Whither Academic Freedom
December 20, 2013 8:17 AM   Subscribe

144 characters can ruin a lifetime of work. In September, The University of Kansas suspended a tenured journalism professor for a tweet. On Wednesday, the Kansas Board of Regents adopted a new rule that says that faculty members and other employees can be fired for "improper use of social media", including when the usage "is contrary to the best interest of the university."

Report from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Commentary:

William Black
, professor at the University of Kansas: "Kansas is trashing the only remaining jewel in the state, its superb university system. The ideological purge that removed virtually all of the “moderate” Republican conservatives from the Kansas legislature has now set its assault rifle sights on the universities. Their view of the glorious “harmony” made possible only through ideological purity perverts a “right” of free speech or “academic freedom” into an act of disloyalty. The new “efficiency” regime founded on “truth” as it was revealed to the Koch brothers and the NRA will gradually sweep discordant views from Kansas’ universities. The purge leaders will eventually celebrate the date, December 18, 2013, on which the Kansas university system was officially Koched and NRAed."

Interview with Black.

Op-ed in the Kansas City Star: "In giving university leaders the authority to discipline or terminate even tenured professors for vague, subjective offenses, the regents have set up a chilling environment that runs contrary to the ideal of academic freedom."

Steve Saiderman: "it seems to mean that the university can fire a prof or staff who blogs, tweets, facebooks or whatevers any criticism of the university (since the university’s best interest is defined by itself to look wonderful and error-free) or their own political views. This is counter to everything I know about academic governance and …. personal freedom."

Erik Voeten: "If universities want their faculty to be active on social media, they should not just devise policies that tell faculty what they can’t say but that also protect them from some inherent risks of social media usage. A simple one is that social media usage is mistake prone. You hit publish and whatever happens to be on your mind is there for the world to see."

The tweet that started it all:

"#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you."
posted by MisantropicPainforest (79 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
144 characters in a tweet? That's a gross exaggeration...
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 8:23 AM on December 20, 2013 [23 favorites]


the policy would appear to cover any social media use that sets off controversy by classifying as improper actions on social media that hurt "harmony among co-workers."

They seem a little fuzzy on what the word tenure means.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:25 AM on December 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


1) Wow, this is horseshit.

2) On the other hand, I just yesterday caught myself deleting tweets about the Twin Cities' unfolding diocesian abuse scandal because I thought there might be complications with the Catholic university I work for.

3) Sigh.
posted by COBRA! at 8:26 AM on December 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


"#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you."

What's funny to me if that it had been phrased a little differently it probably would have gone unnoticed. Something like "#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the goddamned #NRA. What if it were YOUR sons and daughters next time? Shame on you."

Is Kansas unusual or is tenure losing its meaning elsewhere as well?
posted by jedicus at 8:27 AM on December 20, 2013


Lawsuit time!
posted by lalochezia at 8:29 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is Kansas unusual or is tenure losing its meaning elsewhere as well?

Given the state of the academic job market, I'd be surprised if it weren't.
posted by asperity at 8:30 AM on December 20, 2013


My sense from vaguely following Kansas politics and education policies over the years is that they are unusual, but are becoming less so.
posted by rtha at 8:32 AM on December 20, 2013


What he should have done is say that fags will burn in hell, and then Sarah Palin would be defending his right to free speech.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:32 AM on December 20, 2013 [16 favorites]


After making a law forcing all citizens to purchase it, the Kochs will publish their little red book.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:32 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here's the Board of Regents.

Guess how many individuals determining academic administrative policy are involved in academia.

Just guess.
posted by griphus at 8:33 AM on December 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


What was your initial reaction to reading this new policy?

It really is exceptionally radical. It actually took me awhile to figure out how radical it is. They [the Board of Regents] don't even make a pretense of valuing academic freedom. It's clear to me that they don't want discordant ideas. You'll notice that they keep using the phrase "CEO" throughout it. There's all these business buzzwords in it. Eventually it dawned on me that they see the university as a business and that it should be run like a business, where the CEO is the boss, and uniformity and loyalty are key. They don't, in fact, value any of the things that made American universities the best in the world.
And the thing is, did his tweet really hurt their "business"? Yes, I see that can get complicated if you have a journalism professor, who should be teaching his students about unbiased reporting, sharing this opinion, but still this is free speech.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:34 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is Kansas unusual or is tenure losing its meaning elsewhere as well?

If you need to continually control costs and administrative costs keep rising, an easy way to do that is to ensure that you have average labor costs continually lowered by bringing in nontenured faculty "help". If someone causes controversy and bad press among donors and the state funding model, then isn't it in the best interest of removing the rabble rousers first? These are institutions of learning, and one of the lessons people need to learn in college is the critical thinking you were challenged to learn in high school is not a desired trait by big business. #doasyourtold
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:37 AM on December 20, 2013


griphus: Guess how many individuals determining academic administrative policy are involved in academia.

Dolla dolla bill y'all. Oh, and a ton of lawyers.

But at least they're not all old white dudes, for whatever that's worth.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:38 AM on December 20, 2013


I'd like to promote this kind of courage. We should use the power of the internet to reward bold statements like this when they are punished. The millions who are outraged by this should donate $1 a piece to give this guy the kind of fuck you money for him to never again have to worry about job security.
posted by any major dude at 8:39 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


[A few comments removed. Folks, please verify that early threadshitting hasn't already been deleted before responding to it, and even then please consider responding to it by flagging it to save us the extra cleanup.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:42 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is clearly a violation of academic freedom, but it seems really questionable on First Amendment grounds as well. Can the state government really fire employees for random political speech?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:44 AM on December 20, 2013


I'm not actually seeing where they fired Guth. It looks like they pulled him from teaching and gave him administrative tasks.

Here's more context on how this started, and the people are calling for Guth to be fired. Quick synopsis: NRA folks are hypocrites about the use of strong language online, but they have money and influence, so they have clout.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:49 AM on December 20, 2013


What he should have done is say that fags will burn in hell, and then Sarah Palin would be defending his right to free speech.

True, she would. On the other hand, Mefites would not be rallying around the flag of "academic freedom" in such a case, either--so there's plenty of hypocrisy to go around on these issues.

This policy on the Board of Regents part seems hopelessly ill-conceived and let us all hope that it will be rescinded in the not too distant future, but it seems pretty disingenuous to pretend that the reason the university suspended (not fired) Guth was simply because he expressed an "opinion" in favor of gun control. His tweet is genuinely and vilely offensive. There is no way in the world to read it as anything other than an express wish that the children of NRA members/supporters be gunned down. That is entirely outside the bounds of reasonable or decent public discourse.
posted by yoink at 8:49 AM on December 20, 2013 [14 favorites]


Yes, I see that can get complicated if you have a journalism professor, who should be teaching his students about unbiased reporting, sharing this opinion, but still this is free speech.

There is no tension, or anything contradictory, in a journalism professor expressing an opinion.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:51 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, Mefites would not be rallying around the flag of "academic freedom" in such a case, either

You sure about that? Because this mefite is pretty sure that she would have sneered at a tenured prof who tweets stupid shit like fags should burn in hell, but even more sure that said prof should not be fired for it. But perhaps I'm an outlier.

Mefites are a big bunch of people, and it's not all groupthinky and lockstep as (some) people insist.
posted by rtha at 8:54 AM on December 20, 2013 [22 favorites]


That is entirely outside the bounds of reasonable or decent public discourse.

To be even-handed about this, so is the NRA.
posted by brennen at 8:58 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also windbagging it up was Senate majority leader Terry Bruce, of Hutchinson, who pronounced himself "appalled" by the tweet and implored KU chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little to ax Guth. Bruce, who scores a perfect 100 percent with the NRA, has also received $2,500 in campaign contributions from the organization since 2004.

To the extent that 1930s Nazi brownshirts also involved themselves in academic purges while facilitating and perpetrating violence against innocent people, I am 100% on board with labeling the NRA a similarly dangerous, extreme right-wing terrorist organization that is an out-of-control cancer, rotting away this country from the inside.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:00 AM on December 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


said prof should not be fired for it

And, again, Guth wasn't fired. I'm not saying every single Mefite would shrug their shoulders at a university that meted out a temporary disciplinary action against a professor who tweeted "all fags should burn in hell" but I'm absolutely confident that such a case would not generate a "Quick! to the Outrage Mobile!" thread like this one. We'd have a lot of thoughtful "well, if I was a gay student would I feel safe in that person's class?" comments and "you know, if you look at the university's policy on non-discrimination and the faculty code of conduct, it's pretty clear that this crosses a line" etc. etc.

And you know what, that would cross a line at most universities I can think of. "Academic freedom" does not mean "you can say anything at all at any time no matter what without ever considering the consequences." Professors can't use "academic freedom" as a defense for sexual harassment or for leveling racial slurs against their students, for example, and I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want them to be able to. A professor quite properly would face disciplinary proceedings in such cases--and risk being fired regardless of whether or not they held tenure.
posted by yoink at 9:04 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Your missing the point that the Regents change the rules so that simply embarassing the university is now grounds for sanctions. This isn't a big deal because someone was suspended, this is a big deal because of the rule change.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:06 AM on December 20, 2013 [15 favorites]


To be even-handed about this, so is the NRA.

Sure, so? Guth's tweet wishes for the children of NRA members/supporters to be gunned down. He's not leveling his bile against the NRA but against the children of its members and supporters. And even if he was wishing for members/supporters of the NRA to be gunned down, I don't think a "well, they started it" defense should carry all that much weight once we're out of kindergarten.
posted by yoink at 9:07 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


True, she would. On the other hand, Mefites would not be rallying around the flag of "academic freedom" in such a case, either--so there's plenty of hypocrisy to go around on these issues.

We know that Sarah Palin actually has defended the Duck Dynasty. We don't know what MeFites would do, or even if they would respond in a consistent collective way, so the accusation of hypocrisy here is entirely hypothetical.

It's not really cricket to say "In this imaginary circumstance, I like to think that you would behave like a hypocrite."
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:08 AM on December 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


Your missing the point that the Regents change the rules so that simply embarassing the university is now grounds for sanctions.

You're missing the point where I already said that the Regents' policy is ill-conceived and that I hope it is rescinded. I'm addressing the many comments in this thread which are flagrantly misrepresenting the specific case which occasioned the Regents' actions.
posted by yoink at 9:08 AM on December 20, 2013


Follow @UnivKansasProf for the inside scoop on this breaking story.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:09 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm addressing the many comments in this thread which are flagrantly misrepresenting the specific case

They must have been deleted, because they're not here.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


And you know what, that would cross a line at most universities I can think of. "Academic freedom" does not mean "you can say anything at all at any time no matter what without ever considering the consequences." Professors can't use "academic freedom" as a defense for sexual harassment or for leveling racial slurs against their students, for example, and I'm pretty sure you wouldn't want them to be able to. A professor quite properly would face disciplinary proceedings in such cases--and risk being fired regardless of whether or not they held tenure.

Well, it probably wouldn't hold up in the classroom, although it might, depending on context, but note that this was not done in the classroom or even on campus, but in the notoriously nebulous realm of social media. As far as I see, Guth did not make this statement on an official channel, so it's questionable whether it's even work or not (which is generally a problem for faculty, who in many ways are never "off duty").

The NRA does spend a lot of time monitoring faculty tweets, though, which is more than a little weird.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:37 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is no way in the world to read it as anything other than an express wish that the children of NRA members/supporters be gunned down. That is entirely outside the bounds of reasonable or decent public discourse.

Yeah, this is pretty vile. He's free to say vile things, but I think it's also reasonable to suggest that someone who wishes for the death of children should not be permitted to teach them.

That said, the policy is overbroad.
posted by corb at 9:39 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your missing the point that the Regents change the rules so that simply embarassing the university is now grounds for sanctions.

I'm hard pressed to think of a University where that *isn't* a policy. You may notice a distinct lack of tenured professors running around consistently embarrassing their Universities. Except for Richard Dawkins.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:41 AM on December 20, 2013


I'm hard pressed to think of a University where that *isn't* a policy.

The rule changes put forward by the Regents is actually pretty radical, so if other universities have policies like that I would be interested in seeing them.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:44 AM on December 20, 2013


Actually let me temper that a bit: "Unprofessional Conduct" is the clause in question. What that consists of is reasonably up for grabs.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:45 AM on December 20, 2013


I'm not actually seeing where they fired Guth. It looks like they pulled him from teaching and gave him administrative tasks.

You are correct, they did not. Nancy Baym, who used to be a tenured faculty member at KU, but is not at Microsoft Research, has said publicly on Twitter that the Regents made this rule *because* KU refused to fire Guth. Apparently, when the Guth incident happened, the Regents realized there was no social media policy. This reads, in part, like the Regents' attempt to have a way to strong-arm a university into firing the next professor who does something they don't like.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:46 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


By the way: 2% of tenured professors lose their jobs each year, albeit more through departments being dissolved than personal misconduct. Still, professors expressing shock that their tenure could ever be taken a way are either extremely naive or being disingenuous.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:55 AM on December 20, 2013


It's not really cricket to say "In this imaginary circumstance, I like to think that you would behave like a hypocrite."

O.K., let's move it out of the realm of the hypothetical--given that this is a discussion of the reasonable boundaries of "academic freedom" and "free speech" for university faculty, who here wants to strongly defend the position that a professor who tweets "all fags should burn in hell" should under no circumstances face any disciplinary action from their university? Is that your position, Bunny Ultramod?
posted by yoink at 9:55 AM on December 20, 2013


I work with universities and employers on these types of policies. I think the Kansas policy is defensible. If I were writing a policy, this is the type of policy I'd craft. On the other hand, I have serious doubts about the wisdom of exercising this policy to terminate someone for making the type of tweets that Guth made. I'm not sure if that is defensible, if that makes sense.

The general proposition that you can lose your job for publicly saying things that are contrary to your employer's best interests is not very controversial. The judgments about what an employer's interests are, how far an employee can go to criticize these interests, and whether termination is an appropriate resolution are extremely controversial.

In other words, I don't find it too remarkable at all that after finding themselves in a position where they didn't even have a tool in the toolbox to deal with an employee's social media statements KU decided they should have a policy so they'll at least have some kind of framework for future situations.

How they implement this policy going forward--now that can be controversial.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:55 AM on December 20, 2013


He's free to say vile things, but I think it's also reasonable to suggest that someone who wishes for the death of children should not be permitted to teach them.

College students are not, for the most part, children.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:57 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


O.K., let's move it out of the realm of the hypothetical--given that this is a discussion of the reasonable boundaries of "academic freedom" and "free speech" for university faculty, who here wants to strongly defend the position that a professor who tweets "all fags should burn in hell" should under no circumstances face any disciplinary action from their university?

Unless there was an actual case you can point to where this happened, you have not moved out of the realm of the hypothetical.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:59 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Unless there was an actual case you can point to where this happened, you have not moved out of the realm of the hypothetical.

The "hypothetical" part to which Bunny Ultramod was objecting was the "hypothesis" about what Mefites, in general, would think about such a case. I've presented such a case to you and if you like you can tell me what you actually think, non-hypothetically, about it.

If it is meaningless to comment on the the scope of a policy in the absence of actual cases, then it is meaningless to comment on this Kansas Board of Regents policy--because it has yet to be applied to any actual case.
posted by yoink at 10:02 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


We know that Sarah Palin actually has defended the Duck Dynasty.

So has Camille Paglia, so there's that.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:06 AM on December 20, 2013


The first way liberal types in KS should respond to this is by setting up a system that scans twitter feeds and other social media of KU profs and administrators so that they can fire off a multitude of written complaints that cite the specific language in this asinine policy any time someone says something even the tiniest bit inflammatorily-conservative and any time administrators make any remark critical of KU faculty and staff, etc etc.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:08 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


From my perspective: Mefites would not be rallying around the flag of "academic freedom"

does not equal: should under no circumstances face any disciplinary action from their university?

I could invoke academic freedom to protect a hypothetical professor from what I deem to be excessive disciplinary action (such as having tenure called into question for a single tweet) while agreeing to what I believe to be appropriate disciplinary action. I am hard pressed, though, to imagine said hypothetical tweet occuring in a context where the professor hasn't engaged in other actions that would create a pattern of questionable behavior that might warrant further, more severe disciplinary actions.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:14 AM on December 20, 2013


I'm not sure what I was expecting the tweet to be, but I didn't think it would be a wish for the death of innocents. Even with tenure, I don't have a problem with that being a cause for firing.

However, I'm not sure how to craft a policy that would provide a clear line between "I hope your family dies in a fire." and "You are as bad as Hitler." The first statement seems over the line while the second statement I see merely as bad rhetoric.
posted by demiurge at 10:14 AM on December 20, 2013


Is that your position, Bunny Ultramod?

No. Has that come up?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:19 AM on December 20, 2013


Also, academic freedom is distinct from professional ethical standards. The Kansas professor's tweet is, to my mind, a violation of the later that does not fall under academic freedom so it doesn't serve as a fair example for the valid, reasonable concerns critics of the policy have raised.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:20 AM on December 20, 2013


Guth wasn't fired

What really bothers me is that all of the media are headlining it as TENURED PROFESSOR, FIRED! (even when their stories reveal it was a temporary suspension).
posted by Dashy at 10:42 AM on December 20, 2013


all of the media are headlining it as TENURED PROFESSOR, FIRED!

I didn't come across this when making the FPP.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:44 AM on December 20, 2013


The oligarchs have always hated academic freedom and historically universities and colleges have fought hard to retain it. Ever since the "Reagan revolution," however, boards of regents have been stacked with captains of industry, a group whose class identity is directly at odds with the culture of free inquiry. Tenure has been crippled badly in higher education, and a board of regents that implements a policy allowing the firing of tenured faculty for expression in public is a stake through the heart of academic freedom and the end of tenure for all practical purposes.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:45 AM on December 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


And the thing is, did his tweet really hurt their "business"?

If it gives legislators an excuse to further cut funding for the state universities, it absolutely did.
posted by straight at 10:45 AM on December 20, 2013


...deleting tweets about the Twin Cities' unfolding diocesian abuse scandal...

The scandal itself might be worth an FPP, COBRA!. It would be self-protecting, too, since you would only be repeating what has appeared in print and online. I haven't been following it as closely as I could have and would be interested in learning more. Certainly having an archbishop being accused of inappropriate touching of a child is unusual.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:50 AM on December 20, 2013


I'm becoming more and more attached to the idea that no one should ever be fired at any time ever for actions or activities unrelated to their jobs. And yes that would include people I strongly disagree with.
posted by kyrademon at 10:50 AM on December 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


Is Kansas unusual or is tenure losing its meaning elsewhere as well?

At the University of Minnesota, during the 90s there was a movement to end tenure altogether. The faculty fought back hard but finally acquiesced to a policy that allows "post-tenure review." Annually. You basically have to regain tenure every year. Which isn't tenure.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:52 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


I find the tweet quite innocuous. Disciplining on the basis of that should be grounds for removal of the Board of Regents. Seriously? "Wishing the deaths of innocents"? It is merely extrapolating the policies of the NRA to imagine those who advocate for them bearing the brunt of its effects. Not very different from tweeting, "Want war in Syria? Fine. Go out there and fight and die for a country you can't find on the map."
posted by Schmucko at 11:03 AM on December 20, 2013


all of the media are headlining it as TENURED PROFESSOR, FIRED!

I didn't come across this when making the FPP.


Sorry, I mischaracterized. Inside Higher Ed reports Fireable Tweets, the Chronicle article reads Kansas Board Says Universities Can Fire Employees for ‘Improper’ Tweets.

Let's hope the major news outlets do better when they pick the story up.
posted by Dashy at 11:08 AM on December 20, 2013


William Black is seriously overusing scare quotes.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:18 AM on December 20, 2013


Seriously? "Wishing the deaths of innocents"?

You may think there's no difference between saying "Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters." and "Next time, it could be YOUR sons and daughters." but I sure do. The second phrase is extrapolating actions to possible consequences. The first phrase is expressing desire for those consequences to take place.
posted by demiurge at 11:21 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


The NRA does spend a lot of time monitoring faculty tweets, though, which is more than a little weird.

It's actually not at all unusual for an organization like the NRA to spend time monitoring the discussion about itself on social media. I'd be shocked if they didn't.
posted by Jahaza at 11:21 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think people still don't really get that tweets are completely public and are monitored by lots of people and organizations who will notice if you tweet about them.

Tweeting something like this about the NRA is almost identical to straight-up e-mailing it to the NRA director of PR, and too many people really don't get that.
posted by straight at 11:30 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Demiurge, I think it's clear that the tweeter desires gun policy to be changed. The moral principle of "ask not for whom the bell tolls" means that all these deaths are horrific, and the tweeter merely wishes those who don't see the connection between the NRA and such violence, or don't care about it because it doesn't happen to anyone close to them, to connect the dots between their policies and suffering. If people are going to die by random gun violence anyway, it seems the tweeter was merely wishing for tragedy to at least lead to some enlightenment. When I read the tweet, all I thought was, "well, God-damn is kind of strong language, is that it?" The "wishing deaths on innocents" angle is a non-sequitor.
posted by Schmucko at 11:30 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is why I don't anything.
posted by davejay at 11:37 AM on December 20, 2013


It says in the first link that he wasn't fired, just suspended, and the suspension has since been lifted.

I don't think he should have been fired for the tweet, and maybe delivering a lecture or two on the inadvisable use of social media would have been more useful than a few weeks shoveling coal into the boiler or whatever else they had him doing while on administrative leave. It's a pretty fucking boneheaded thing to say. Writing something that can very easily be read as "your children should die" is, while not deserving of immediate termination and a life spent in the academic wilderness, probably worthy of censure.

If he had chosen a slightly less violently hyperbolic (at least, one hopes it's hyperbolic) way of expressing his opinion, it probably never would have been an issue. Welcome to the adult world. Words matter.

IMO the interesting part here is whether some aspects of new media, e.g. Twitter, encourage needless hyperbole by virtue of bandwidth limits. I mean, this guy was a journalism professor; presumably he's capable of more nuance than "Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters". If he had written a letter to the editor, or even a crappy local-newspaper website comment, perhaps he would have chose his words a bit more carefully, so to not so easily come across as a wish for the children of people he disagrees with to be killed. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt there, barring evidence to the contrary. I often see people posting stuff on Facebook and Twitter that I doubt they'd actually say if they bothered to take 5 minutes or 500 written words to outline their position; the desire to express the vehemence of their opinion seems to override everything else, and then there's just no room left for content or nuance or basically seeming like anything but a frothing-at-the-mouth crazyperson.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:49 AM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


some aspects of new media, e.g. Twitter, encourage needless hyperbole

The fact that media is driven by seeking traffic encourages sensationalism. That begets a tone and culture where even those that might be predisposed to be more thoughtful are liable to find themselves defaulting to hyperbole. Outrage is infectious, and a quickfire medium like Twitter doesn't naturally encourage pausing for thought or choosing words carefully.

cf Gresham's Law of Trolls. (previously)
posted by philipy at 12:19 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


He is not advocating the death of innocents.

"Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters"

He said "next time" - i.e. in the normal course of events, i.e. if nothing changes (no more deaths. no fewer deaths than if he said nothing).

If he had said "next time your dice rolls a six" would we condemn him because we hate sixes? This is called shooting the messenger.
posted by EnterTheStory at 1:23 PM on December 20, 2013


My ex is a member of the NRA. I'm not, but I'm far more supportive of second-amendment rights than MeFi. So, it's my kid he's talking about.

And, like most parents, I get a sort of visceral, emotional reaction when someone mentions death and my child together in their tweet. But even a moment's thought tells me that he isn't wishing death on anyone. He'd like for there never to be a next time, and his tweet assumes that a great many things will be taken as a given. He doesn't mean "I hope for their children to die." He means "I hope for no one to die, but if someone must then I'd rather it be those who fight against gun regulation that feel the worst pain of it." I may still be angry with him, but I don't like seeing words put into his mouth. "You are so bad that your innocent child is less worthy of life than mine," is ugly, but it's not wishing for anyone's death.

(Similarly, the bigoted old fool on Duck Dynasty did not say "all fags should burn in hell," but that's already enough of a derail.)

I don't love being on his side, and I'm not without sympathy for the argument that he ought to know there are things he can't say. I mean, I'm sure that if I were to go on social media tweeting "$global_megacorp is pure evil, and its CEO should die in a fire" I'd be out of my job at $global_megacorp faster than you could fill in the real name. But y'know, I went in knowing that. And the current crop of tenured profs went in knowing something else. To suddenly put their tenure at risk over this stuff is changing the rules in the middle of a hand. It may well be that one of the reasons they work in academia, rather than at $global_megacorp with me for twice to three times the salary, is that they made a conscious choice to give up that higher salary, in exchange for the greater latitude that comes with tenure. Now that he's committed to career seems a little late to change the basic terms.

(Here, too, I'd argue that "all fags should burn in hell," is qualitatively different because it runs afoul of existing codes of conduct that aren't centered around speech, just as as "free speech! tenure!" isn't a justification for sexually harassing speech.)
posted by tyllwin at 1:41 PM on December 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


He is not advocating the death of innocents.

You have to really twist what he wrote to get off that hook. Me, I don't see it.

I also don't see the blood on their hands bit. I'm a stalwart for freedom of speech. Doesn't mean that someone else committing libel is on my hands.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:42 PM on December 20, 2013


Has someone batphoned FIRE yet?
posted by gsh at 1:47 PM on December 20, 2013


I also don't see the blood on their hands bit.

What he means is that the NRA has generally attacked the regulation of guns and has promulgated the cult of the gun, and in so doing has brought about the death of countless innocents. By guns.

"He is not advocating the death of innocents."

You have to really twist what he wrote to get off that hook. Me, I don't see it.


So, in your opinion, do you really think he wants people to be shot?
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:58 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


He didn't threaten anyone. He didn't libel anyone. He's entitled to his opinion, and the entire principle of academic freedom is that academics should get extraordinary leeway when it comes to expressing controversial opinions and being free to explore and play with ideas. Conservative academics have gotten away with far worse in their actual academic publishing. But it was a tacky and offensive thing to say. Certainly not going to convert anyone to his point of view.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:58 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Important context for the new KU regulations includes the decades-long efforts by well funded organizations on the right to disrupt and police academic work seen to be at odds with the preferred ideology of the right. Marlia Banning has a good chapter on the history of these groups in her new book Manufacturing Uncertainty. Political Research Associates offers an overview of the anti-academic work done by Horowitz, Cheney, Bennett and others. The NEA's journal Thought & Action in 2005 published a special issue on academic freedom and many of the authors discuss how these efforts redoubled in the wake of Sept. 11.
posted by audi alteram partem at 2:21 PM on December 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


> Ever since the "Reagan revolution," however, boards of regents have been stacked with captains of industry

While Edwin W. Pauley was emboldened in his effort to remove "Communist" professors from the University of California by Reagan, he was a Regent from 1940 and was an oil man rich enough to buy a Hawaiian island in 1947.

Hearst's mom & Leland Stanford were also pre-Reagan.

[I learned about Pauley in Seth Rosenfeld's excellent Subversives]

On the other hand, though the rich & powerful have had their fingers in academia all along, independence has a long history.
posted by morganw at 3:05 PM on December 20, 2013


So that's "what's wrong with Kansas?" State Senate Majority Leaders run you only $250 a year?
posted by carping demon at 3:35 PM on December 20, 2013


You have to really twist what he wrote to get off that hook. Me, I don't see it
It's a somewhat archaic writing style – one I generally associate with older, often religious, polemics – but it's not the first time I've seen statements which use let in that way with a meaning more along the lines of “If you think it's such a great idea, you go first”, with the intention that this be a cue for reflection rather than a literal desire. This is biting but it really doesn't seem much different from e.g. all of the people who were suggesting that Iraq war proponents encourage their children to enlist.

When you're reading it, don't forget to think about group boundaries: I suspect his default assumption is that most of the victims probably would have supported some level of gun control — this is likely to be true of most of the people the average tenured academic knows, and arguably of a voting majority in the general US population — and in the heat of a tragedy you can head rapidly from “Most of those people who were shot probably would have voted for laws which would have prevented this” to “Would you really describe this as an essential cost of freedom if it happened to your friends and family?” and end up somewhere like that tweet.
posted by adamsc at 8:51 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


morganw: "While Edwin W. Pauley was emboldened in his effort to remove "Communist" professors from the University of California by Reagan, he was a Regent from 1940 and was an oil man rich enough to buy a Hawaiian island in 1947."

Coconut Island is 28 acres, half of that landfill. It's not like he bought Oahu or something.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:37 PM on December 20, 2013


The regents are using social media to embarrass the university and ergo must step down.
posted by bleep-blop at 4:04 AM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


If it were a Metafilter comment I could see it getting deleted for being a bit too personal.

But like others I don't see it as a threat or wish for people to die (minor or adult children). I see it as expression of anger that other people are paying the cost of NRA-supporters' policy advocacy and that the supporters (and not others) should experience the consequences. I also read it less as 'your kids should die' and more as 'you should directly experience the trauma of the death of your child.'

It's not a pretty thought but to me it's nowhere near a threat or a wish for violence, it doesn't make me nervous about student safety (emotional or physical) in his classroom, and I disagree with the punishment.

I disagree with the policy too. It's essentially saying that professors can be sanctioned or let go for alienating powerful donors/companies, and to me that is the very essence of what tenure is supposed to protect against - to keep academia a free place for discourse even against the power of the government, the church, and yes, the almighty dollar.

I don't have a problem distinguishing that from protecting against bigotry in the university.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:17 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


You know, it's probably not a coincidence that I don't know a single professional in my (very technical) field educated in Kansas.
posted by kjs3 at 9:07 AM on December 22, 2013


I'm becoming more and more attached to the idea that no one should ever be fired at any time ever for actions or activities unrelated to their jobs.

I agree, but I think we will just see job descriptions worded in ways to encompass a variety of tangential job duties, such as representing oneself professionally via electronic media.
posted by dgran at 9:55 AM on December 27, 2013


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