But now, Maischak is ready to talk. In an interview in August, he told me that he regrets nothing, insisting that his comments were taken out of context by a right-wing media intent on creating a scandal, and fueled by a university administration unwilling to back up what he sees as academically protected free speech. “The university has never bothered to find the facts,” he says. If his contract isn’t renewed, he is considering suing Fresno State. “Our attorneys are talking,” the university president, Joseph Castro, told me, while declining to answer specific questions about Maischak’s future.
Whether or not Maischak deserves to keep teaching, his story is emblematic of a dilemma for higher-education institutions in the Trump era: to defend comments by faculty members that, on their face, are indefensible, or to soft-pedal academic freedom as an emboldened right-wing media searches for targets? According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, schools around the country—ranging from Fresno State to Dartmouth to Essex Community College in Delaware—have “distanced themselves from scholars” under fire from right-wing media in nine cases this year, as of the end of June. Earlier this month, a professor at Austin Community College resigned after tweeting about Trump’s education secretary, “I’m not wishing for it…but I’d be ok if #BetsyDevos was sexually assaulted.”