KU case shows how backlash from professors’ remarks can inflame politicians

September 19, 2013

by Brad Cooper

One professor compared terror victims to Nazis. Another suggested the feds toppled the twin towers. A third accused Republicans of raping the country.

And the most recent eyebrow-raiser from an ivory tower: The children of gun rights advocates deserve to be taken out in the next mass shooting.

The same colleges and universities whose scholars grab unfriendly headlines must look for money from legislatures that often find their views not just provocative, but offensive.

That's exacerbated by campuses perceived to lean left that must seek appropriations from state legislatures that increasingly tilt to the right.

Consider the spot that the University of Kansas finds itself in after a journalism professor's recent tweet wished violence on the National Rifle Association after the Washington Navy Yard shootings.

"Blood is on the hands of the #NRA," David Guth tweeted. "Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters."

The reaction to Guth's comments was fast and furious, especially from conservative Kansas legislators who want Guth fired and who threaten to oppose funding for the university. KU has put the tenured associate journalism professor on leave.

"The (KU) leadership probably finds itself in a tough spot," said Rep. John Wilson, a Democrat from Lawrence. "They don't want the stupid actions of one professor to jeopardize funding - at least that's what I assume they would be thinking."

Some people see what's happening in Kansas as another threat to academic freedom, which generally allows faculty and students to participate in discourse without fear of censorship or retaliation.

They see KU's response as another sign of colleges and universities getting jumpy about politically charged remarks that could repulse the very legislators who decide how much is spent on higher education.

"I think there is ratcheted-up pressure," said Martin Snyder, interim executive director of the American Association of University Professors.

Guth is the latest in a line of professors who've incited political backlash for their unpopular remarks.


· At the University of Colorado, professor Ward Churchill ignited a storm in 2005 for an earlier essay comparing 9/11 victims to Nazis. The Colorado House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning him. The governor wanted him fired.

• At the University of Wisconsin, Kevin Barrett triggered outrage a year later for arguing that the 9/11 attacks were the work of the federal government.

• Early this month, Michigan State University creative writing professor William Penn came under fire when an Internet video showed him ranting in class against Republicans.

Typically, controversy caused by professors tends to reinforce the belief among conservatives that higher education is a refuge for leftists who shut off young minds to conservative ideas.

But not always. Kris Kobach, now the Republican and outspoken conservative Kansas secretary of state, wrote an opinion piece for The Kansas City Star in 1999 arguing lawmaking skills in Missouri, Kansas and elsewhere were on the decline. He was on the faculty of the University of Missouri-Kansas City law school at the time...

Schools: University of Kansas Cases: University of Kansas: Anti-NRA Tweet Results in Professor’s Suspension