Apparently, Professor James Miller at the University of Wisconsin (Stout campus) is a Firefly fan, because he had on his office door a poster of Nathan Fillion as Captain Mal Reynolds, with the quote “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.”
That sentiment so enraged the morons in the campus police department that they ripped down the poster. and Chief Lisa Walter sent Miller a nastygram:
I wanted to notify you that I removed a printed/copy (pictures attached) of a poster from the outside of your office. I don’t know if you posted it or if someone else placed it on your board, but it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing.
I knocked on your office door while there, but it appeared as though you were not in your office at the time. Contact me if you have any questions.
When someone complains about something because it “refers to” a killing or “refers to” drug use or “refers to” some actual conduct, it’s almost always a sign that they are censorious bastards trying to stretch a loophole to cover something they don’t like.
Miller’s reply was short and to the point:
Unacceptable to whom?
How dare you act in a fascistic manner and then sign your email “respectfully!” Respect liberty and respect my first amendment rights.
Walter, who hasn’t learned that you don’t have to respond to everything people say to you, responded thus:
I appreciate and understand the First Amendment, but also understand my responsibilities as the Chief of Police at UW Stout regarding postings that refer to violence and/or harm.
There’s that stretchy “refer to” again.
My actions are appropriate and defensible. Speech can be limited on a reasonable expectation that it will cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat. We were notified of the existence of the posting, reviewed it and believe that the wording on 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. This posting can cause others to fear for their safety, thus it was removed.
I am willing to schedule a meeting with you to discuss this further, if you wish. If you choose to repost the article or something similar to it, it will be removed and you could face charges of disorderly conduct.
As Professor Miller points out, this is insane:
Postings that “refer” to violence constitute a threat? As in a poster from Hamlet? Or a news clipping about Hockey players that commit violent murder?
Don’t threaten me with charges that have no basis in reality–I am a committed pacifist and a devotee of non-violence, and I don’t appreciate card carrying members of the NRA who are wearing side arms and truncheons lecturing me about violence.
Exactly right. Police officers have no business complaining that words on a poster can cause people to fear for their safety. Not when they’re carrying weapons.
Miller responded with another poster on his door, this one showing a diagram of a cop beating someone down, with the text “Warning: Fascism. Fascism can cause blunt head trauma and/or violent death. Keep fascism away from children and pets.”
On the one hand, calling this incident Fascism is a bit over-blown. This is just a run-of-the-mill case of an overbearing bureaucrat abusing her power for her own self-aggrandizement. On the other hand, Chief Lisa Walter certainly seems to be trying to live up to Professor Miller’s expectations with her response to the new poster:
My office removed another posting from the outside of your office. The posting depicts violence and mentions violence and death. The campuses threat assessment team met yesterday and conferred with UW System Office of General Counsel and made the decision that this posting should be removed. It is believed that this posting also has a reasonable expectation that it will cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat.
Got that? A college Professor puts up a poster showing police beating someone and the police tear it down because it depicts violence. It doesn’t get much more blatant than that.
This part gets me: “The campuses threat assessment team…made the decision that this posting should be removed.”
As it happens, I know a little bit about threat assessment. A very little bit. As in, I’ve read a few books on the subject. That’s it. I am far from an expert. And yet I’m pretty sure I know more about distinguishing actual threats than the entire University of Wisconsin (Stout campus) threat assessment team.
The materials in question — one from a popular television series and the other an anti-fascism message — simply aren’t indicative of any kind of threat. They lack specificity, especially as to the target of the threat, and they therefore lack the intimacy that makes it likely the threat will result in action. Miller’s responses to the chief are hardly enraged or indicative of unstable emotions. I suppose his references to Fascism could indicate a paranoid over-reaction, although the chief did threaten to have him arrested for a poster. And technically a fascination with violent entertainment is an indicator, although I don’t think ordinary American television counts.
In fact, as the wording of the email indicates, they didn’t do a threat assessment at all. They simply decided that people seeing the poster could feel threatened. That’s really not what a threat assessment is about. That’s not how a threat assessment team should be used.
Fortunately, University Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen stepped in and reminded Chief Walter that the campus police are there to support the university’s faculty, and that trying to suppress their First Amendment rights is unacceptable…Nah! Just kidding. Chancellor Sorensen was actually a total dick:
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.
Don’t be fooled. That’s just the standard bureaucratic tyrant’s obligatory genuflection to free speech. It always comes right before they explain why they’re suppressing free speech:
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.
Of course it was an act of censorship. Free speech is not limited to only speech which makes people feel safe and secure. Although, really, if either of the things that Miller had on his door makes you feel threatened, you’re kind of a wimp. Or a liar.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has gotten involved.