In a move that the wry, pro-individualist writer Mark Twain himself might find ironically bemusing, St. Johns University in upstate New York just gave the proverbial boot to a long-time professor who read a portion of Mark Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson” to her students.
As the NY Post’s Dana Kenedy reports:
Hannah Berliner Fischthal, an adjunct instructor at the Catholic college in Queens for 20 years, uttered the N-word once during a remote class Feb. 10 — after she first explained to students the context of the word and said she hoped it would not offend anyone.
Fischthal, who also happens to be the daughter of Holocaust survivors, said:
I’m one of the last people who should be accused of racism. I know where it leads and I know where it ends. In every class I teach the evils of stereotyping.
And she even explained that Twain was one of the first novelists to use temporally and spacially appropriate dialect and language to make his characters seem more real.
And it was that “realism” that got her into trouble. Because, of course, “Pudd’nhead Wilson” contains the “N-WORD.”
’Mark Twain was one of the first American writers to use actual dialect,’ Fischthal said. ‘His use of the ‘N-word’ is used only in dialogues as it could have actually been spoken in the south before the civil war, when the story takes place.’
But that doesn’t matter in the United States of Cancel Culture, so:
The day after the class, however, she got an email from a student who said she had to ‘abruptly’ leave the call because of Fischthal’s use of an ‘inappropriate slur.’
So, of course, instead of telling the student to chill and to realize that those were words from one of the greatest writers in US history, that the language was era-specific and real, the school targeted the prof.
After calling her in to an Human resources meeting in early March, and following a March 5 suspension while the brave St. Johns Administration “investigated”, Fischthal was fired on April 29.
Because she read lines from Mark Twain to her class.
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Could there be more? The Post’s Kennedy writes:
She said she was also criticized for mentioning her family’s experience in the Holocaust during class.
Finally, Kennedy offered what she was told by the other side, which was only enlightening in how circumscriptive the administration is.
When contacted by The Post, Brian Browne, a spokesman for St. John’s, said that ‘if your assertion is that she was fired for reading aloud from a Mark Twain novel, that is incorrect.’ He refused to elaborate, saying the university does not comment on personnel matters.
Perhaps there’s more. We may never know.
But we CAN know that St. Johns is not an entirely “private” university. If it were, then frustrating stories like this would merely inform us of the bizarre nature of cancel culture and how its censorious pushers wipe out valuable creations, often because of their own ignorance. That, in turn, could help us decide where we want to go to school or help family members or friends make similar decisions. The problem is that, as with most others, St. John’s University gets federal grants. Heck even as its administration forced Fischthal to go through this investigatory kabuki dance, the school received over $6 million in “CARES” “coronavirus relief” funds from us, via the fed’s grabbing hands, on April 6.
So we’re all implicated in the censorship, if that it what was at the root of this conflict.
And, though our cash was taken to fund this college, we can do nothing about it.