In volatile political times, university professors who don’t think twice before posting provocative comments on social media may pay with their jobs, as did a Tampa faculty member who tweeted that Hurricane Harvey was “instant karma” for Texas, a state that voted for President Donald Trump.
Kenneth L. Storey, who taught sociology at the University of Tampa, was the latest professor on a growing list of those fired for posting controversial messages.
Storey’s tweet, since deleted, sparked complaints to the school, an online backlash and a series of disgusted responses under the #FireKenStorey hashtag.
“I don’t believe in instant karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas,” he wrote. “Hopefully this will help them realize the GOP doesn’t care about them.” He added that “good people” in states like Texas and Florida who voted Republican red for Trump “need to do more to stop the evil their state pushes. I’m only blaming those who support the GOP there.”
He was terminated Tuesday as the university declared its disapproval and said it understands “the pain this irresponsible act has caused.”
Storey told the Tampa Bay Times that he made an impulsive mistake and was trying to convey his criticism for Trump’s stance on climate change.
“What they see in those tweets is not who I am,” he said. “How I worded it was wrong. I care about people. I love this country. I would never want to wish harm upon anyone.”
On campuses across the U.S., where protests and speaker bans have become political flashpoints, there is debate about the principal of academic freedom and whether universities should be influenced by public opinion or protect professors’ right to speak out as citizens without fear of institutional censorship.
The American Association of University Professors says professors should not be subject to a chilling effect on their First Amendment rights but ought to be clear when they are making “external utterances” on their own behalf and not as a university representative. Adjunct professors, such as Storey, are more vulnerable to termination than tenured professors.
The AAUP wrote to the University of Tampa president Wednesday urging that Storey be reinstated because he was dismissed without a hearing, placing UT “at odds with basic standards of academic due process.”
On Thursday, UT released a statement saying, “through ongoing discussions with Mr. Storey” it had “rescinded his dismissal and accepted his resignation.”
History lecturer Lars Maischak won’t be teaching at Fresno State this fall after tweeting "To save American democracy, Trump must hang. The sooner and the higher, the better. #TheResistance #DeathToFascism."
Maischak apologized, saying he didn’t mean to incite violence by the “end point of a dark train of thought triggered by my despair over the actions of the present U.S. government.” Nor did he expect that the comments to his 28 followers would be read by anyone other than “a close circle of acquaintances who would know to place them in their context,” but the right-wing website Breitbart ran a story calling attention to the post.
A Montclair State University adjunct professor was let go after tweeting he wished “someone would just shoot [Trump] outright.”
Essex County (N.J.) College suspended adjunct communications professor Lisa Durden after she expressed support for a Black Lives Matter protest on Fox commentator Tucker Carlson’s show — during which she stated, "I’m speaking for Lisa Durden."
"I was publicly lynched," Durden told Inside Higher Ed of her suspension from teaching. "Free speech doesn’t matter if you’re a professor. Make people mad and you’re in trouble."
An adjunct professor of international politics at Brigham Young University’s Rexburg, Idaho, campus was terminated last month for a private Facebook post declaring that "heterosexuality and homosexuality are both natural and neither is sinful" and supporting LGBT rights. The professor is a practicing Mormon and the school is affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She said none of her students were followers of her page.
University of Delaware anthropology professor Kathy Dettwyler was widely criticized for posting on her personal Facebook page that Otto Warmbier "got exactly what he deserved" when the University of Virginia student died following 18 months’ imprisonment in North Korea.
"These are the same kids who cry about their grades because they didn’t think they’d really have to read and study the material to get a good grade…His parents ultimately are to blame for his growing up thinking he could get away with whatever he wanted," Dettwyler said of Warmbier, 22, who was arrested for stealing a propaganda poster in a hotel. When he was released and returned to the U.S., he had been in a coma for over a year and died six days later.
"Maybe in the U.S. where young, white, rich, clueless white males routinely get away with raping women. Not so much in North Korea. And of course, it’s Ottos’ [sic] parents who will pay the price for the rest of their lives," Dettwyler wrote, evoking outrage and a response from the university condemning "all messages that convey hatred."
At Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, a professor who was fired after he made claims that the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing were staged hoaxes is suing to get his job back, saying his right to free speech was violated.
FAU has tried to dismiss the lawsuit twice, but a federal judge ruled in favor of James Tracy, who taught a course called “Culture of Conspiracy.” He said he was fired for posting on his personal blog conspiracy theories about mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut., San Bernardino, California., Charleston, South Carolina and Washington. FAU says Tracy was fired for failure to submit paperwork about his outside activities.
Parents of a boy who died at Sandy Hook accused Tracy of harassment, saying he demanded proof of their son’s existence. Tracy called them "alleged parents" and in his lawsuit he calls the 2012 tragedy an "alleged mass casualty event."
Controversial University of Tennessee law professor and conservative writer Glenn Reynolds — known to his Twitter readers as Instapundit — was investigated by the school but not disciplined for tweeting “Run them down” last year in reference to a group of Charlotte, N.C., police-shooting protestors on the I-277 freeway.
The university ruled that his tweet was “an exercise of his First Amendment rights” although it also "offended many members of our community and beyond,” wrote the law school dean.
Reynolds initially called the protest “a riot,” but apologized and said he should have tweeted “Keep driving” or “Don’t stop” instead.