Christine Fair, a professor in the School of Foreign Service, has come under scrutiny after former Georgetown professor Asra Nomani filed a complaint that she had been the subject of Fair’s repeated cyber abuse in light of The Washington Post’s op-ed on Nov. 10 in which Nomani detailed her decision to vote for President Donald Trump.
“This is my confession — and explanation: I — a 51-year-old, a Muslim, an immigrant woman ‘of color’ — am one of those silent voters for Donald Trump,” Nomani wrote. “And I’m not a ‘bigot,’ ‘racist,’ ‘chauvinist’ or ‘white supremacist,’ as Trump voters are being called, nor part of some ‘whitelash.’”
Nomani was a professor in the practice of journalism from 2007 to 2008 and was the co-director of the Daniel Pearl Project from 2008 to 2011, which profiles the case of Daniel Pearl, a journalist who was kidnapped in 2002.
Fair, who is currently on research leave, soon began responding to Nomani’s article, first with a Facebook post and later with a, “flurry of really rude, dehumanizing, and disrespectful” tweets, according to Nomani, on Nov. 22. The exchange has since raised larger questions about the role of freedom of speech in academic environments.
“Yes. @AsraNomani I’ve written you off as a human being,” Fair wrote on Twitter. “Your vote helped normalize Nazis in DC. What don’t you understand, you clueless dolt?”
Fair and Nomani also exchanged a series of direct messages in which the conflict between the two escalated. After Nomani sent Fair a direct message asking for civility, Fair responded that Nomani should not write pieces if she cannot handle public criticism.
“You got a lot of media out of your vote. Can’t stand the heat? Don’t go into the kitchen. Also I have so little regard for you. Go enjoy the hell you’ve helped create,” Fair said. “Also go f—k yourself.”
In an exclusive interview with The Hoya, Fair said Nomani’s direct message was unwarranted.
“It just struck me as, you break up with someone, they send you one of those emails, I just want to be friends. Well, I don’t want anything to do with you, and I made it really clear,” Fair said.
Nomani initially filed a complaint with SFS professor Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies and the Security Studies Program, on Dec. 2. Nomani asked the university to provide Fair with “training regarding her public interactions” and an apology.
She followed up her complaint to the SFS with a Jan. 5 complaint to the Institutional Diversity, Equity and Affirmative Action organization.
Fair claims Nomani’s initial Dec. 2 complaint was not triggered by initial tweets, but rather by a tweet Fair sent claiming Nomani had manipulated evidence of their conversations in a tweet to a professor researching journalists who had been covering Trump.
“So once I busted her for just outrageously lying, she begins tagging every potential and possible agency at Georgetown. If she could have tagged dining halls she would have, and it was only after my pointing out to this professor that she just completely mischaracterized this entire exchange that she literally went ballistic,” Fair said.
According to Nomani, her complaint was triggered by continued aggression from Fair following her initial tweets in this interaction and a Facebook post following Nomani’s complaint.
Fair made an open post on Facebook, telling Nomani to “f—k off and go to hell.” According to Nomani, Fair also sent a private letter saying she was going to file a legal complaint.
Fair said she only used crude language with Nomani in private messages.
“The only time that I actually use any kind of crude language with her was in our direct message, a private message, in response to her unwanted messaging, all of her other complaints were not sent to her,” Fair said. “So in terms of the particular language, ‘f—k off and go to hell,’ that was actually a Facebook post I made about her and not to her. And in particular it was about her complaining to Georgetown.”
Senior Director for Strategic Communications Rachel Pugh said Fair’s tweets do not reflect the views of Georgetown.
“As an academic community we hold dear our commitment to free speech and expression. Being committed to the free and open exchange of ideas does not mean, however, that we approve of or endorse each and every statement made by members of our faculty,” Pugh wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The views of any faculty member are their own and not the views of the university.”
Pugh said the complaint is currently being looked into through confidential university processes.
Following the exchange, Fair received both harassment on Twitter and threats of violence. According to Fair, she was advised to remove the computer from her office in case it was stolen.
“I know how troll armies work,” Fair said. “So she did beset her troll army on me.”
Nomani has a history of creating drama to attract attention, according to Fair.
“This is her M.O., where she goes and creates these dramas that gives her various hits on Fox News,” Fair said. “Basically she lives, literally, for these dramas.”
Fair said the complaint being filed raises larger concerns about academic freedom of speech.
“This tactic of appealing to people’s employers is really retrograde. And the left has done it, the right has done it, and I’ve opposed it in both cases,” Fair said. “Because unless we are born with a trust fund, we all need jobs. And if our employer can lay claim to everything that we do and say 24/7, we no longer have freedom of speech.”
Nomani said Fair’s conduct online raises concerns about her conduct in the classroom.
“When we engage in dialogue we can’t, it’s just as the harassment policy says, we can’t berate, demean, insult and harass another human being for their perspective,” Nomani said in an interview with The Hoya. “That’s what I don’t appreciate, and I think that we need to set some standards because I’m a person who can speak up. But my concern is for students in the classroom for whom this professor or any other professor can create an intimidating environment.”