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Sep 29 2011

Introducing the First Amendment to College Administrators

As I’ve documented many times, speech codes on college campuses are a clear and present danger to free speech. Here’s a perfect example from the University of Wisconsin – Stout. Here’s how it started:

On September 12, 2011, Professor Miller posted on his office door an image of Nathan Fillion in Fireflyand a line from an episode: “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.” On September 16, UWS Chief of Police Lisa A. Walter emailed Miller, notifying him that she had removed the poster and that “it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing.”

Amazed that UWS could be so shockingly heavy-handed, Miller replied by email, “Respect liberty and respect my first amendment rights.” Walter responded that “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.” Walter also threatened Miller with criminal charges: “If you choose to repost the article or something similar to it, it will be removed and you could face charges of disorderly conduct.”


That’s bad enough. But it gets much worse.

Later on September 16, Miller placed a new poster on his office door in response to Walter’s censorship. The poster read “Warning: Fascism” and included a cartoon image of a silhouetted police officer striking a civilian. The poster mocked, “Fascism can cause blunt head trauma and/or violent death. Keep fascism away from children and pets.”

Astoundingly, Walter escalated the absurdity. On September 20, Walter emailed Miller again, stating that her office had removed the poster because it “depicts violence and mentions violence and death.” She added that UWS’s “threat assessment team,” in consultation with the university general counsel’s office, had decided to have the poster removed, and that this poster was reasonably expected to “cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat.” College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Interim Dean Raymond Hayes has scheduled a meeting with Miller about “the concerns raised by the campus threat assessment team” for this Friday.

Not only do you have no freedom of speech there, you don’t even get to complain about the lack of freedom of speech. This is clearly unconstitutional.

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  1. 1
    DaveL

    Has there ever been a case where any US court has recognized a poster, hung in an area accessible to the public, with no target group (let alone individual) identified, constituted a credible threat?

    If I accost you on the street, flashed a pistol and said “I know where you live,” a reasonable person would apprehend they are in danger. However, if I made a poster of myself with a pistol and the caption “I know where you live”, and hung it out in public, it’s entirely different. No reasonable person is going to suppose that I actually know the address of and have some vendetta against every person who might happen to pass by.

  2. 2
    MikeMa

    Palin posted a US map with targets on it representing specific individuals, one of whom was subsequently gunned down and the fascists don’t think that was inappropriate. I do hope the university administration grows some balls and smacks the threat assessment idiots.

  3. 3
    jjgdenisrobert

    1. Is UWS a State Agent?
    2. Is UWS Police a part of the government (as opposed to private security)?

    If the answer to both 1. or 2. is no, then there’s no First Amendment case here. The First Amendment only applies to Governments, whether municipal, State or Federal. It does not apply to private individuals or corporations, except where an explicit statute exists.

    I’m really tired of people screaming “Freedom of Speech” and “First Amendment” when the Government is not involved.

    In this case, UWS police is definitely being dictatorial, and the UWS policy is definitely too strict. But unless UWS is a State University (I guess it is from the name, but I’m not sure), then “Freedom of Speech” and the First Amendment have nothing to do with it. An employer has the right (unfortunately) to restrict the speech of their employees.

  4. 4
    Raging Bee

    I have mixed feelings about this affair, starting with “Both parties in this dispute are acting like high-strung teenagers, and both parties need to get over themselves!” A vague and poorly-worded quote from a ficticious starship captain is a “threat?” And removing said quote from a door on property you don’t own is “fascism?” Both of those kids need a timeout.

    My guess here is that the quote means the Browncoat dude is saying “Don’t be afraid, I’ll only kill you if you’re actively threatening me.” But that’s just my guess — I like “Firefly,” but that quote is just lame, and kinda open to interpretation. It’s a pretty stupid thing to post on your office door to be seen by students who most likely aren’t coming to the office to threaten the professor with weapons. In fact, it really sounds like the professor is being thin-skinned and insecure, and feels a need to issue vague and indiscriminate warnings to people who are not, for the most part, in need of any such warning.

    (And if anyone WAS threatening the professor, this poster is not a mature or even credible response to a real threat.)

    But is this a “free speech” case? I don’t think so — “free speech” generally means the owner of a property gets to decide what sort of messages get posted on the doors and walls in said property. And I expect a university would want to maintain a certain atmosphere within its offices and classrooms, which would mean at least some rules about posters and decorations. So the question actually is: are the rules sufficiently clear? And Are the rules appropriate and consistently enforced?

    PS: I notice ALL of your citations refer to FIRE’s site. Is there any independent confirmation? Given past debates on campus speech codes, I don’t consider FIRE to be a reliable source.

  5. 5
    Bronze Dog

    Those nutbars tearing down the anti-fascism poster have no self-awareness.

  6. 6
    anandine

    So I guess an art class can’t look at Guernica, and a catholic can’t have a poster of Christ being crucified on his office wall. A history teacher couldn’t have a copy of the painting the shot heard round the world.

    Can they teach about acts of violence (such as wars)?

  7. 7
    bobapthorpe

    I’d posit that a successful career as a university administrator requires little to no balls, certainly not used for supporting faculty rights over other petit apparatchiks. Walker’s primary job is to show that her job and that of the Threat Assessment Team are vitally important to the safe & effective operation of campus; after all, what if some theater prof’s poster scared away some suburban kid & his student loans? If you think there’s a difference between a Firefly poster and a gunman blazing away on campus, well, frankly, you need some counseling, and fast! Or maybe some ‘percussive therapy’; that seems in vogue these days. Topically-applied capiscum is also popular; ask your local law enforcement professional if it’s right for you.

    Surely, some choice quotes from Macbeth accompanied by pictures of a skull and a dagger are an appropriate response to Walker. Let her explain that to a judge & university counsel. Not that they’re any better at standing up for basic civil rights or common sense.

  8. 8
    bobapthorpe

    @4 It’s a state school, not private property; that’s why it’s a free speech/First Amendment issue.

  9. 9
    thomaspenn

    I don’t think Miller should have put up the first poster, but I also don’t think the police should’ve taken it down. But, they clearly took the 2nd one down because they don’t like criticism. Who knew that warning people of the dangers of fascism wasn’t allowed in a university?

    I think Miller should put a third poster.

    “WARNING: Law enforcement officials without any understanding of the constitutional rights they are sworn to protect may infringe on your rights without warning.”

  10. 10
    dogmeat

    1. Is UWS a State Agent?
    2. Is UWS Police a part of the government (as opposed to private security)?

    UW-STOUT is a state school. Campus Police are state police.

    First poster was dumb. Second poster was amusing, removing it was idiotic.

  11. 11
    pHred

    I agree that everyone involved needs a timeout. I also do not see how the first amendment has anything to do with this, or academic freedom. This falls under the code of conduct (or whatever the UWS equivalent is) that the faculty member must adhere to and of which they were advised upon employment.

     

    While that was a stunningly inappropriate thing for a professor to post on their door, it is not the business of the university police to decide what can or cannot be posted on a professor’s door. Usually in such situations at a campus there is a procedure followed (involving deans, etc. and the union if it is union campus) that the campus police have no role in. The whole situation shows stunning lack of judgment and yes there should be repercussions of some sort for pretty much everyone.

     

    Where I have a problem is with institutions that try to enforce “clean door” policies – that is suppression of academic freedom/expression.

  12. 12
    JustaTech

    Yes, the quote is violent, but the message I take away from it is that “even if you are a jerk I will treat you as an equal”, not “I’m going to kill you”. Also, has anyone seen the poster? How big is the font? Are the letters huge and imposing, or would you have to actually stop at the door to read it?

    Yes, I can see how some people would find the poster in bad taste. But the professional way to deal with that is not to call the campus cops, it’s to say “hey, look, Firefly is cool and all but the quote is weirding people out. Can we swap in another poster?” The second poster was par for the course.

  13. 13
    Sqrat

    I also do not see how the first amendment has anything to do with this.

    Actually, it doesn’t. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech….” Not to overstate the obvious, but neither UWS nor the state of Wisconsin are “Congress,” so the question is how the First Amendment could possibly apply.

    The answer to the question is that the Supreme Court has, over the years, declared that the various protections of the Bill of Rights apply to the states because of the Fourteenth Amendment. But what that really means is that it’s as if the First Amendment applied, not that it actually applies. In this particular case, the issue is that the state of Wisconsin, through its agents, is depriving Miller of part of his “liberty” without due process of law. That violates the Fourteenth Amendment(but not the First).

  14. 14
    dukeyorkduke

    2. Is UWS Police a part of the government (as opposed to private security)?

    If the answer to both 1. or 2. is no, then there’s no First Amendment case here.

    My understanding is this isn’t quite the case. It doesn’t matter if you’re a “private citizen”, if you are acting as the government for an area. A corporation that had a “company town” couldn’t use its quasi-police powers to prevent their employee/tenants from exercising their first amendment rights (to meet, say, to unionize) on their free time.

    I might be remembering this wrong, but it I’m right, you might make a case that the campus police (particularly at a small college on the middle of nowhere) are the de facto government for the area, and therefor bound by the constitution.

    Of course, IANAL.

  15. 15
    eric

    I’d print out the police email and post that on the door.

    Maybe with a whiteboard below it, inviting passers-by to comment.

  16. 16
    lofgren

    this poster was reasonably expected to “cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat.”

    This part is 100% true. If we allow people to publicly speak out against fascism, it will inevitably lead to a disruption of fascist activities, and potentially threaten the livelihood of fascists.

  17. 17
    Michael Heath

    There are many reasons and levels of idiocy involved here by Lisa Walters. She deserves to have her ass thrown on the street prior to our even getting to the 1st Amendment implications precisely because she’s totally unprofessional. And she’s no mere officer who needs some retraining, she’s the damn Chief of Police.

    The first reason she should be fired was removing the personal property of someone without citing the actual law being broken and authority to confiscate his property. The second reason she should be fired was still failing to provide adequate powers to remove the poster while threatening the prof with disturbing the police due to his reaction in a vacuum where no specific law was cited or powers to remove personal property.

    The University’s administration should be disciplining this prof when it comes to creating a hostile environment for students who’ve paid for the services of this prof, along with his bosses ordering the janitorial staff to remove the first poster. As a government official this prof’s speech rights are restricted when acting in an official capacity, so there’s no way the first poster should have been allowed. The government, in this case the prof, doesn’t have adequate powers to threaten students consuming its resources in order to restrain their access to those services. While the message of violence is obviously a joke, the attempt to restrain students from access to services is no joke, is in fact contemptible, and I think grounds for at least discipline. But the poster removal shouldn’t come from the police but instead through the administration hierarchy one level above the prof.

  18. 18
    Ace of Sevens

    Michael, what are you on about? If the First Amendment worked the way you seem to think it does in regards to college professors, no professor could, for instance, ever talk about their views on religion and we’d have to shut down all the philosophy and literature departments. He has the right to express whatever he wants. I’m not seeing how this amounts to denying students access to services.

  19. 19
    Raging Bee

    Thanks, Heath, I was about to remind us of what you’d said the last time this isue came up, but then you showed up and saved me the trouble.

    And no, the “state-or-non-state” distinction doesn’t much apply here like bobathorpe seems to think it does. In fact, a state agency (like a state university) has MORE obligation to enforce wall-decoration and other policies to ensure a non-histile, non-discriminatory environment, not only for the state employees, but also for whoever else comes to the premises on lawful business and is legally entitled to the benefits of said agency (like, oh I dunno, the students the state school is paid to teach?).

    If you think professors have a First Amendment right to post stuff on their office doors, just try putting up a racist or pornographic poster and see how THAT flies as a “free speech” case.

  20. 20
    Raging Bee

    Yes, the quote is violent, but the message I take away from it is that “even if you are a jerk I will treat you as an equal”

    Um, no, the poster didn’t say anything like that. While it wasn’t an explicit or obvious threat, it did say, in effect, “Killing you is an option I’m keeping in mind.”

    Also, if I really wanted to get pissy about it, I could interpret it as a threat to cops who come to visit the professor’s office, for any reason. After all, a cop on duty will be awake, facing whoever he’s come to talk to, and armed. (Notice the poster didn’t say “…and you’ll be aiming your weapon at me without good cause.”)

    So…yeah, at stupid little prick posted a stupid message, got a stuid response, and responded even more stupidly to the stupid response. This isn’t about “free speech,” it’s about a spiralling Ragnarok of stupid. I hope Interim Dean Hayes gives both of those idiots a good spanking in the upcoming meeting.

  21. 21
    Ace of Sevens

    In the case of racism, you could say the professor is expressing their intent to discriminate against students based on race. This violates the student’s own civil rights and the 1st is not a license to do that. However, I don’t see how his Firefly poster could be read as any sort of discrimination. What right is being violated here?

  22. 22
    Raging Bee

    So I guess an art class can’t look at Guernica…

    I gotta give you credit for one thing: your overreaction is appropriate to the action.

  23. 23
    Taz

    While the message of violence is obviously a joke, the attempt to restrain students from access to services is no joke, is in fact contemptible, and I think grounds for at least discipline.

    Are you kidding me? Does a university really need to act as though its students are six years old?

  24. 24
    Taz

    While it wasn’t an explicit or obvious threat, it did say, in effect, “Killing you is an option I’m keeping in mind.”

    No, it says “You don’t have to worry about me killing you unless you’re trying to kill me.”

  25. 25
    Raging Bee

    Really? like I said before, the poster didn’t say anything about “trying to” do anything. It only said “…and you’ll be armed.”

    And the fact that we’re still arguing about what the poster said or meant, only shows how stupid that professor was to put it up in the first place.

    And as Heath already said, none of that is relevant because the major issue here is the police-chief’s out-of-line, incompetent and unproffessional response.

  26. 26
    Ace of Sevens

    Is understanding the context the problem? Have Michael Heath and Raging Bee seen Firefly? What about the rest of you? I have and see it as a promise to be fair and not take advantage of people in a weak position, but I’m wondering how someone who never saw the show will interpret it.

  27. 27
    lofgren

    This so-called message of violence reads to me as “If there is a problem between us, we are going to deal with directly, openly, and as equals.”

  28. 28
    Raging Bee

    Yes, I’ve seen “Firefly,” and “Serenity,” and I’ve been an extra in a fanfic-spinoff called “Browncoats: Redemption.” (Go buy it, it’s to raise money for Kids Need to Read and other good causes.) And yes, I know what this character is “really” saying. But that’s not relevant, because this poster takes a quote out of context, and couches a promise of fairness as a preemptive threat.

    If you have to have seen the show to understand what the poster is “really” saying, then it was a stupid idea to put up the poster.

  29. 29
    Ace of Sevens

    Oh, and to bypass the argument here, the legal definition of a threat according to the Supreme Court is explained in the article and there’s no way in hell this qualifies. This is a relevant question because it goes to whether the administrator wa sin the right to take the first poster down.

  30. 30
    lofgren

    And the fact that we’re still arguing about what the poster said or meant, only shows how stupid that professor was to put it up in the first place.

    What it proves to me is that you should not be allowed with 200 feet of any art or literature class, and perhaps barred from reading any book, watching any film, or viewing any piece of art with any more depth than the IKEA instructions. No, on second thought, the IKEA instructions might be dangerous because you might think that the final cartoon of the confused man tangled in the phone cord as he calls the IKEA help line is an instruction to hang yourself.

    Even if you haven’t seen the episode in question, the quote is obviously delivered towards somebody who is concerned that Mal will stab him in the back or sneak attack him, and is a personal guarantee that will not happen. If I want to be stubbornly, desperately, autisticly literal about it, I might interpret it as a warning that if you think this professor wants to kill you for some reason, simply don’t come to his office hours waving a gun around and you’ll be fine. Of course at that point we might as well also take it as a guarantee that the professor won’t kill you until you’re both on board a space ship in the distant future.

    The straws that you are grasping at do not help make your point. They make you look ridiculous.

  31. 31
    chilidog99

    Follow up, an E-mail sent by the Chancellor:

    TO: UW-Stout Faculty and Staff via electronic mail

    FROM: Charles W. Sorensen, Chancellor
    Julie Furst-Bowe, Provost
    Ed Nieskes, Vice Chancellor

    DATE: September 27, 2011

    RE: Poster Incident Involving a UW-Stout Professor

    There have been recent news reports about an incident in which two posters hung by a UW-Stout professor outside his office were removed by campus police. There are some important points to consider in the wake of these incidents:

    UW-Stout administrators believe strongly in the right of all students, faculty and staff to express themselves freely about issues on campus and off. This freedom is fundamental on a public university campus.

    However, we also have the responsibility to promote a campus environment that is free from threats of any kind—both direct and implied. It was our belief, after consultation with UW System legal counsel, that the posters in question constituted an implied threat of violence. That is why they were removed.

    This was not an act of censorship. This was an act of sensitivity to and care for our shared community, and was intended to maintain a campus climate in which everyone can feel welcome, safe and secure.

    http://thefire.org/article/13621.html

    Talk about doubling down on stupidity.

  32. 32
    Raging Bee

    What it proves to me is that you should not be allowed with 200 feet of any art or literature class, and perhaps barred from reading any book, watching any film, or viewing any piece of art with any more depth than the IKEA instructions….

    And the spiralling Ragnarok of stupidity continues…

  33. 33
    chilidog99

    I have never watched any of the firefly shows.

    looking at the poster, I don’t see any threat. It’s just kind of stupid.

    The second poster is more along the lines of a political commentary and I definitely do not see any threat there.

    The only threat is from the Chancelor and the police.

  34. 34
    Raging Bee

    Let’s see if I can beat Heath to the punch here: the letter chilidog just quoted did not specify which rule the professor violated when he put up the poster. And considering the letter claims the university’s legal counsel was consulted, that’s a rather glaring omission. That sentence should have included “…who pointed out that the poster was a violation of rule X.X or employee handbook paragraph Y.Y…” It looks to me like the admins just got an earful from an overzealous cop, possibly including a reference to 9/11 and the need for constant vigilance; and preemptively caved.

  35. 35
    alekseisvoboda

    Been a while since I saw Serenity so I checked out IMDB’s quote database. The quote in context actually means “I’m not going to kill you. I am not underhanded or deceptive.” Simon has helped his sister escape a corrupt government place and Captain Mal is helping him. Simon fears for his safety on the ship and they have the following exchange:

    Simon: I’m trying to put this as delicately as I can… How do I know you won’t kill me in my sleep?
    Mal: 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.
    Simon: Are you always this sentimental?
    Mal: I had a good day.
    Simon: You had the Alliance on you, criminals and savages… Half the people on the ship have been shot or wounded including yourself, and you’re harboring known fugitives.
    Mal: Well, we’re still flying.
    Simon: That’s not much.
    Mal: It’s enough.

  36. 36
    Taz

    It was our belief, after consultation with UW System legal counsel, that the posters in question constituted an implied threat of violence. That is why they were removed.

    The only real point of contention is whether you think this “belief” is justified. I personally think it’s utterly, abysmally absurd. I think it gives ammunition to the crowd who decry legitimate complaints about harassment as “political correctness run amok”. In short, I think the overreaction of the UW-Stout administrators is the sole problem here, not the professor’s taste in posters.

  37. 37
    ftltachyon

    To those who haven’t seen the episode that the quote is from – it’s really quite a good episode, you should watch it. Also will make the quote make more sense (and sound a lot less sinister, since the meaning in context isn’t “I’m threatening you” but the opposite.)

  38. 38
    Raging Bee

    Taz: I’m not sure if it was an “overreaction,” but it was definitely a disorganized reaction. If the U. has a general rule about “threats,” then they probably had to consider this poster a “threat.” The quote began “If I kill you…” which immediately announces that “I” am seriously considering killing you.

    What if the poster had said “If I kill you, you will be working at an abortion clinic.”? Isn’t that a “threat?” And if that threat is unacceptable, then, for the sake of consistency, any other similarly-worded statement must also be forbidden, otherwise they leave themselves open to the charge of discrimination or inconsistent enforcement.

  39. 39
    Chiroptera

    I think that Miller could bring a good attorney with him to that meeting, an attorney who would be able to explain the constitutional issues involved and cite previous case law that supports it.

    If that doesn’t have the desire effect, Miller or the attorney can drop the magic word — “law suit” — and see whether that changes the dynamic.

  40. 40
    eric

    Completely agree with Taz. Construing that first poster as a personal, violent threat requires a reader have the reading comprehension skills of a 6-year old or biblical literalist. Which is to say – none at all.

    Now, are there adults (and students) with that level of reading comprehension, who might see the poster? Yes. Should limitations on free speech be designed with them in mind? No. IANAL, but IMO the law’s ‘reasonable person’ standard exists precisely to prevent text and speech from being unnecessarily stifled. Its not enough that some person finds it threatening. A reasonable person informed about the context and relevant facts surrounding the poster must find it threatening.

    OTOH, to my mind the Uni police aren’t really at fault. One can argue that its their job to investigate and report potential wrong-doing to the school administration, and that they should take a worst-case-scenario attitude when doing so. The real fault lies with the Chancellor and other administrators. They should’ve received the police report, the legal analysis, the professor’s complaint, reviewed the poster themselves, then told the police to let it go and apologize.

  41. 41
    lofgren

    If this is a threat, I would like to know whom is being threatened.

    Let’s parse the sentence on the poster:

    If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake. You’ll be facing me. And you’ll be armed.

    If this were written in programming language, it would look like:

    If “kill you” == TRUE
    && If “you” == “awake”
    && If “you” == “facing me”
    && If “you” == “armed”
    Then
    Kill “you”
    endif

    As long as “kill you” is set to FALSE, the rest of the statement is irrelevant, since all four clauses must be TRUE in order for killing to commence. Unless there was some other poster on the wall that set “kill you” to TRUE for some value of “you,” this can’t be reasonably interpreted as a threat to anybody. If “you” have some reason to believe that professor Miller intends to kill you, then there are any number of better ways to deal with that. A restraining order would help, since he has already promised the killing will only occur when you are facing each other. Perhaps a counseling session (unarmed) would help you and the professor sort out your problems with each other. If the professor’s urge to kill you does not abate, that would probably be grounds for at least dismissal, if not criminal prosecution.

    For the vast majority of the campus, this poster is actually MORE of a guarantee of non-violence than they have received from just about any other individual ever. In fact, it’s more of a guarantee than you would get from me, or most other people who might ever kill “you.” I suspect only a tiny fraction of murderers have ever offered their victims such a sporting opportunity to avoid death. I know if I ever kill you, you won’t see it coming.

    Let’s say, by some quirk, you have ever been 1. awake, 2. facing Professor Miller, and 3. armed. I suppose, if you have a particularly poor grasp of English, you might consider this to be a threat. I have never taken ESL, so it’s possible that English is taught differently from other languages. But I know that after less than two years of Italian and Latin, I could parse “If/Then” statements in both those languages. So I suppose if you are a cop who barely speaks English, you could see a threat in this language. But at that point, we could also say it is likely that a person with such remedial English skills would probably be unable to grasp the colloquial use of “son,” so it’s just as likely that you’d interpret the poster as directed solely to the male offspring Professor Miller has a particularly poor relationship with.

    Bottom line, if you feel that somebody, anybody, intends to kill you, you should be happy to have such a clearly delineated set of circumstances in which said killing may occur. Unless you work in a narrow set of fields that require you to go armed at all times, the times and places where you might be killed are going to be few and rare. And even if you should accidentally find yourself awake and armed and in Professor Miller’s presence, he’s been gentlemanly enough to afford you the last ditch option of simply turning around and walking away. Not even the police will give you that kind of leeway to avoid getting shot.

    Professor Miller has promised that by far the vast majority of the campus, and the populace in general, has nothing to fear from him. In a world where your dorm mate might suddenly decide to show up to class and shoot anything that moves, I’ll take that guarantee any day.

  42. 42
    chilidog99

    It was our belief, after consultation with UW System legal counsel, that the posters in question constituted an implied threat of violence. That is why they were removed.

    Did they get the part where the implied threat of the second poster was from the administration?

  43. 43
    Raging Bee

    If that doesn’t have the desire effect, Miller or the attorney can drop the magic word — “law suit” — and see whether that changes the dynamic.

    Now there I give you a spiralling Ragnarok of stupid. If a PROFESSOR has nothing better to do than file a lawsuit and scream “Help, I’m being repressed!” over a poster on an office door containing a poorly-worded, out-of-context quote (yes, context does change the meaning of the quote in this case), then this college needs a better quality of professor. Seriously, even if the professor is right in this case, it’s still one of the stupidest little things you could possibly make a Federal case out of. Doesn’t this guy have lectures to organize, exam questions to write?

  44. 44
    lofgren

    If a PROFESSOR has nothing better to do than file a lawsuit and scream “Help, I’m being repressed!” over a poster on an office door containing a poorly-worded, out-of-context quote (yes, context does change the meaning of the quote in this case), then this college needs a better quality of professor.

    It’s true, we should ignore all incremental erosion of first amendment rights because we have shit to do.

    This is exactly how monied institutions, including corporations, the state, the police, or any other body with enough manpower to specialize in legal technicalities, get away with bullshit like this. If the professor organizes a lawsuit and gets the policy changed or the rules more clearly delineated, I would consider it a SACRIFICE on his part on the behalf of all of the other students and faculty at the university. People who stand up for their rights against bullies deserve our gratitude, not our ridicule.

  45. 45
    Raging Bee

    This is exactly how monied institutions, including corporations, the state, the police, or any other body with enough manpower to specialize in legal technicalities, get away with bullshit like this.

    Another way moneyed institutions get away with WORSE erosions of free speech, is when free-speech advocates file huge amounts of idiotic lawsuits over inconsequential non-issues like posters on office doors, and people just get sick of hearing about it year after year, so when someone sues over a REAL injustice, his complaint gets drowned in all the noise and ignored.

    Choosing your battles wisely is not surrender — it’s the key to victory.

  46. 46
    DaveL

    Another way moneyed institutions get away with WORSE erosions of free speech, is when free-speech advocates file huge amounts of idiotic lawsuits over inconsequential non-issues like posters on office doors, and people just get sick of hearing about it year after year, so when someone sues over a REAL injustice, his complaint gets drowned in all the noise and ignored.

    Examples of this actually happening?

  47. 47
    lofgren

    Another way moneyed institutions get away with WORSE erosions of free speech, is when free-speech advocates file huge amounts of idiotic lawsuits over inconsequential non-issues like posters on office doors, and people just get sick of hearing about it year after year, so when someone sues over a REAL injustice, his complaint gets drowned in all the noise and ignored.

    Please cite one example of a major first amendment case getting thrown out of court because a judge was just sick of hearing about first amendment issues, because that would be grounds for impeachment.

    Also, this is a “real” injustice, unless you are actually going to claim that the university was in the right.

    Choosing your battles wisely is not surrender — it’s the key to victory.

    This seems like a perfect battle for Miller: it’s so clearcut, victory is practically assured. It’s not like this lawsuit will somehow invalidate or make other lawsuits more difficult to win – in fact, it will make future challenges more likely to succeed because there will be precedent. The idea that he should just sit on his hands until the issue escalates strikes me as ludicrously bad advice. There is no reason for him to concede at this point, other than that you personally think being accused of issuing death threats is trivial.

  48. 48
    Raging Bee

    …But the poster removal shouldn’t come from the police but instead through the administration hierarchy one level above the prof.

    I repeat this quote from Heath’s comment because the “free speech” advocates are allowing themselves to get the same buttons pushed, and are being manipulated into ignoring a far greater threat than the removal of one lousy poster: a campus police chief acting arbitrarily, with no due process whatsoever, and with no accountability to the appropriate civil authority. THAT is good cause for a lawsuit, especially if the university does nothing to hold its cops accountable for lawless or undisciplined behavior.

    Most large institutions have specific procedures written up for filing and acting on charges of rulebreaking: who to talk to, in what order, who has to approve disciplinary actions, appeal procedures, etc. If this university had such rules, they should have forced their cops to follow them; and if they didn’t have such rules, then they’d better make some, and they can and should be held accountable for failing to do so.

  49. 49
    Taz

    Raging Bee –

    “If I kill you, you will be working at an abortion clinic.”? Isn’t that a “threat?”

    It’s a clumsily worded threat against people who work at abortion clinics. It’s exactly the mention of a specific group of people that makes it a problem.

    What you’re advocating is a “zero-tolerance” policy. You’re saying the administration should have a policy in place that absolves them of any need for common sense. I disagree with such policies. If you can’t make the call then don’t be an administrator. The legal department is always going to come down on the side of “cover-your-ass no matter what”. The administrators of a university should put a some intelligent thought into it.

  50. 50
    lofgren

    the “free speech” advocates are allowing themselves to get the same buttons pushed, and are being manipulated into ignoring a far greater threat than the removal of one lousy poster: a campus police chief acting arbitrarily

    Um… What? Raise your hand if you’re suggesting that Miller should just let this slide. Raging Bee, that would be you, insisting for some reason that Miller should just ignore this incident and “pick his battles.” A lawsuit is exactly what forces institutions to change their rules in the manner that you describe.

  51. 51
    Chiroptera

    danielrudolph, #26: Is understanding the context the problem? Have Michael Heath and Raging Bee seen Firefly?

    Good point. I haven’t seen Firefly, so I may not know the context of the quote.

    When I first read it, before I read the complaints about “construed as a threat of violence,” I read as warning that anyone who fails the professor’s class will have no excuse for not understanding why they failed.

    Maybe Firefly will provide the context for a different interpretation; I dunno, but we are talking about how someone would interpret the quote without context.

  52. 52
    Raging Bee

    Chill the fuck out, lofgren, and read my comment again. How does filing a lawsuit over arbitrary police action equate to “Miller should just ignore this incident?” Bloody ‘ell, thanks for proving my point about free-speech advocates getting their buttons pushed and going off half-cocked.

  53. 53
    lofgren

    I was referring to your earlier, repeated argument that Miller should not file suit (in posts 43 & 45). If you have changed your opinion, then fine.

  54. 54
    Abby Normal

    It could have been worse. Imagine if he’d put up a poster of Darth Vader with the quote “I am your father.” It could have resulted the biggest university scandal/Maury Povich episode ever.

  55. 55
    Raging Bee

    What you’re advocating is a “zero-tolerance” policy…

    No, I’m only saying that if you have a rule against “threats,” then you kinda have to enforce it consistently, otherwise you’ll expose yourself to charges of discrimination. Yes, one threatening-sounding statement is more credible as a threat than another; and no, it’s not all that sensible to treat them the same; but when you’re held accountable for enforcing rules as fairly as possible, sometimes common sense has to give way to pointy-haired six-covering.

    This is not some new and unprecedented form of insanity; it happens in every bureaucracy, especially in “a government of laws, not of men.” My fiancee had to deal with something similar after she expressed anger over someone else messing with her desk. Everyone knew she was in the right, but they still had to officially sweat her over something that sounded kinda sorta like a threat of violence.

    If one “if I kill you…” statement is forbidden outright, and another “if I kill you…” statement is excused with references to context, someone (like an anti-abortion zealot) is bound to see it (or pretend to see it) as “discrimination,” and sooner or later, the university will have to make their rule “uniform” to avoid misunderstandings, and enforce the rule uniformly to avoid lawsuits.

  56. 56
    lofgren

    Maybe Firefly will provide the context for a different interpretation; I dunno, but we are talking about how someone would interpret the quote without context.

    Let’s be clear: the context is that it is a quote from a TV show, by a fictional character, attributed to that character. Even if you don’t know Firefly and don’t know Nathan Fillion, it’s still obviously a quote from the dude on the poster. Quotes are references to a source material, and understanding of the source material is expected in order to understand the quote.

    If the poster had said “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants,” we would not abide some administrator insisting it be taken down because some moron might think that meant they should go on a killing spree in order to feed a sickly maple.

  57. 57
    juicyheart

    I don’t see this as government suppressing a citizen’s voice, but as an employer trying to create a conductive work and learning environment. Is this an overreaction? I can’t tell from the info given. The quote can quite easily be read as threatening, and that would be doubly so if this professor was having feuds/personality conflicts with others in the drama department or university. If he was wanted to post a threat he could plausibly deny was a threat, his quote seems nearly perfect. Form a one sided account starting with ‘the act of censorship’ I can’t tell the context that others in the university encountered the poster, and it’s not like there have been shootings at universities in recent years, that could make campus error on the side of caution in such cases.

    What I can see is that professor Miller has responded in a very confrontational manner to the incident. After being informed of the posters removal he started acting like a creationist separated from the bible on his desk. I mean what was expressed in that quote that is so important to him, that as soon as it’s taken down he responds by screaming “My rights have been VIOLATED!!!” I don’t see campus police being out of bounds in seeing that poster as creating an atmosphere of intimidation, or the poster’s content pertinent to his job of teaching drama. If my boss took down a display in my cubical, sent me an email saying he had done so and why, and I put up a display accusing them of fascism, I would be out on my ass: Because that would be insubordination. I could take it to the HR department or my boss’s boss, but I wouldn’t think of putting up my boss is a fascist poster.

  58. 58
    lofgren

    I’m only saying that if you have a rule against “threats,” then you kinda have to enforce it consistently, otherwise you’ll expose yourself to charges of discrimination.

    Banning threats against specific groups as opposed to badass movie quotes is not “inconsistent.” Besides, I thought we were in agreement that the problem here is the arbitrary behavior of the police. You can’t have it both ways.

    You seem to be suggesting that grammatical formulation is the only criteria by which we can discern one statement from another, as if content and context are totally irrelevant. That’s simply asinine.

  59. 59
    Raging Bee

    I don’t see campus police being out of bounds in seeing that poster as creating an atmosphere of intimidation…

    The problem here is that the chief of police acted unilaterally, without getting any kind of warrant, ruling or proper order from any higher-ups or adjudicating body; and without even citing which specific rule the poster was violating.

    Banning threats against specific groups…

    This threat was directed against a spefic group: people who are awake, facing the professor (or whoever), and armed. That group includes any on-duty cop who wants to talk to the professor for any reason.

  60. 60
    lofgren

    If he was wanted to post a threat he could plausibly deny was a threat, his quote seems nearly perfect.

    And I’ll say again: if the school, or somebody who works or studies there, legitimately feared that the professor was a threat to their life, then THAT would be a problem whether or not he put up a Firefly poster. The university’s concerns appear to revolve entirely around the decorations on his office door. If Miller has given somebody cause to fear for their life, the poster should be irrelevant because merely telling him to take it down would be tantamount to ignoring the underlying problem. It would be like if somebody had a sign in their front yard that said “I beat my kids!” and instead of calling social services, you just shoot the sign with a paintball gun. It’s the wrong solution to the wrong problem.

  61. 61
    lofgren

    This threat was directed against a spefic group: people who are awake, facing the professor (or whoever), and armed. That group includes any on-duty cop who wants to talk to the professor for any reason.

    No, because it was never a threat at all.

  62. 62
    Taz

    juicyheart –

    Is this an overreaction? I can’t tell from the info given.

    It’s a picture of a character from a TV show with the following quote from that show: “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.”

    What else do you need to know?

    Raging Bee –

    This threat was directed against a spefic group: people who are awake, facing the professor (or whoever), and armed. That group includes any on-duty cop who wants to talk to the professor for any reason.

    Seriously?

  63. 63
    Ed Brayton

    Raging Bee wrote:

    Given past debates on campus speech codes, I don’t consider FIRE to be a reliable source.

    How amusing. You like all kinds of restrictions on free speech and they don’t, so you don’t consider them a reliable source. Can you actually show that they’ve ever said anything that wasn’t true in such a situation? I didn’t think so.

  64. 64
    Taz

    Raging Bee –

    What you’re advocating is a “zero-tolerance” policy…

    No, I’m only saying that if you have a rule against “threats,” then you kinda have to enforce it consistently, otherwise you’ll expose yourself to charges of discrimination.

    What exactly do you think a zero-tolerance policy is? If you have a rule against bringing weapons to school, then you have to enforce it. Therefore the kid who brings a butter knife to cut up brownies has to be suspended. If you have a policy against drugs, then you have to enforce it. Therefore the student who gives an aspirin to another student has to be suspended.

    I prefer they use some common sense in deciding what constitutes a violation.

  65. 65
    Raging Bee

    No, because it was never a threat at all.

    No, and my fiancee’s expression of anger and frustration at other people messing with her stuff was never a real thraet either. But the bureacuracy she was in had a rule against “threats of violence,” and her words sounded enough LIKE a threat that her bosses had to act on it in a documented manner, even when everyone knew damn well she was a good worker who had never acted violent before. Rules are rules.

    Can you actually show that they’ve ever said anything that wasn’t true in such a situation?

    Well, for starters, they’re making this out to be a free-speech case, when the facts clearly indicate it’s a police-misconduct case. And this isn’t the first time they’ve automatically lumped rules of conduct with restrictions on free speech. Not lies, to be sure, just a bit of dodgy framing.

  66. 66
    unbound

    Well, considering the police state that we are slowly embracing, I’m kind of surprised she didn’t have the professor arrested with the first poster. Sigh…

    On the positive side, it looks like I can cross U of W off my son’s college list. One less trip for me to make.

  67. 67
    Michael Heath

    danielrudolph:

    Michael, what are you on about? If the First Amendment worked the way you seem to think it does in regards to college professors, no professor could, for instance, ever talk about their views on religion and we’d have to shut down all the philosophy and literature departments. He has the right to express whatever he wants. I’m not seeing how this amounts to denying students access to services.

    There’s an ocean of difference between the academic freedom to teach vs. intimidating students who are coming to you for help and instead being preemptively threatened. Not threatened literally, but the intention is clearly to intimidate students seeking help. Taxpayers are not providing educative funds for profs to purposefully attempt to deny students access to resources.

  68. 68
    Chris from Europe

    Not threatened literally, but the intention is clearly to intimidate students seeking help

    Really? I don’t see that at all. I would say it tells you that you don’t have to fear him unless you threaten him with a weapon. There are many other ways he could intimidate students seeking help effectively without getting in trouble.

    But the bureacuracy she was in had a rule against “threats of violence,” and her words sounded enough LIKE a threat that her bosses had to act on it in a documented manner, even when everyone knew damn well she was a good worker who had never acted violent before. Rules are rules.

    Wow. How can one justify this kind of zero-brain policy? And that’s exactly what it is: Avoiding any risk for one’s position by obeying dumb rules. Rules aren’t simply rules. Some rules are idiotic and unjustified and should be ignored. Rules always need to be interpreted intelligently and equitably.

  69. 69
    Michael Heath

    Raging Bee to me:

    If you think professors have a First Amendment right to post stuff on their office doors, just try putting up a racist or pornographic poster and see how THAT flies as a “free speech” case.

    I think you need to read my post a little more carefully, especially since I came down on the side this prof’s boss having an obligation to take down the poster.

  70. 70
    Ace of Sevens

    Any attempt to read this as a threat to students who come see him in office hours is just bizarre, besides not meeting the legal definition of a threat. If a film professor put up a poster for Magnum Force, with Clint Eastwood pointing a large handgun right at the viewer, would this be a threat to students?

  71. 71
    Michael Heath

    @ 31, from the Administrator:

    It was our belief, after consultation with UW System legal counsel, that the posters in question constituted an implied threat of violence. That is why they were removed.

    This was not an act of censorship.

    Well from this perspective it clearly was an act of censorship and an infringement on the prof’s 1st Amendment rights since the first poster clearly never conveyed a threat of violence, that’s ridiculous.

    I still think the Administration should have taken it down since this isn’t about the 1st Amendment but instead about an employer insuring their clients are getting their money’s worth, where this prof’s 1st poster attempted to minimize such services.

  72. 72
    DaveL

    This threat was directed against a spefic group: people who are awake, facing the professor (or whoever), and armed. That group includes any on-duty cop who wants to talk to the professor for any reason.

    Are you fucking serious?

  73. 73
    Michael Heath

    juicyheart:

    What I can see is that professor Miller has responded in a very confrontational manner to the incident. After being informed of the posters removal he started acting like a creationist separated from the bible on his desk. I mean what was expressed in that quote that is so important to him, that as soon as it’s taken down he responds by screaming “My rights have been VIOLATED!!!” I don’t see campus police being out of bounds in seeing that poster as creating an atmosphere of intimidation, or the poster’s content pertinent to his job of teaching drama. If my boss took down a display in my cubical, sent me an email saying he had done so and why, and I put up a display accusing them of fascism, I would be out on my ass: Because that would be insubordination.

    I think you’re conflating two different perspectives we can’t conflate. Clearly the campus police are out of bounds removing the posters, they have no regulatory power to do so. On the other hand I think his administrator/employer does have an obligation to remove the first poster since the prof is creating a hostile environment to clients (students) seeking service. In the latter case you don’t use the cops to take down the poster, you ask the prof to do it and if he won’t, get a janitor.

    Given the chief of police’s behavior and the administration’s observe claim regarding threats and politically correct speech, I greatly empathize with the prof putting up the second poster.

  74. 74
    Raging Bee

    Heath: that bit of snark was not meant for you. Sorry, not sure what made you think it was.

  75. 75
    386sx

    I don’t like his stupid poster either, but at least they could admit it’s censorship. They need to hire some new bureaucrats if the ones they have now don’t know the meaning of simple words like censorship. They could try looking in the dictionary or something. They probably have a lot of those around since it’s, uhhh, a freakin college. Lol.

  76. 76
    Raging Bee

    Okay, Heath, I think I see the problem: I agreed with you by name in the first paragraph of #19, then addressed statements by bobathorpe and multiple unnamed others in the rest of the comment. Sorry about the confusion.

  77. 77
    Raging Bee

    How can one justify this kind of zero-brain policy? And that’s exactly what it is: Avoiding any risk for one’s position by obeying dumb rules.

    Actually, there’s a bit more to it than that. That office deals with REAL security concerns due to their clients and the stress of dealing with them; and rules have to be written for the employees anyway; so naturally they make rules about threats because that’s a real concern. And then everyone wants to see the rules enforced because they have to feel safe where they work (without spending too much extra money on guards, ’cause that’s socialism donchaknow). So the inevitable upshot of all this is that rules get a little too rigidly enforced and there’s too little room for excuses or flexibility, because inconsistent enforcement means the possibility of discrimination.

    So yeah, it’s dumb, but there’s still a reason for it and the dumbness can’t always be avoided.

  78. 78
    Taz

    Michael Heath – I don’t buy in the least your contention that this poster had either the intent or the effect of denying services to students.

  79. 79
    Raging Bee

    Taz: it’s hard to tell what the quote was “meant” to say, because it’s a) poorly worded (I loved “Firefly,” but not for the brilliant scriptwriting); b) way the fuck out of context; and c) not at all appropriate for the office of a professor, whose normal business should NEVER include ANY mention of “killing” anyone. What does it mean when a professor posts a quote that begins “If I kill you…?” Hard to say, but one can’t be blamed for thinking the professor may be a bit unhinged, and may be making an incompetent attempt to act like a macho-man.

    As for whether the quote violated a reasonable rule of on-site expression…or whether the university even HAS such a rule…well, we don’t really know that, since, as Heath and I noted, no one cited or quoted any such rule at any time. Perhaps if their oh-so-dilligent police chief had taken her complaint to the admins, or to the judiciary committee or some other adjudicating body, they could have had a proper debate about that — but no one seems interested in doing that. One wonders how much leeway the cops have there before anyone — even the deans — even ask for a warrant or an explanation. Who the fuck’s in charge there?

  80. 80
    Taz

    Raging Bee – First of all:

    “I loved “Firefly,” but not for the brilliant scriptwriting”

    strikes me as odd. Joss Whedon shows are known for their writing – probably more than anything else. I don’t know who penned that particular episode, but there was some very good writing in that series in general.

    Second, I can’t agree that a TV show poster is out of place in the office of a theater professor.

    Third, what problem are you solving? I still don’t buy that this poster caused any. The police and/or administration overreacted, then doubled down. Everything after that has been rationalization.

  81. 81
    tomp

    I have a t-short from “Invader Zim” that says “I will destroy everything”. Is that a threat to someone? And you should see what my daughter’s “Clockwork Orange” poster says!!!

  82. 82
    Raging Bee

    Taz: the overall storyline was original without being totally out of whack, but the dialogue was horribly contrived and strained at times (as were some of the cattle-rustlers-in-space scenarios). I many cases it just didn’t flow, and some of the slang was simply not credible as such, because slang is supposed to be easy to say and a cumbersome phrase just won’t be regularly used. I totaly appreciate where each story was going, and it generally did go there, but there were times when I cringed and thought “No, he/she wouldn’t really say that in that situation.”

  83. 83
    Raging Bee

    Second, I can’t agree that a TV show poster is out of place in the office of a theater professor.

    Neither do I, really; but “not out of place” is not the same thing as “you can’t make any rules telling me what I can or cannot post in a public place that I don’t own.” Generally, the people who own and operate a property are the ones who get to decide what’s “out of place” there.

  84. 84
    freemage

    Mr. Heath:

    I have learned, through long and hard experience, that I should be wary of arguing with you–you’re right far too often.

    That said, I’m gonna have to disagree with you on the ‘denial of services’ angle. I find it most telling that at no time has the administration or the campus cops claimed that an actual student has claimed even a slight hesitancy to approach the professor because of the poster on the door. A single actual complaint would solidify the administration’s position, so if they had received one, it beggars the imagination to believe they would not have mentioned it in the follow-up letter.

    Rather, this is very obviously a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy in effect–any poster that contains a violent piece of imagery or wording will be met with the same reaction, regardless of context, intent or appropriateness. As is invariably the case, ‘zero-tolerance’ translates as ‘we don’t want to have to exercise judgement, ever’. I see no difference between this and a grade school student being suspended over a plastic butter knife in their lunch–except that in this case, the overreach not only displayed a tone-deaf attitude on the part of the administrators and cops, but also happened to cross one of the few remaining ‘hard lines’ meant to prevent abuses of authority.

  85. 85
    Raging Bee

    Rather, this is very obviously a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy in effect…

    Policy? What policy? There’s no actual policy cited, and we have no way of knowing how consistently the police chief unilaterally decides to change the office decor without notifying or getting permission from anyone. So we can’t call this “zero tolerance,” at least not from the information we have now. Stupid babyish abuse of police power, yes, but not “zero tolerance.”

    And no, it’s not like kids getting suspended for butter knives — at least the latter is done according to written rules, while this is being done entirely on the whim of one jumped-up cop.

  86. 86
    lofgren

    I would like somebody to cite a single individual who actually felt threatened by the professor or his poster. If such a complaint existed, then surely the administration and the police would not be fretting about the poster.

    If, as Raging Bee contends, the poster is a threat of bodily harm directed at police officers, i.e. the equivalent of walking up to a cop and telling him, “I’m going to shoot you in the face,” let the cop who claims to feel this way come forward.

    The thing is, obviously the police in this situation do not feel that the poster was a threat directed at them, or they surely would be pressing criminal charges and treating the professor as if he threatened the life of a cop, which is an actual crime.

    All I see is a lot of fretting about how somebody might perceive the poster, and all of it strikes me as such a preposterous stretch that it is hard to believe a toddler would interpret it that way, let alone a grown-up or college student. Nobody has stepped forward and claimed that the professor intimidated or threatened them, either with his poster or by any other method. Until that happens, the claim that a police officer might interpret the poster as a threat to his life or that a student would feel intimidated from seeking the professor’s help ring completely hollow. There is simply no evidence that any person actually interpreted the poster that way. It “might” happen in the same way that I “might” have killed Osama bin Laden with my psychic powers.

  87. 87
    Raging Bee

    If, as Raging Bee contends, the poster is a threat of bodily harm directed at police officers…

    I did not “contend” any such thing; I only said that that was one of many possible interpretations of that out-of-context nonsense.

    All I see is a lot of fretting about how somebody might perceive the poster…

    Yeah, it sucks and all, but out here in the real world, we have to ask ourselves, practically every hour, how someone might perceive what we say, write, or do. And if there’s a rule against “threats” and someone perceives a “threat,” then you at least have to discuss and decide whether the rule against “threats” is being violated. The problem here is that the person who (allegedly) perceived a threat acted without consulting the people who should have been making the decision; and said people just spinelessly rolled over and accepted her action without discussion.

  88. 88
    lofgren

    And if there’s a rule against “threats” and someone perceives a “threat,” then you at least have to discuss and decide whether the rule against “threats” is being violated. The problem here is that the person who (allegedly) perceived a threat acted without consulting the people who should have been making the decision; and said people just spinelessly rolled over and accepted her action without discussion.

    No, the problem is that somebody acted when no threat was perceived. Again, if somebody had actually claimed to have been threatened by the professor, taking down the poster would still be an inappropriate response, unless it was being collected as evidence for his trial.

  89. 89
    juicyheart

    I still think it’s jumping the gun in saying this was a free speech violation. There’s a few things I want to point out.

    Per the letter posted in comment 31 and on FIRE’s site, the postings and their context were reviewed by the administration and by the UW System legal counsel before removal. So they’re saying this isn’t a campus cop willie nillie running around campus tearing down posters, but an adimistration action.

    Per the first email exchange there was a complaint made about first poster that got it reviewed and removed.

    The email from chief Walter can be read a bit of as “I removed the poster. If you have a problem with it see me; don’t go biting someone else’s head off.”

    For some reason this poster was seen as threatening by the administration, and the best action was to have it removed by the campus police.

    Lofgren comment #60

    And I’ll say again: if the school, or somebody who works or studies there, legitimately feared that the professor was a threat to their life, then THAT would be a problem whether or not he put up a Firefly poster. The university’s concerns appear to revolve entirely around the decorations on his office door. If Miller has given somebody cause to fear for their life, the poster should be irrelevant because merely telling him to take it down would be tantamount to ignoring the underlying problem. It would be like if somebody had a sign in their front yard that said “I beat my kids!” and instead of calling social services, you just shoot the sign with a paintball gun. It’s the wrong solution to the wrong problem.

    The only reason we know anything about this is because Miller has gone public with his side of the poster issue, and the university has responded by saying the posters were removed after appropriate review. If there are other issues both sides have not said, and both sides have reasons not to discuss them publicly. The university’s reasons would be not to violate employee/employer confidentiality, and not to devolve the situation into a “He hit me first/No I didn’t” mire. Miller’s reason could be that it would undermine his accusation. Since the first sign went up on Sept 14, school started 9/7, and the contract year started 8/29, it seems quite possible that there are underling issues that has the administration concerned and they have called in the “social services” by having the campus police be the point of contact here and referring issue to the campuses threat assessment team. If this was a sudden flare up, Miller might very well have scared the administration and his co-workers while not giving them the time to generate the documentation they need to take action. They could be using the campus police to document the situation and give him some one to focus his anger on who is actually armed. It’s interesting that he fired off his email to FIRE after being told by his dean to meet with the him and Chief Walter to resolve the issue.

    Lofgren comment #56

    Quotes are references to a source material, and understanding of the source material is expected in order to understand the quote.

    I’m not sure I agree with this. When someone presents a cluster of words at me, I think it’s entirely appropriate to address just those words presented as the persons message regardless of the context the quote was taken from. Especially in a society where there are far more potential quote generating sources than any one person can keep up with. Of course if someone is relying on the authority of whom their quoting, I have every right to look at the original quote and it’s context to see if the authority is saying with that quote what the quoter is saying is meant. But if you truly believe this, how can you make any call on this situation with out knowing the context it arose from?

  90. 90
    Michael Heath

    freemage:

    I find it most telling that at no time has the administration or the campus cops claimed that an actual student has claimed even a slight hesitancy to approach the professor because of the poster on the door.

    I think that’s an excellent point that should give the prof’s boss (and me) pause. However I also think the weight is on the prof to prove he’s not unconsciously or consciously looking to intimidate his students who seek services from his office.

    freemage:

    A single actual complaint would solidify the administration’s position, so if they had received one, it beggars the imagination to believe they would not have mentioned it in the follow-up letter.

    As I noted before, just because I think the administration should have the poster removed, I don’t agree at all with the reasons the chief of police and the administration used to have the poster removed. The cop and the administration’s reasons were the very factors that had me previously noting my support for the prof’s decision to put up the second poster.

    freemage:

    Rather, this is very obviously a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy in effect–any poster that contains a violent piece of imagery or wording will be met with the same reaction, regardless of context, intent or appropriateness. As is invariably the case, ‘zero-tolerance’ translates as ‘we don’t want to have to exercise judgement, ever’.

    I agree, I don’t support the administration or the chief of police based on the reasons they used to remove the poster.

    freemage:

    I see no difference between this and a grade school student being suspended over a plastic butter knife in their lunch–except that in this case, the overreach not only displayed a tone-deaf attitude on the part of the administrators and cops, but also happened to cross one of the few remaining ‘hard lines’ meant to prevent abuses of authority.

    I agree here as well. Where Raging Bee and I differ on this issue is that I perceive no threat of violence here therefore there’s no reason to make any decisions based on that criteria. Instead I perceive a prof looking to minimize the amount of time he has to expend with students visiting his office. For that reason I’d have the janitor take the poster down for reasons no different than I’d ordering a mechanic in a shop take down a porn calendar which might turn off some of their customers.

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    asme

    asme…

    [...]Introducing the First Amendment to College Administrators | Dispatches from the Culture Wars[...]…

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