BY HANK REICHMAN
As classes begin at colleges and universities across the country the wave of targeted online harassment of faculty members in response to comments made as private citizens — and the often cowardly responses of their administrations — continues unabated.
At Dartmouth College, lecturer Mark Bray, an emerging expert on anti-fascist movements, received death threats and anti-Semitic messages after he suggested in a discussion of violent responses to fascism that “it’s a privileged position to be able to say that you never have to defend yourself from these kinds of monsters.” The comments came in a debate with Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, on NBC’s Meet the Press August 20 and were reported on negatively by Campus Reform, a website whose coverage of left-leaning faculty members frequently produces threats and harassment.
Instead of forthrightly defending Bray’s academic freedom, Dartmouth President Philip Hanlon issued this statement:
Recent statements made by Lecturer in History Mark Bray supporting violent protest do not represent the views of Dartmouth. As an institution, we condemn anything but civil discourse in the exchange of opinions and ideas. Dartmouth embraces free speech and open inquiry in all matters, and all on our campus enjoy the freedom to speak, write, listen and debate in pursuit of better learning and understanding; however, the endorsement of violence in any form is contrary to Dartmouth values.
In a letter to Hanlon 120 Dartmouth faculty members called on him to retract this statement and apologize to Bray. “Since the violent neo-Nazi attack on Charlottesville, we have watched with gratitude as our junior colleague Mark Bray, on the strength of his historical scholarship, has become the national expert on a subject that is suddenly, terribly urgent: the 20th century history of fascism and anti-fascism in Europe and, more recently, the U.S.,” they wrote. “This, of course, is the kind of public recognition of Dartmouth scholarship that is celebrated in most situations. Instead, in this case, Bray has been disavowed by Dartmouth.”
According to the letter,
No one seems to have checked to find out what Professor Bray actually said on NBC and in his other appearances and op-eds. The characterization of his remarks in the Campus Reform piece and Dartmouth’s statement is simply inaccurate. . . .
Professor Bray was exposed to violent threats, without so much as a basic effort even to warn him that the College intended to endorse the mischaracterization of his position and the implied attack on his scholarly standing by making clear he had no institutional support. By submitting the statement to such a site, the College has placed Professor Bray and his family in Hanover in real danger, as well as undermining his professional reputation and signaling to potential recruits to our campus that they cannot expect to be supported or even consulted if an external agent—howsoever avowedly hostile to the norms of civil conduct and academic freedom–takes issue with their research.
At no point in his interviews did Professor Bray call for violent protest.
He did make the irrefutable historical point that fascism has not been stopped by usual recourse to public debate and democratic electoral politics; we fought a war because of that fact. . . .
We urge you to consider the lasting damage to Dartmouth’s reputation that follows from such actions as well as the personal danger in which Professor Bray now finds himself. We request that Dartmouth remove the statement on Professor Bray; apologize to him for exposing him to entirely predictable possibility of physical harm; and initiate a review of peer-institution norms and recommended procedures on how to react when such a situation arises again—as it most certainly will.
In a statement released today the AAUP declared:
We remain concerned about the wave of intimidation and threats that have swept campuses and the country this year, including, very recently, in the case of Mark Bray, a lecturer in history at Dartmouth College.
Following an article on the website Campus Reform that accused Bray of “endors[ing] Antifa violence,” he has been subject of death threats and targeted online harassment.
We have recently seen a surge in politically motivated, targeted harassment against academics, especially those in ethnic and gender studies.
We call on the administration of Dartmouth College to speak out clearly and forcefully in defense of the rights of faculty and students generally, and Bray specifically, and to condemn the targeted harassment of Bray.
Meanwhile, at the University of Tampa, a visiting professor who posted a tweet Sunday suggesting the devastation of Hurricane Harvey is “instant karma” for Texas because it voted Republican, has been summarily dismissed. “We condemn the comments and the sentiment behind them, and understand the pain this irresponsible act has caused,” university spokesman Eric Cardenas said in a statement this morning. “As Floridians, we are well aware of the destruction and suffering associated with tropical weather.”
Kenneth L. Storey posted the tweet and two responses before removing the entire thread — as well as his profile photo — and issuing an apology. “I deeply regret a statement I posted yesterday,” he wrote. “I never meant to wish ill will upon any group. I hope all affected by Harvey recover quickly.” The original tweet read, “I don’t believe in instant karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas. Hopefully this will help them realize the GOP doesn’t care about them.”
Storey’s tweet was publicized by the conservative websites Turning Point USA, which added him to its Professor Watchlist, and Campus Reform. In response Storey received numerous threats and abusive messages.
At first the university posted this reaction to its Facebook page:
The University of Tampa stands in solidarity with the people impacted by Hurricane Harvey, and our thoughts and prayers are with all involved. The comments made by Kenneth Storey were made via his private social media account. They were not made within his capacity as a faculty member, and they don’t represent the University’s views. The University of Tampa condemns these comments and the sentiment behind them.
Nonetheless the page received numerous requests for Storey’s dismissal, to which they now have apparently agreed.
Despite his “visiting” title Storey has taught sociology at The University of Tampa since 2011 and also teaches at Hillsborough Community College. He has a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Central Florida,
The AAUP and others will surely be following this case as it develops. In the meantime we continue to call on college and university leaders to denounce the targeted online harassment of their faculty members and to more forthrightly defend academic freedom, including the freedom of faculty members to speak as private citizens, even when their comments may provoke controversy or outrage.
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