A free-speech argument erupted Friday when Kansas University placed a journalism professor on administrative leave. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that David Guth, who has been at the University since 1991 and has tenure, lashed out against the National Rifle Association in a tweet earlier this week right after, and in response to, the Navy Yard shootings on Monday. The Tweet has stirred controversy and has supporters on both sides of the issue.
One free-speech organization said professor David Guth had the right to speak his mind on his personal Twitter account, the university and the Kansas Board of Regents condemned his comment. Others are calling for him to be fired. Guth has since closed his Twitter account, but the Tweet stated that the blood “is on the hands of the #NRA.” and “Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”
Gary Brunk, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas and Western Missouri, said Friday that while he personally didn’t agree with what Guth said or how he said it, the content of his tweet was “absolutely protected speech.”
“The response of the university is absolutely appalling,” he said.
The university issued a statement on Thursday distancing itself from Guth’s controversial tweet, including comments from two officials who said that while Guth had a First Amendment right to express his personal views, the tweet had violated the rules of civil discourse. They made it clear that Guth’s tweet didn’t represent the university. KU followed its condemnation of Guth’s tweet by announcing Friday morning that he had been placed on administrative leave. Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a statement that action was taken “in order to prevent disruptions to the learning environment for students.”
After a closed-door meeting Friday, Andy Tompkins, president and CEO of the Kansas Board of Regents, issued a statement on behalf of the regents condemning Guth’s comments.
“The Board of Regents expresses its disgust and offense at the statement made by David Guth,” the statement said, also saying the regents agreed with the statement made by Ann Brill, dean of KU’s School of Journalism, that “while the First Amendment allows anyone to express an opinion, that privilege is not absolute and must be balanced with the rights of others.”
Guth on Thursday told The Associated Press in a phone interview that his tweet “got a conversation going — that was exactly what I wanted to do.” On Friday, he wrote to the AP saying the university’s action was appropriate in light of email threats he and others at KU had received.
“It is in the best interests and peace of mind of our students that I remove myself from the situation and let cooler heads prevail,” Guth wrote. “I know what I meant. Unfortunately, this is a topic that generates more heat than light.”
An angry entry to Bluth’s blog expressed sadness and frustration after the events at the Navy Yard. He said the “time has passed for niceties,” and the NRA has blood on its hands.
“I don’t wish what happened today on anyone,” he wrote. “But if it does happen again — and it likely will — may it happen to those misguided miscreants who suggest that today’s death toll at the Navy Yard would have been lower if the employees there were allowed to pack heat. Those fools don’t get it.”
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