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What happened at Kansas University this week completely disgusted me, and everyone who believes in academic freedom, or any kind of freedom, should agree.

Professor David Guth tweeted in response to one of the gun-related mass shootings this week: “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.”

No, that wasn’t what disgusted me. Guth is right. Wishing that the NRA leaders might change their unrelenting opposition to gun control if their children (instead of other people’s children) had died in gun attacks might be naïve, but there’s nothing offensive about it. And there’s absolutely nothing deserving of punishment.

Wishing death upon someone might be cruel and insensitive, but it’s not illegal or punishable speech. And that’s not what Guth did. In this case, Guth wasn’t wishing death upon any specific person; he was asking the NRA to try to imagine how they would feel if their children died in gun attacks.

But the fact that I agree with Guth’s viewpoint makes absolutely no difference in my desire to defend his freedom of speech (or tweets). Imagine if a professor who is member of the NRA, in arguing for concealed carry laws, had told gun control advocates, “next time there’s a mass shooting, let your children be the unarmed people who are shot.” I might disagree with the NRA on this point. But I would never argue for that professor to be punished.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for the right-wing in America, who launched a crusade to have Guth fired. Unfortunately, Kansas University administrators have now placed Guth on administrative leave and are going to investigate him for the thoughtcrime of daring to criticize the NRA in a conservative state.

State Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, who is a high school teacher, declared: “As long as Professor Guth remains employed by the University of Kansas I will no longer recommend the university as an institution worthy of attendance by any of my students nor, as a state senator, will I support any budget proposals or recommendations for the University of Kansas.”

What kind of moron wants to cut off all funding and tells students to boycott an entire university because he doesn’t like one tweet by one professor? Now, just because I think Smith is an idiot and a scumbag, I don’t believe he should be fired from his job, I don’t believe that students should be warned against attending the school where he teaches, and I don’t believe that the government should cut off funding to that school.

State Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said, “Any attempt to continue employing this individual as an educational leader is offensive to taxpayers.” Personally, I think slimy politicians who want to violate the First Amendment are offensive to taxpayers.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, declared that Guth needed to be removed from KU’s faculty “immediately” and added, “Had he tweeted against a liberal advocacy group, a protected class, there is no question in my mind, that he would be removed.” I have no question in my mind that Bruce is wrong. Suppose after a terrorist attack, some right-wing professor blames the ACLU for defending the rights of potential terrorists and preventing the terrorist from being stopped, and then wishes that the children of ACLU leaders had died in the attack so that they might change their beliefs. I think such a professor might be criticized by many people, but I am certain that neither the ACLU nor Terry Bruce would demand that professor’s dismissal. The only hypocrisy I can see here is on the right.

Kansas State Rifle Association President Patricia Stoneking accused Guth of inciting violence, and said that her group “will do everything possible to see to the removal of this man. He should be fired immediately.”

Here’s an interesting irony: On June 3, 2013, Stoneking posted a message on the Facebook page of a right-wing survivalist militia group, the Kansas Frontiersmen. After Frontiersmen member James R. Miller Jr. posted a message on facebook denouncing the Moderate Party and fantasizing about “punching them in the throat and kicking there (sic) balls in until they can taste them,” Stoneking responded to the message by posting the home address of the Moderate Party’s co-chair, Aaron Estabrook. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Facebook page also included “a photo shared by Miller of a statue of the mythological hero Perseus holding Medusa’s severed head to which had been added the text: ‘All hail Vox Imtimidatus, slayer of liberels (sic), no matter how cleverly they hide among us.’” What Stoneking did was far closer to inciting violence than even the worst interpretation of Guth’s tweet. She provided the home address of someone in response to a message offering direct threats of physical violence. Yet, Stoneking is the leader of one of the most powerful organizations in Kansas, someone Kansas politicians would never dare to criticize, while Guth faces an outpouring of threats (to his life and his career) for daring to criticize an organization with so much blood on its hands.

In response to the Guth controversy, the KU Board of Regents did not defend academic freedom but instead declared, “The Board of Regents expresses its disgust and offense at the statement made by David Guth.” This was a gutless and stupid statement. In general, a board of regents has no business evaluating the public comments of anyone on public policy matters, because doing so creates the impression that anyone who expresses such disfavored views may face a penalty. They have the freedom to abuse their responsibilities by making collective statements like this, but it is highly irresponsible.

Worse yet, Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little announced, “In order to prevent disruptions to the learning environment for students, the School of Journalism and the university, I have directed Provost Jeffrey Vitter to place Associate Professor Guth on indefinite administrative leave pending a review of the entire situation.” It’s difficult to understand what these “disruptions” might be. If the “disruptions” are the public criticism of Guth, then there is absolutely no justification for removing Guth. If the “disruptions” are violent threats against Guth, then KU officials need to publicly condemn any threats and immediately move to prosecute anyone who makes them. When threats are made, the proper response is not to give into terrorism by suspending a professor, but to provide adequate security, and in the rare case of an overwhelming threat, to continue the teaching of the class online. The fact that KU officials have mentioned no threats of violence suggests that it is the threat to their appropriations that they’re truly concerned about.

The Chancellor’s actions are in direct violation of all Kansas University policies and procedures. The rules for KU faculty clearly protect freedom of expression, ban any discipline for reasons not specified (and mean tweeting isn’t one of them), and prohibit any discipline, including administrative leave, “without notice of the charges against him or her and the opportunity for a hearing….”

The suspension of a professor without any due process is a clear violation of academic freedom on its face. When a suspension is done in submission to demands by politicians for the firing of a controversial professor, then it is doubly suspect. When the suspension has no reasonable justification, then it has no legitimacy. It is absolutely clear that Guth threatened no one and presents no threat to anyone. Kansas University needs to immediately reverse his suspension, instead of sacrificing academic freedom on the altar of political expediency.

Crossposted at Academe Blog.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (9+ / 0-)

    The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason (www.limbaughbook.com).

    by JohnKWilson on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 07:21:01 AM PDT

  •  I would think schools are permitted to require (0+ / 0-)

    that their employees conduct themselves with some modicum of decency.  purely as a matter of law, IOW, I'll bet the school's decision to suspend the prof is permissible.

    •  Are you serious? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      poco, gfv6800

      Do you actually think "modicum of decency" is a standard that public universities should use for firing people? How many people on Daily Kos have written comments (which is essentially the same as what Guth did) that in some person's opinion have violated a "modicum of decency" standard? Should everybody on Daily Kos be subject to firing by the government?

      And the answer to your question is, no, KU does not require modicums of decency in any of its rules. There is a rule on professional ethics, but that wouldn't apply to tweeting on matters of public concern. There's another rule on moral turpitude, but that has to be "intentional conduct, prohibited by law, which is gravely injurious to another person or to society." Mean tweets would not meet this standard.

      The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason (www.limbaughbook.com).

      by JohnKWilson on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 07:39:28 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't think that prohibiting profs (0+ / 0-)

        from wishing death on children is an egregious violation of their rights.  its simply a requirement that they conduct themselves in a professional manner, which strikes me as a pretty strong interest for a college.

        FWIW, conservative blogger (and first amendment stalwart) Popehat takes a different view than me.  an interesting read:

        http://www.popehat.com/...

        •  It's a tough case, and I (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          johnny wurster, gfv6800

          have sympathy for the argument that universities have a compelling reputational interest in not having their employees wish death upon children -- but ultimately this professor sides with White. I'd rather err on the side of letting someone get away with something offensive than narrow the scope of permissible free speech.

          Hope you fall on your burger and fries.

          by cardinal on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 07:50:08 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's an easy case (5+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            poco, gfv6800, pigpaste, marina, quill

            There is no such thing as a "compelling reputational interest" by a public university in silencing speech. No matter how harmful free speech is to a university's reputation, it must be protected. The proper standard is whether someone is violating the rights of others by, say, making a directed death threat in a believable manner. That's obviously not the case here, or in any kind of wishing. Suppose that I support Obama's drone strikes (as I do) even though they have resulted in the death of children. Am I wishing death upon children? You should be free to make that moral argument, but not to have me fired for it.

            As for the notion that professors have to meet some vague "professional standard" 24/7, even when they're tweeting from their bathroom at home, I think that's alarming. And I don't see anything "unprofessional" about harsh words like these if you profession is to discuss ideas.

            The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason (www.limbaughbook.com).

            by JohnKWilson on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 08:12:11 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  they have a strong interest in their reputation (0+ / 0-)

              for having fair-minded, professional profs, especially in the j-school.  if you look at Pappas v Giuliani, its entirely about the community perception.

              •  Professors are not cops (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                poco, gfv6800, pigpaste

                The Pappas case was about a racist cop, which might indeed affect the neighborhood's trust in the police. The job of a professor is much different, it's to say things that might be controversial and offensive. Silencing professors is more destructive to their work than silencing cops.

                And the Pappas ruling, as I explain below, is bad law and not a guiding precedent.

                The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason (www.limbaughbook.com).

                by JohnKWilson on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 08:38:46 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

        •  Professional manner? (0+ / 0-)

          That would be suppressing expression of one's thoughts in order not to upset  the status quo?

          •  Quite frankly, yes. (0+ / 0-)

            Professionalism often does involve suppressing the expression of one's thoughts in order not to upset the status quo.

            No matter how much I may think one of my associates or one of my clients is a complete asshole, I'm professional enough to suppress the expression of that thought (at least in public :-) ).

            That isn't to say that I necessarily agree with those who think this professor should be fired—though I do think that wishing death upon children lacks the thoughtfulness and reflection that marks an academic thought.

            But it is to say that behaving in a professional manner often does involve having the self-control to not just say whatever is on one's mind at any given time.

            "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

            by JamesGG on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 11:56:01 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  He's an academic, not a business person. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              poco
              •  I've been an academic before. (0+ / 0-)

                Even in academia, professionalism sometimes requires that one suppress the expression of one's thoughts, or find an appropriate way to express them.

                There were numerous ways he could have expressed his vehement opposition to the NRA without wishing for the death of their children.

                "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

                by JamesGG on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 01:53:51 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

      •  BTW, he wasn't fired. (0+ / 0-)

        he was placed on paid leave while they investigate.

    •  This was protected speech, his employer is a (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      poco

      public entity and he was not acting on behalf of his employer when he said it.

      In Rankin v. McPherson,  the Supreme Court found that an employee who said in regard to Hinckley's assassination attempt on Reagan:  "Shoot, if they go for him again, I hope they get him.", could not be fired based on First Amendment grounds.

      Now, the court did leave open that in other special situations the First Amendment protection might not be available, but whether those circumstances obtain here I don't know.

      •  he has a right to protected speech, (0+ / 0-)

        but not a right to be employed as a professor. that means that the state can discipline him if it has a sufficiently strong interest in prescribing that kind of conduct.  IOW, whether its protected speech is only the first step of the analysis, and certainly the least interesting one (because it is obviously protected speech).

        As the second circuit explained in Pappas v Guiliani:

        "At times, the right of free speech conflicts with other important governmental values, posing the problem which interest should prevail. The effective functioning of entities of government could be seriously undermined by its employees' unrestrained declarations of their views. For this reason, the employee's right of free speech is sometimes subordinated to the interest of the effective functioning of the governmental employer."

        or, its a balancing test.  purely as a predictive matter, I think the school can prevail here.

        •  No, you're wrong about the law (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          poco

          A balancing test might be employed if this were on-the-job speech which materially affected job functioning. But that doesn't apply to off-the-job speech about matters of public concern. In that case, if he has a right to protected speech, then he has a right to be employed. Or to be more precise, he cannot be fired merely for expressing his political views.

          The Pappas v. Guiliani case is not a university case, and it's not a Supreme Court decision, and it was one where Judge (now Justice) Sotomayor dissented, declaring that the majority opinion "glosses over three decades of jurisprudence and the centrality of First Amendment freedoms in our lives just because it is confronted with speech it does not like." I'm virtually certain that the Supreme Court would not uphold a ruling like this, and I stand with Sotomayor.

          The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason (www.limbaughbook.com).

          by JohnKWilson on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 08:32:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  If you look at Rankin, which is, I believe, still (0+ / 0-)

            controlling precedent, the Supreme Court might have upheld Pappas because in that case the the statements
            might have discredited police in the eyes of the public, and the government has an interest in the police not being perceived as racist.

            In this case it is hard to believe that anyone will view the Professor speech as reflecting the views of the University. Professors generally are not presumed to speak for their employers in their statements. Further, and related, it is hard to see how the statements will disrupt or harm the University.  Thus,  the University likely loses here.

            (Note that if we were talking about a dean instead of a professor, the result might well be different.)

  •  This was offensive but should not lead to job (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco, Hey338Too

    loss or other employment related disciplinary action.

    I hope you'd be as quick to support someone who made the same statement about a group you support.

  •  Shoe on other foot (3+ / 0-)
    Imagine if a professor who is member of the NRA, in arguing for concealed carry laws, had told gun control advocates, “next time there’s a mass shooting, let your children be the unarmed people who are shot.” I might disagree with the NRA on this point. But I would never argue for that professor to be punished.
    I've just completed my 9th year as a daily reader/commenter here -- and I hate to say it, but there would definitely be calls for his dismissal or punishment. While not everyone would agree, the diary calling for his dismissal would make the rec list, and a letter-writing campaign to the university would commence. The most common arguments would include, "while I'm a fervent supporter of academic freedom, the notion of academic freedom doesn't extend to wishing for children to be shot."

    Hope you fall on your burger and fries.

    by cardinal on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 07:45:15 AM PDT

    •  I don't think that's true (0+ / 0-)

      I worry sometimes about the lack of devotion to free speech by the left (and those on Daily Kos), even though conservatives are far worse. And while there might indeed be those arguments from the left for firing an offensive professor, I don't think it would receive the kind of widespread acclaim that you do.

      The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason (www.limbaughbook.com).

      by JohnKWilson on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 08:03:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  John, it's true (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        andalusi

        While we have many First Amendment and academic freedom supporters here, I have been shocked by the "situational" views held by many. I agree that the left is more tolerant than the right, but I have still been surprised by what I read here at DKOS on these issues.

        "let's talk about that"

        by VClib on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 10:35:15 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  KU puts the jayhawk on limbaugh's station there (0+ / 0-)

    it's very likely that whatever station that is got in on applying the pressure, along with all other RW stations in the state.

    that station, endorsed by KU and enjoying the benefits of that association, likely says a lot worse every day.

    supporters of guth might do well to protest at that station, and pressure KU to find non-partisan alternatives.

    This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

    by certainot on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 08:05:39 AM PDT

    •  Since I literally wrote the book on Rush Limbaugh (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annetteboardman, poco, VClib

      I want to say that I completely oppose this tactic. Universities should not be boycotting radio stations for their sports broadcasts just because some host says something that offends somebody. It is no more an endorsement of Limbaugh's remarks by KU than refusing to fire Guth could be considered an endorsement of his tweets. The role of a university is not to find "non-partisan" radio station (whatever that is, since it sounds like you're endorsing a ban on progressive radio, too). The role of a university is to support free speech at every turn. Supporters of Guth certainly shouldn't be calling for equal censorship, they should be calling for free speech for all.

      The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason (www.limbaughbook.com).

      by JohnKWilson on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 08:18:02 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  those stations are not an expressionof free speech (0+ / 0-)

        those radio stations play a part in regent elections as well as legislation that effects university funding.

        they're also anti-science, do global warming denial, counter what most progressive student orgs do.

        almost everything they do is antithetical to most university mission statements.

        most of those stations might as well be KKK-lite radio. they are the biggest PC cops and censors-by-threat in any state. their liars are usually protected by call screeners, prompted by paid callers, and much of their material scripted and coordinated by RW think tanks and the GOP. and they are part of a well-protected monopoly, not an expression of market forces.

        the notion those stations represent some expression of free speech is like saying corporations are people.

        many RW talk stations became RW talk stations AFTER the stations were first picked to broadcast university sports. i wouldn't be surprised to find out that was part of the strategy in buying up the monopoly. as many as 40% of RW radio stations (over 28% of limbaugh stations) may piggyback the community standing of publicly funded schools.

        there are plenty of apolitical radio stations most universities can go to.

        the best thing student activists could do for progressive causes would first be to stop allowing their own universities to undermine their own efforts by putting team logos on the few blowhards attacking and yelling over them successfully.

        This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

        by certainot on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 09:57:30 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  PS do you know what kind of support he has? (0+ / 0-)

        i doubt he does much of his own research and reading and i can't believe he pays for a staff to do that research. he may pay for some of his show prep to put the show material together in a form he likes but i'll bet that's it.

        i imagine the heritage foundation does a lot for limbaugh and hannity and maybe others in some way. did you find out if there was one group or think tank in particular that did a lot of that work for him?

        i'm wondering if others are paying staff to help him/them with research and prep.

        This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

        by certainot on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 01:45:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Rush's staff (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          certainot

          He has a very small staff to do research, mostly finding audio clips for him to play. But Rush does a lot of his own "research"--meaning, he reads right-wing blogs and articles people email to him, and then he sits there and talks about them. Fortunately for Rush, being wrong doesn't take a lot of research.

          The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason (www.limbaughbook.com).

          by JohnKWilson on Mon Sep 23, 2013 at 03:42:15 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  he's a genius extemporizer and rationalizer but i (0+ / 0-)

            wonder how much of the original work he does himself.

            i've heard him spin/reference material that is immediate and breaking that's been 'spun' already, or that he is spinning consistent with the official GOP or bush admin position.

            it's hard for me to believe he and his staff doesn't get a fair bit of prepared material from the think tank pros, who he may refer to as his friends "i got an email from a friend...."

            if rove bush card wanted to start or spin or stop something all they had to do was call limbaugh- no one else can do that national messaging.

            i think he's always had first dibs on the breaking stuff straight from the horses mouth, which would have been rove's teams until obama won the white house. i think the rove/bush GOP were pissed at him for not backing mccain until the eve of the convention, when limbaugh may have forced them to pick palin (maybe one of a few choices)- not having limbaugh on board for the convention would have been a disaster. the choice palin was announced minutes before his fri show, then he announced it made the difference for  him and he was on board.

            once rove lost the white house he lost control of limbaugh so freedom works/armey/ koch bros saw an opportunity and they exposed what used to be an invisible rove army- which is now called the tea party.

            my point is, is it payola? how much effort off site goes into/went into prepping his material and who paid that staff? he's done promos for the heritage foundation, but does that cover it?

            This is a list of 76 universities for Rush Limbaugh that endorse global warming denial, racism, sexism, and GOP lies by broadcasting sports on over 170 Limbaugh radio stations.

            by certainot on Mon Sep 23, 2013 at 09:12:21 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I sent an email complaint about this to the KU (0+ / 0-)

    administration, making the point that the 2d Amendment does not trump the rest of the Bill of Rights.  No reply of course.  So I shared my comments with a friend who responded:  "...My guess is that they know their donors well...."  That pretty well says what can be expected in Kansas!

  •  Well, among other things, (0+ / 0-)

    the tweet was not only offensive (I find it disturbing that you think it wasn't), but ignorant as fuck.  Does he know whether the parents of any of the Navy Yard victims are NRA? (Or the victims themselves, for that matter?)  Did he bother to find out?  Does he even care?  Or was he just being an idiot?

    Probably just being an idiot.

    Not a fire-able offense, though, being an idiot.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 11:51:19 AM PDT

  •  so much for the sanctity of academic tenure (0+ / 0-)
    Stanford fired H. Bruce Franklin in 1972, even though he had academic tenure, for leading a group of students to occupy the computer center and urging students and faculty to strike in protest against the invasion of Laos and Stanford's involvement in the war. Firing a tenured professor was quite a feat: the University's rules provided for due process. A tenure-review committee was chosen, from professors outside Franklin's department, composed of associate or full professors. A medium-sized Physics Department lecture hall was converted into a courtroom, with the usual furniture and paraphernalia. A Los Angeles attorney, Paul Valentine, was retained to plead the University's case. Franklin defended himself, with advice from a law student and a well-known constitutional lawyer. Evidence was heard for each side, witnesses were cross-examined, and summations given, and the panel left the room to consider its verdict, which was guilty of violating the university's Disruption Policy, punishable by revocation of tenure and termination with prejudice.
    Franklin was blacklisted and without regular employment for three years (although he had brief visiting faculty positions at Wesleyan University and Yale). In 1975 he was hired as a (tenured) full professor at Rutgers, where he has since been named the John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies, and has received numerous awards for teaching and scholarship.

    Warning - some snark may be above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 "I’m not the strapping young Muslim socialist that I used to be" - Barack Obama 04/27/2013

    by annieli on Sun Sep 22, 2013 at 11:55:39 AM PDT

  •  Is John Yoo still teaching? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poco

    Well then.

  •  Honestly... (0+ / 0-)

    I wonder if putting Prof. Guth on administrative leave is meant to keep him off campus in case anyone comes looking to make good on their threat.

    That and looking making it look to the legislature like they're doing something.  

    The more people have guns, the more people use guns. It ain't rocket science.

    by nominalize on Tue Sep 24, 2013 at 08:08:26 AM PDT

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