'Defund the Police' Critique Costs Professor Job at Fed Reserve Bank

Economist Harald Uhlig under investigation at university and academic journal

June 16, 2020

Activists targeting a University of Chicago academic for criticizing the "defund the police" movement saw early success on June 12 when a prominent economics journal put him on leave and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago cut ties with him.

The prestigious Journal of Political Economy suspended economist Harald Uhlig in the wake of a petition drive organized by supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. The journal's advisory board announced online that it placed Uhlig "on leave from his role as editor," pending the results of an investigation into his comments online and in the classroom. That suspension could lead to his firing from the journal. The announcement said the board is investigating whether it will be "appropriate for [Uhlig] to continue in [an editorial] role given recent accusations of discriminatory conduct."

Uhlig has already lost one job after criticizing the "defund the police" movement that has been embraced by many protesters associated with Black Lives Matter. The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago also fired Uhlig on Friday. A bank spokeswoman said that Uhlig's views were not "compatible with the Chicago Fed's values and our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion."

Uhlig told the Washington Free Beacon that he was both terminated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and placed on leave by the Journal of Political Economy on June 12 but could not comment further on the pending investigations.

The controversy erupted when Uhlig, in a tweet thread, critiqued Black Lives Matter's association with the radical "#defundthepolice" movement, saying that national protests, initially sparked by the murder of George Floyd in police custody, should not be hijacked by people who wish to push radical, left-wing policies. Students and professors submitted a petition to the University of Chicago and the journal accusing Uhlig of "trivializing the Black Lives Matter movement."

Uhlig's trouble may not be limited to his off-campus appointments. The University of Chicago is now investigating a separate allegation that emerged in the aftermath of the petition drive.

University of Pennsylvania Law School research fellow and former University of Chicago student, Bocar Ba, alleged Uhlig made fun of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during a 2014 lecture. Ba claims he was the only black student in the classroom and Uhlig singled him out when he allegedly asked Ba if it was okay to reschedule class on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Uhlig told the Free Beacon that he does not recall the described incident. The professor is not on academic leave from the University of Chicago at this time.

"My best guess is that this was all an unfortunate misunderstanding. As described, it feels so much at odds with my core values and beliefs," Uhlig said. "It grieves me that we did not get a chance to talk about it 6 years ago. ... We need to find ways so that a student like him feels entirely comfortable to flag such an incidence right away to the appropriate people in the university, and that there is a sincere follow-up. I hope this will happen now and I hope that we can do things right."

Ba has not disclosed further details about the allegation publicly. Alejandro Hoyos Suarez, who received his doctorate from the University of Chicago, took to Twitter to say that he remembered the incident. Neither Ba nor Suarez returned requests for comment.
Ba's comments are now at the center of a university investigation. University of Chicago spokesman Gerald McSwiggan described Uhlig's alleged comments as "intimidating," "hostile," and "discriminatory" behavior that specifically targets minority groups.

"Such behavior is in direct contradiction to the University's values that everyone must have the opportunity to participate fully in an open and questioning environment. The University is currently reviewing claims that a faculty member engaged in discriminatory conduct on the basis of race in a University classroom," he told the Free Beacon.