Furor Over an E-Mail

Instructor thought he was telling off conservative organizer, but his angry thoughts on pro-war event went to student.
November 21, 2005

An e-mail sent to a student by an adjunct instructor at Warren County Community College has infuriated the student, conservative groups, and leaders of the college, where the board has scheduled an emergency meeting to discuss the matter on Tuesday.

The e-mail was sent to Rebecca Beach, a freshman at the New Jersey college, who had sent an e-mail announcement to faculty members about a lecture she organized Thursday featuring a veteran of the war in Iraq talking (favorably) about the U.S. role there. John Daly, an adjunct instructor in English, sent an e-mail reply in which he said that he would ask students to boycott the lecture, and that "real freedom will come when soldiers in Iraq turn their guns on their superiors and fight for just causes and for people's needs."

Daly also criticized Beach's leadership of a campus chapter of Young America's Foundation, saying: "I will continue to expose your right-wing, anti-people politics until groups like yours won't dare show their face on a college campus."

Beach turned the e-mail over to the national office of Young America's Foundation, which published it on its Web site, and conservative commentators have since been demanding that Daly be fired. In an interview last night, Daly said that he was worried he would be fired Tuesday night and that he has already been told not to show up for the three classes he is scheduled to teach on Tuesday, the next day he would normally be on campus.

Daly said he stood by the e-mail message, but that it was being taken out of context. He said that the comment about soldiers turning their guns on their superiors was meant "in the most metaphoric sense." Also, he said that because Beach was never one of his students and had sent the e-mail message from her personal e-mail account, he thought she was a Young America's Foundation organizer, and replied with that in mind. Daly said that if he had known he was writing to a freshman, he would not have changed the political ideas of his note, but would have used a different tone.

The college has issued three statements since the controversy broke -- with support for Daly's right to have sent the e-mail seeming to decline with each successive one. On Thursday, the statement pledged that the incident would be investigated as a personnel matter. But the statement noted that the e-mail had been sent from Daly's personal account, had been sent to only one student, and that the statement did not reflect the views of the college as a whole.

Thursday's statement also specifically noted Constitutional protections on controversial statements, quoting William Austin, Warren's president, as saying: "I firmly believe every employee and student has First Amendment rights, no matter how repugnant I personally find Mr. Daly's statements."

On Thursday night, Austin went to the lecture Beach organized and personally welcomed her, the speaker -- Lieut. Col. Scott Rutter -- and audience members. In Friday's statement, the college noted that the speech went off without any problems and added additional criticism of Daly, quoting Austin as saying that Daly's e-mail was "disgraceful and offensive."

In Saturday's statement, the college announced that its board had scheduled an emergency meeting for Tuesday -- noting that Tuesday was the first day such a meeting could legally be held. "The Board of Trustees intends to consider the welfare and rights of its students, the college community, and the public in lieu [sic] of recent events. The board will also consider personnel issues," the statement said.

In the interview last night, Daly said it was entirely appropriate for him to criticize "a pro-war rally" and said more people should be outraged that military recruiters are able to attract the college's students to enlist because they can't afford to pay their college bills and can't find good jobs when they graduate. "The YAF is trying to turn back affirmative action and to promote the war, and I have a right to speak out," Daly said.

Daly said that he has been teaching at Warren County Community College for about a year and that he also teaches at another college, which he declined to name, given the current uproar.

The possibility that he might be fired, Daly said, reflects the lack of job security facing the increasing number of professors who work off the tenure track. "As more and more professors are teaching part time, this is a direct attack on our academic freedom," he said.


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