Kansas Faculty Senate Affirms Free Speech
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University of the Kansas’ Faculty Senate has voted to affirm free speech rights and academic freedom for faculty members, following the removal from the classroom last month of a professor who made headlines last for his anti-National Rifle Association Twitter remark. "The University of Kansas Faculty Senate endorses the principles of First Amendment rights, academic freedom, and due process, and will work to see that these principles are followed with respect to all faculty,” reads the statement, which the Senate unanimously approved last week, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.
The statement does not mention by name David Guth, the professor of communications who was suspended from teaching after he posted the following tweet in the aftermath of the Washington Navy Yard shootings: "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." A separate statement by the Senate's Committee on Faculty Rights, Privileges and Responsibilities about Guth's case references extramural utterances, which “rarely bear upon the faculty member’s fitness for the position.” Guth initially defended his remarks, saying he was tweeting as a private citizen; later he said he agreed with the university to begin a planned sabbatical early. Kansas has said his removal from teaching was not a punitive action, but an attempt to maintain classroom order, given the amount of attention his comments received, including physical threats. The Senate committee disagreed, saying in its statement that the move appeared to be a sanction, “applied without compliance with university rules and regulations,” and faculty handbook. (Note: This paragraph has been updated from an earlier version.)
Guth declined to comment. A university spokeswoman said she had no update on his case, and did not respond to a request for comment about the Senate statement. In an e-mail, Christopher Steadham, law librarian and Faculty Senate chair, said the vote was prompted "by the wide range of perspectives that faculty members across campus had shared with Faculty Senate leadership," and that the body had intentionally avoided taking any position on Guth's being put on paid leave, to avoid "injecting prejudice" into his case. Shared governance representatives will participate in his review, a date for which was not available.