Last week I told you about the theater professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout who was warned he could be facing criminal charges. Why? Because he kept making a fuss about the university taking down his poster of Firefly‘s Malcolm Reynolds with this 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.” Somehow they turned this into the professor making “death threats,” and it became a bigger deal when some of the cast members of Firefly found out about it and said, “Yeah, wait, what?”
Good follow-up news from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which originally disseminated the story:
The following statement was sent today to students, faculty and staff from Chancellor Sorensen, Provost Julie Furst-Bowe and Vice Chancellor Ed Nieskes regarding the “Firefly” poster incident:
The recent discussion resulting from the removal of two posters hanging outside the door of a University of Wisconsin-Stout professor in Harvey Hall has raised serious First Amendment concerns, both on campus and across the country.
It is important to note that the posters were not removed to censor the professor in question. Rather, they were removed out of legitimate concern for the violent messages contained in each poster and the belief that the posters ran counter to our primary mission to provide a campus that is welcoming, safe and secure.
In retrospect, however, it is clear that the removal of the posters – although done with the best intent – did have the effect of casting doubt on UW-Stout’s dedication to the principles embodied in the First Amendment, especially the ability to express oneself freely. As many people have pointed out in the days since this issue surfaced, a public university must take the utmost care to protect this right.
Therefore, UW-Stout has reconsidered its decision to remove the two posters from outside the professor’s office, meaning he can display them if he so chooses.
The administration also is reviewing its procedures for handling these kinds of cases, and a new protocol is being developed in the hopes that a similar situation can be avoided in the future.
Free speech. On a college campus. In Wisconsin.
Maybe there’s hope after all.
(Hat tip: The man they call Jayne)