On November 16, Dayna Bowen Matthew, dean of George Washington University’s law school, emailed the student body to “share a few thoughts” about the recent election. Toward the end, she included two somewhat eye-raising sentences: “I have received many emails and calls from members of the GW Law community who are concerned about challenges to the election from this law school. As you know, GW Law and the University remain fundamentally committed to academic freedom.”
That passage appeared to be an indirect reference to GW Law professor Jonathan Turley, a Fox News contributor who has lately appeared on the network discussing “irregularities” in the 2020 election results. (He has also been critical of some of Donald Trump’s post-election behavior.) Turley, you may recall, testified at Republicans’ request during the Senate impeachment hearings in late 2019.
One of GW’s most visible professors, Turley has taught at the school for 30 years and has long been a familiar TV-news presence. But the Trump-friendliness of some of his opinion-slinging is apparently causing a bit of campus discomfort. “The law school has received outreach from many individuals—both supportive and disapproving of the election commentary by Professor Jonathan Turley,” Matthew said in a statement to Washingtonian, adding that “the principles of academia and the First Amendment to the Constitution allow our faculty, including Professor Turley, academic freedom . . . and we support them in this regard.”
Some students seem to be struggling with Turley’s public takes. One, who was enrolled in the most recent semester of his first-year torts class, points to a GW Law group chat in which members have referred unfavorably to Turley’s tweets and political opinions. “And we’re like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know, he sucks,’ ” the student says.
But even detractors of Turley’s Fox commentary speak highly of his teaching. That same student praises him for keeping politics out of his lectures and calls him a genuinely caring professor: “He doesn’t consider himself to be a political commentator.” Though some of Turley’s takes are “disappointing,” the student says, “all of his analysis comes from a legal point of view. In class, when he does explain himself, it makes it a little bit easier to see where he’s coming from.”
Turley himself shrugs off the controversy. In an email, he says he will simply “continue teaching, writing, and litigating,” adding that “while there are always intense periods like the Clinton and Trump impeachments (or the 2000 and 2020 election controversies), the baseline does not substantially change for those of us with dual roles in academia and the media.”
Meanwhile, Turley probably won’t be facing much student outrage during the upcoming semester. He’s taking a previously planned sabbatical to work on a couple of books.