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After the Review

May 11, 2011

After reviewing footage of a labor-management class at the University of Missouri that became the focus of an Internet-stoked controversy, the chancellor and provost of the St. Louis campus are backing the instructors and disputing earlier reports that one of the instructors was fired.

Excerpts of discussions from a labor studies class, which were edited and posted publicly on Big Government, a website of the conservative blogger, Andrew Breitbart, “were definitely taken out of context, with their meaning highly distorted through splicing and editing from different times within a class period and across multiple class periods,” Chancellor Tom George and Provost Glen Cope of Missouri's St. Louis campus wrote in a statement Monday.

At the same time, one of the two instructors caught in the maelstrom, Judy Ancel, acknowledged that a previous statement she had made in her defense -- that she had referred in class to a documentary, but that the videos made her seem to be advocating violence -- reflected a misquote on her part.

Monday's statement by George and Cope, which followed a letter last week, was the first comment issued by administrators since they reviewed the entirety of the classroom footage. Last month, Gail Hackett, the provost at Missouri's Kansas City campus, had largely backed the version of events given by Ancel, based upon what was then a partial review. Hackett also expressed concern that the privacy rights of students in the class had been violated and sought to "underscore our commitment to the importance of academic freedom, freedom of speech and the free-flowing discussion of challenging topics in our courses." George and Cope have made similar pronouncements.

In Monday's statement, George and Cope, in addition to corroborating the findings that the footage had been manipulated, offered an alternative account of the fate of Don Giljum, a senior lecturer on the St. Louis campus for 11 years who had said earlier that he had been asked to resign. Giljum, the administrators said, had not been fired, was finishing the course, and remains eligible to teach there. “We sincerely regret the distress to him and others that has been caused by the unauthorized copying, editing and distribution of the course videos,” the administrators wrote.

Giljum said that earlier reports that he had resigned resulted from a miscommunication between him and the administration. In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, he said that he was very pleased and felt vindicated by Monday’s statement.

He added that he and several administrators were planning to meet to talk about the issues raised by the affair. “I need to sit down and assimilate all that’s happened,” he said, adding that his biggest concerns related to student privacy and how comments that are meant to provoke discussions in a classroom can go viral in ways that were not intended.

“Reputations can be really harmed, big time,” he said. “Today we’ve got such a partisan view of things that people with agendas will do these things to advance the agenda. That’s exactly what happened here.”

Representatives from Breitbart Media said that they could not respond to allegations that the footage from the class had been manipulated to change the meaning of what the instructors said. The footage, they said, came to them already edited from another source, Insurgent Visuals. “Andrew has not said anything that I’m aware of about how the video is edited,” said Joel Pollak, associate in-house counsel for Breitbart Media.

Insurgent Visuals did not respond before deadline to an e-mail seeking comment, though it did, on Breitbart’s website, say that “the videos were not edited to distort the context of Ancel and Giljum’s remarks.” Subsequently, a representative from Insurgent Visuals sent an e-mail saying the footage is "legitimate, in context, and shows state-paid professors advocating violence, sabotage and organizing for Communists." The representative continued: "They know they said it, they know it's accurate, the university knows it's accurate and they rely on lazy journalism to simply barf back the talking points from Media Matters." (Note: this paragraph has been edited to reflect the added quotes.)

On Monday, Breitbart Media contacted Inside Higher Ed seeking a correction of an earlier article on the subject. At issue was an assertion by Ancel that the classroom videos had been edited to make it appear that she was advocating violence when she said she was actually quoting from a documentary film, At the River I Stand, on the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

“I said, ‘One guy in the film ... said ‘violence is a tactic, and it’s to be used when it’s the appropriate tactic,’” Ancel said in an earlier statement. “Thus Mr. Breitbart’s editing has literally put words in my mouth that were not mine, and they never were mine.”

Breitbart Media and Insurgent Visuals pointed out that her quote didn't match what is said in the actual film -- a fact that Ancel acknowledged Tuesday.

The original footage from the film can be seen on YouTube (apparently taken from the class), and a transcript of the original film is available here. The person quoted from the film is Coby Smith, who discusses the tensions at the time between younger members of the more militant Black Power movement and the elders of the civil rights era who espoused nonviolence. “Most of us who were considered to be militant were trained in the nonviolent movement,” Smith says, “so it’s not a question of our not believing in nonviolence[;] it’s that we saw nonviolence as a tactic and a tactic alone.”

Ancel argued that her misquote didn’t change the meaning, context or intent of what she actually said -- and that efforts to raise questions about her quote are “completely evading the point that they doctored the video.”

“The entire discussion was about nonviolence vs. violence,” she said. “I was simply leading a discussion about the film… whether or not I misquoted from the film, it was definitely not me stating my personal opinion.”

An excerpt from the class -- posted on the liberal website Crooks and Liars -- does indeed show Ancel using the phrase in the context of a discussion of the film.

“He represented the kind of thinking that went into the nonviolent coordinating committee and then later probably -- well, coinciding with the Black Panthers. You know, he said violence is a tactic and it's to be used when it's the appropriate tactic,” Ancel can be seen explaining. “They never come back to him to ask him what he thought of the window-smashing in that march or whether or not that was done by them or others or provocateurs. We don't know that.”

Insurgent Visuals said her assertion that she was quoting from the film was irrelevant, “especially given the fact that she misquoted it, perhaps deliberately,” they wrote. “The context into which she introduced the misquote was not, as she claims, a discussion of nonviolence, but a discussion of violence.”

 

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