Maybe not just for professors.
Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Donald Downs, Robert George and I provide some advice for professors who find themselves at the center of a storm over something that they said. Most professors have no idea how to react when controversy erupts and activists are demanding that something be done. Too often they wind up digging a hole that only makes things worse. Organizations like the Academic Freedom Alliance and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education can often help, but there are things professors should do even before help can arrive.
Here’s a taste from the piece:
Don’t lose faith in yourself or abandon your convictions. You have every right to think for yourself and speak your mind. Don’t rush to apologize if you have done nothing wrong and so have nothing truly to apologize for. Those who have appointed themselves as the thought and language police know that they can make you feel psychological/emotional pressure to do so, but apologizing will not help, and will almost certainly make things worse. So don’t yield to the temptation in the futile hope that a quick apology will quiet the storm.
In a similar vein, think clearly about the situation and what you said. Apply reason, not impulse and emotion, to the very best of your ability. A clearheaded attitude is essential for proper assessment of the situation and will impress — and give confidence to — potential allies and supporters.
So take a few deep breaths, and don’t react precipitously. Realize that you are not alone, that good advice and help are at hand. Be patient, and realize that you will attain justice if you take appropriate steps.
Don’t respond to public attacks until you’ve sought and received good advice. If you confess to an offense you didn’t commit, or if you concede to a claim or accusation that is factually inaccurate or not truly an offense (but simply an exercise of your right to say what you believe), the admission can and will be used against you. Recovering from such an error is extremely difficult, at best.
Not quite as aggressive as the “never apologize” advice, since the implication is that an apology may be appropriate if you actually committed an offense. But since the first impulse is to say what it takes to quiet the mob, you need to implement at least a 72-hour rule. And you may have to recognize that many mobs just won’t be quieted, and an apology merely encourages them.