Tweet should cost KU journalism professor his job

10/22/2013 4:42 PM

10/22/2013 4:42 PM

More than 100 misguided but well-intentioned professors and former professors at the University of Kansas released a signed statement supporting the free speech rights of Professor David Guth.

Guth, who was placed on indefinite leave, is notorious for his controversial tweet after the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C.:

“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.”

What KU needs is a group of courageous, independent-minded professors to call for Guth to resign.

I’m all for freedom of speech and freedom of the press, but there are limits to those rights, even with tenured professors.

Here’s what the National Education Association states on its website, regarding tenured professors and freedom of speech:

“The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, but the Constitution does not guarantee that you can’t be fired for expressing your beliefs as part of your job.”

The NEA goes on to say, “Tenure does not mean professors can act unprofessionally.”

This is open to interpretation. Did the professor express beliefs as part of his job? Did he act unprofessionally?

I think the answer to both questions is yes.

If Guth is ultimately fired, that would be for the courts to decide. But as the NEA says, “The burden of proof shifts sharply to the professor.”

What Guth tweeted was “part of his job” because he identified himself as a professor at KU.

What he tweeted was also unprofessional.

It was unprofessional because we expect our esteemed professors to be rational representatives of higher learning, not reactionary — even unbalanced — agitators. Guth’s response itself contains the seeds of violence and hatred he so despises in the NRA. It shows no capacity for balanced judgment or an ability to relate to others. Bluntly, he does not come across as a professor most of us would want teaching our students.

Maybe the 100 petition-signers would say that he has a right to express any and all of his opinions in any way he wants, or even that the NRA deserved the venom.

Nonsense.

Would those same petition-signers stand by a colleague who tweeted a prayer for the children of abortion doctors to be murdered? I highly doubt it. And if they would — they shouldn’t. There are lines that should not be crossed, and condoning violence and spewing hate are among them.

The Kansas Board of Regents, which is not known as a reactionary group, sharply blasted Guth for his statements.

In the meantime, KU is now reviewing the whole episode. The university is forming a committee and will determine the charge and scope of work for the review.

Guth continues to decline comment, but assuming his response was a mistake made in the heat of a terribly emotional moment for our country, here’s what he needs to say:

“I apologize for my inappropriate remarks following the Navy Yard shooting. I believe weapons should be controlled and disagree with the position of the NRA. However, my extreme comments have damaged the university’s reputation and have created skepticism about my worthiness to teach. They have contributed to an atmosphere of hate and violence, the very conditions I oppose. I believe it is in my best interest and in the best interest of Kansas University for me to resign my position.”

This would be the best way for him to remove university officials from the no-win position he has put them in.

If the KU chancellor fires Guth, the university faces an uproar among its faculty, as well as a certain lawsuit on behalf of Guth.

If KU does not fire Guth, the university faces the wrath of the pro-NRA Legislature, and thus its threats of cutting funding until Guth is fired.

Guth got KU into this mess. He should try to be rational enough, this time, to say what is appropriate and get them out of this mess.

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