In the early morning of December 9th, 2019, a student group called “Fire The Abusers” went to the home of UT Classics professor Thomas Hubbard. With masks covering their faces, they banged on his door and sang chants accusing him of pedophilia, threatening he should “keep an eye out when he sleeps.” Once Hubbard called the police to be escorted from his own home, the women yelled at the cops, “Who protects pedophiles? Pigs do, Pigs do!” That same day, the group posted a video of the entire confrontation on its Twitter account with a caption calling Hubbard a “known pedophile” to justify their actions. When someone asked for proof of this claim in the thread, a user responded with a link to an article that not only provided no evidence, but went on a transphobic rant about men invading women’s locker rooms. Hubbard is by no means a pedophile, but the claim proves FTA is interested only in being radical, and not in uncovering the truth, pursuing justice, or changing minds.
The University of Texas at Austin is currently embroiled in student outrage after UT administration’s weak response to certain professors found guilty of sexual misconduct. Specifically, students are calling for the removal of professors Coleman Hutchinson and Sahotra Sarkar. After an eight-month investigation, Hutchinson was found to have violated university policy by failing to disclose a consensual relationship with a graduate student to UT administration and making inappropriate sexual comments to four other students. The university removed Hutchison from the course schedule for two academic years, with pay, and barred him from consideration for promotion to an administrative position or to full professorship. Sarkar was accused of asking students to accompany him to nude beaches, holding class meetings at bars, and asking students to pose nude for photographs. After an investigation, he only admitted to the latter. UT also removed Sarkar from the course schedule for one semester without pay.
“Fire The Abusers” formed in response to debates about whether these actions are sufficient. Starting in fall 2019, the Coalition Against Sexual Misconduct held sit-ins outside of UT administration offices to demand action be taken by the university in regard to the professors’ continued employment. While the university’s response was slow, the sit-ins definitely captured the attention of the administration. President Greg Fenves and Executive Vice President Maurice McInnis agreed to attend a public forum to address the topic with students and to create a working group of students and faculty to help resolve these issues. Fire the Abusers was an outgrowth of these events. Active mostly on Twitter, they inform students of events on campus concerning these issues, but they also take a radical approach to solving them.
Recently, the group added Professor Thomas Hubbard to their list of professors worthy of termination, even though he has never been accused or convicted of anything, save for an academic interest in Ancient Greek pederasty. In response to Fire The Abusers trespassing his property, Hubbard posted an informative Q&A clarifying the accusations that have been brought against him. He notes that he doesn’t write about pedophilia, but instead the “very different phenomenon of ‘pederasty.’” He also claims that his only connection to the National Association of Man/Boy Love is a “small volume of articles on Greek same-sex relations” that the group partly distributed, clarifying he does “not endorse NAMBLA’s idiosyncratic approach to legal reform” nor “share the sexual orientation of its members.” The accusation that he is a “published member” of NAMBLA is quite a stretch. In fact, many of the accusations brought against Hubbard, which were first introduced by the group Students for Safety but later picked up by Fire The Abusers, are simply untrue or woefully exaggerated. He has never advocated for pedophilia nor the “rape of children.” The documentation provided by FTA that details his “pedophillic and rapist advocacy” actually exonerates Hubbard and reflects quite a loose, biased reading of his work. Hubbard’s quotes that are provided prove only that he is interested in studying this phenomenon as it existed in antiquity, while all the other evidence proves his work is controversial—not that he is a pedophile.
Hubbard’s main claim is that our preconceived notions prevent us from having an objective, academic view of these relationships of ancient times. Ancient Greek culture, especially in regard to sexuality, is vastly different from our culture today. While these practices shouldn’t be replicated, they are still worthy of research. Whether pedophillic communities find solace in his work is completely out of Hubbard’s control, especially since he doesn’t advocate for those types of relationships. Fire The Abusers speaks about Hubbard as if he has been proven to be a pedophile, but this is not true. They are recklessly spreading misinformation, and many in their audience seem to believe it. Calling people who research within this controversial area “pedophiles” is like saying people who study racism are racists. The First Amendment protects this research, especially since it does not “encourage violation of existing law.” However, the law does not allow vandalization, trespassing, or stalking, thereby incriminating Fire The Abusers.
Fire The Abusers’ method of disruption even impedes on the possibility of having a productive conversation at all. On Monday, January 27th, the long-awaited forum on sexual misconduct between students and UT administration finally happened. Over two hours of direct questioning from students and survivors revealed a lot of important information. First, students should be disappointed that President Fenves has not attended any meetings of the Misconduct Working Group formed to resolve these issues, yet has the time to attend giant donor dinners instead. It is disheartening to hear that the administration hastily overturned the working group’s decision not to have any law enforcement during the forum, especially since the event was meant to make survivors feel safe. Generally, the administration’s excruciatingly slow reaction to student protests and concerns is, rightfully, incredibly upsetting.
To make matters worse, FTA decided to use this time for a demonstration. After one freshman bravely told the panel about the lack of support from the university when she experienced stalking, Fire The Abusers took to the front of the auditorium, unfurled a banner, and began chanting. This interruption was incredibly abhorrent. The purpose of the town hall was to foster a productive conversation about sexual misconduct, yet Fire The Abusers’ only prerogative was to impede that discussion.
The group later apologized for the interruption’s “bad timing,” yet they’re adamant that the interruption was the “correct political objective” so as to prevent President Fenves’ “B.S.” response. However, it was not the timing that was wrong, it was the action in and of itself. The entire purpose of the forum was to have a conversation that hadn’t previously happened, yet FTA thought the logical solution was to interrupt that discussion? While it is true that Fenves often gave non-direct and purely political responses, that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be given the opportunity to talk. The students in attendance made it abundantly clear that as a student population we are greatly disappointed in the administration’s response. Nonetheless, this form of demonstration proves that Fire The Abusers, in contrast to the Misconduct Working Group or the Coalition Against Sexual Misconduct, is more focused on counterproductive action than advocating for the progress or change that we need and deserve.
Is that what activism has become? Vigilantes sowing discord? Students, sometimes completely misinformed, attempting to run professors off campus? What kind of justice is that? Are accusations (like that of Hubbard’s pedophilia) as powerful as the verified misconduct of people like Hutchinson or Sarkar? Radical protest may be effective sometimes, but when it concerns such a sensitive topic, or involves illegal action, it sends the wrong message, and does nothing to cultivate progress. I believe FTA should stop spreading misinformation, find a clear and defined objective, and pursue that with productive, goal-oriented work. Trespassing on a man’s property based on false information, interrupting a classroom environment to air your grievances, and impeding on a discussion of the possible solutions during a public town hall proves that Fire The Abusers has no true interest in being productive. We should condemn their pernicious influence if we’re ever going to institute real change.