Since Hector was a pup, Universities, Colleges, and institutions of higher learning have been heralded as the keepers of the eternal flames of knowledge, reason, and intellectual freedom. In recent years, they’ve also been a fertile breeding ground for “politically correct” speech – that euphemistically enriched dialect that is long on obfuscation and short on logic and reason. Now the same philosophy that made it illegal to think ill thoughts of someone (or at least add to your guilt if you acted upon them) brings you a page right out of 1984 and Brave New World – and right in the heart of academia.
James Miller is a theatre professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. (Insert beer joke here.) From time to time, he posts things outside his office door. The poster you see above refers to a short-lived show on Fox, Firefly, which has since gone on to become a cult hit. Apparently the poster was deemed offensive by someone(s) at the school. (For the record, I don’t think anybody has a problem with actor Nathan Fillion, who’s gone on to star in the ABC hit Castle.) Evidently, the text was the problem. Specifically the mention of killing, and the implication that weapons (ie: GUNS) would be used in the crime. If you’re having a little problem with your browser reading the text, here’s what you’re missing:
You don’t know me son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake. You’ll be facing me. And you’ll be armed.
The UW-Stout Police Chief, Lisa Walter took it upon herself to remove the offending poster from the area and emailed the professor on September 16. Here’s what she wrote:
I wanted to notify you that I removed a printed/copy (pictures attached) of a poster from the outside of your office. I don’t know if you posted it or if someone else placed it on your board, but it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing.
I knocked on your office door while there, but it appeared as though you were not in your office at the time. Contact me if you have any questions.
The Blue Devil’s instructor of all things thespian was NOT amused. He responded thusly:
Unacceptable to whom?
How dare you act in a fascistic manner and then sign your email “respectfully!” Respect liberty and respect my first amendment rights.
Short, sweet, and to the point. So far, I’m with Miller on this one.
Walter’s reply to Miller’s reply threatened him with disorderly conduct charges. (!)
…the poster can be interpreted as a threat by others and/or could cause those that view it to believe that you are willing/able to carry out actions similar to what is listed…If you choose to repost the article or something similar to it, it will be removed and you could face charges of disorderly conduct.
Miller did not back down. He replied again, but sadly, went a little bit off the reservation, lest you think that he was defending both the First and Second Amendments with his stance:
Don’t threaten me with charges that have no basis in reality–I am a committed pacifist and a devotee of non-violence, and I don’t appreciate card carrying members of the NRA who are wearing side arms and truncheons lecturing me about violence.
Damn. And there I thought we had a brother-in-arms. Apparently Miller is only a fan of the First Amendment. Not the Second. Later on that same day, Miller posted another image on his office door, kicking the dust-up up a notch:
Miller’s response? Predictable.
My office removed another posting from the outside of your office. The posting depicts violence and mentions violence and death. The campuses threat assessment team met yesterday and conferred with UW System Office of General Counsel and made the decision that this posting should be removed. It is believed that this posting also has a reasonable expectation that it will cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat.
Chief Lisa Walter
Who knew glorified meter maids had this kind of power on campus?
So how did the school administration react? Did they call off the dogs? (I have no idea what Walter looks like – it’s just a turn of phrase.) Did they allow cooler heads to prevail and remind everybody that a university is supposed to be a bastion of free speech? Not on your tintype, Lizzie. No, College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Interim Dean Raymond Hayes scheduled a little sit-down with Miller about “the concerns raised by the campus threat assessment team.”
Sent: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 2:03 PM
To: Miller, James
Cc: Walter, Lisa
September 20, 2011
As Campus Police have now twice removed images that you have posted outside your door, and given the concerns raised by the campus threat assessment team, I believe that it is essential that you and I meet to discuss this situation.
I see from your teaching schedule that you would have no course conflict at 2:15 p.m. on Monday the 26th.
I am asking you to meet with Chief Lisa Walter and me at that time in my office.
I will see you on Monday.
Wow. So much for all that blather about academic freedom, huh? Walter calls the Campus Threat Assessment Team in for a pow-wow on the dangerous thoughts being expressed over in the theatre wing. Who knew a campus even needed a Threat Assessment Team? What do they do, exactly? Presuming the campus is a gun-free zone, are they now forced to focus on eliminating verbal threats to the peace and idyllic tranquility of the ivory towers of learning?
But just as I learned in my college class in Political Science 101, Miller chose to defend himself by expanding the conflict, calling in a FIRE storm. No really. FIRE is the higher education free-speech group (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) who defends professors and students from nonsensical attacks such as these.
FIRE wrote a letter/fax to the dean expressing their concerns about the matter (and tacitly signaling that any hopes of containing this hullabaloo as an internal matter had flown the proverbial coop). They’ve also encouraged people to write or call in. As of this week, over 2,000 people have contacted the university, expressing concerns that free speech has been trampled by the university cop.
If you think this has nothing to do with you and your guns, think again.
You can think of universities and colleges as either incubators for ideas, or nurseries for nonsense. Take your pick. Either way, the seedlings of incredibly bad ideas are allowed to take root there, and flourish into full-blown trees that bear fruit that represents the antithesis of personal freedom and rights. Stop this kind of thing at the root, and you won’t have to deal with it later, in state legislatures and in the halls of Congress. Do nothing and you’ll look back on the Heller and McDonald rulings as the halcyon days of rights that are little more than a historical footnote.
If you are so moved, you can make comments to the school here:
Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen
University of Wisconsin-Stout
Office of the Chancellor
325 Administration Building
Menomonie, Wisconsin 54751