BY JOHN K. WILSON
We have seen many cases recently of professors being fired for their political opinions on twitter, but the University of Tampa’s firing of Ken Storey today is one of the more extreme, ridiculous, and utterly bizarre examples.
The University of Tampa announced:
On Sunday, Aug. 27, visiting assistant professor of sociology Kenneth Storey made comments on a private Twitter account that do not reflect UT’s community views or values. We condemn the comments and the sentiment behind them, and understand the pain this irresponsible act has caused.
Storey has been relieved of his duties at UT, and his classes will be covered by other sociology faculty.
As Floridians, we are well aware of the destruction and suffering associated with tropical weather. Our thoughts and prayers are with all impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
Storey had tweeted, “I dont believe in instant Karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas. Hopefully this will help them realize the GOP doesnt care about them”
This is not a threat. This is not a death wish. This is not a statement urging harm upon anyone. Referring to Karma and urging people to “realize the GOP doesn’t care about them” is not unethical in even the slightest way.
The fact that Storey was fired even though he apologized for the tweet and deleted the original tweet only makes his firing that much more inexplicable.
The University of Tampa is a private college, but its faculty handbook explicitly prohibits what it has done to Storey:
“Termination for cause of a continuous appointment, or the dismissal for cause of a teacher previous to the expiration of a term appointment, should, if possible, be considered by both a faculty committee and the governing board of the institution. In all cases where the facts are in dispute, the accused teacher should be informed before the hearing in writing of the charges and should have the opportunity to be heard in his or her own defense by all bodies that pass judgment upon the case.”
Of course, none of these procedures happened at the University of Tampa. And the reason why the administration refused to follow its own procedures is because it knew that its standards could not possibly justify firing Storey. The University of Tampa’s faculty handbook explicitly protects extramural utterances such as Storey’s and directly quotes the AAUP’s 1970 Interpretive Comments as its policy: “The controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness for his or her position. Extramural utterances rarely bear upon the faculty member’s fitness for the position. Moreover, a final decision should take into account the faculty member’s entire record as a teacher and scholar.”
It is impossible to imagine that expressing dumb ideas about karma on a personal twitter account clearly demonstrates unfitness, unless you make the circular argument that any opinion that gets you fired is proof that you are unfit because you lack the common sense to be a professor.
Administrators are free to denounce the views of faculty, even though doing is often misguided and can have a chilling effect.
But that’s nothing compared to the action of firing a professor without due process in response to a tweet.
This absurd overreaction to Storey’s tweet will have an enormous chilling effect. If one weird opinion on Twitter can get you dismissed without a hearing because it’s deemed to be too critical of a Republican state, just imagine what could happen if you criticize the current government in a classroom or a public forum.
One student supported Storey’s firing: “Yes, he has free speech, but there are some things you should just keep to yourself.” Another student declared, “As a professor and having a leadership position, it’s kind of his job to keep his opinions to himself.” No, it’s not. It’s disturbing how widespread is the notion that the job of a professor is to shut up.
Storey said, “What they see in those tweets is not who I am. How I worded it was wrong. I care about people. I love this country. I would never want to wish harm upon anyone.” Storey said he was referring to the “GOP denial of climate change science and push to decrease funds from agencies that can help in a time like this.”
Of course, that political viewpoint is precisely why Storey was fired. Right-wing websites such as Campus Reform and Professor Watchlist campaign for his dismissal and led the angry mob against academic freedom.
Users who have liked this post. Please consider sharing on social media and/or making a comment below.