken and denunciatory.”
He also said the people who wrote it assumed that he was targeting Liberal Studies, when he says he was actually referencing academia at large. LS senior Asha Kuziwa helped write the response letter, which she said was a collaborative effort among all the signed authors.
“I have been assured that Professor Rectenwald’s leave has nothing to do with the letter which the Liberal Studies Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group published last week,” Kuziwa said. “Our intentions with the letter were to challenge Professor Rectenwald’s flawed rhetoric.”
However, she has no comment on the decision of Rectenwald’s paid leave.
NYU spokesperson Matt Nagel said in a statement to Washington Square News that the timing of Rectenwald’s leave has nothing to do with his Twitter account or his opinions on certain issues.
“It is NYU’s long-standing practice to not publicly discuss the private details of employees’ employment records,” Nagel said. “We look forward to his return.”
He also said that the university does not disclose information about faculty leaves and that these types of leaves are granted at the request of its employees.
Rectenwald said that since the announcement of his paid leave, he received private support from other professors. However, due to the precedent set, Rectenwald said that none of them expressed these thoughts to the administration.
LS sophomore Sara Evans was enrolled in his class last year, and said that as a rape victim, she refutes his points regarding safe spaces and trigger warnings.
“[Rectenwald] would often make comments that wouldn’t be considered kosher. One time he joked about a disabled baby calling it sarcastically ‘a precious child,’ [and] although this never bothered me, I think it bothered a lot of my classmates,” Evans said. “One time a professor came in to monitor the class, and [Rectenwald] did a 180 on his teaching style, actually stood up and really taught.”
Evans said that his teaching style and values regarding political correctness affected the quality of the education he provided.
LS freshman Haiyun Chen is presently enrolled in his class, and she said that Rectenwald did not shy from speaking against politically correct culture and the bias hotline.
“I partially agree with Rectenwald that fighting diversity does not mean discrimination against the common crowd,” Chen said. “But I also think it is important that education means eradicating discriminations against the weaker party and [creating] more equal opportunities for everyone. I feel split on the PC culture at NYU because I see supporting arguments from both sides.”
Starting Monday, Professor Kristi Steinmetz will take over teaching the Writing I section that Chen and her other 15 classmates are taking. Rectenwald said that it is a scary feeling to be a target of an attack and to have a sense that academia at large might be against him. He said that his present predicament is exactly why, even though he stands firmly in the left as a self-identified communist, he feels it necessary to critique the left.
“All I did was express a view that was slightly different from theirs,” Rectenwald said. “It just proves that everything else that I said was true — that they are like a mob or a witch hunt or a witch trial and that they just shut down all views that aren’t sanctioned by them.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 31 print edition. Email Diamond Naga Siu at [email protected]