Right-wing media is attacking progressive University of Rhode Island professor Erik Loomis for a tweet about the NRA and his university is not standing behind him. The scholars at the progressive blog Crooked Timber have organized a letter standing up for Loomis.
Can you join the other professors and stand up for academic freedom? Add your name to the letter supporting Erik Loomis.
"We insist that the University of Rhode Island take a strong stand for the values of academic freedom and freedom of speech, that it not be intimidated by an artificially whipped-up media frenzy, that it affirm that the protections of the First Amendment require our collective enforcement, and that all employers—particularly, in this kind of case, university employers—have a special obligation to see that freedom of speech become a reality of everyday life."
Chris Bertram, University of Bristol
Harry Brighouse, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Michael Bérubé, The Pennsylvania State University
Henry Farrell, George Washington University
Kieran Healy, Duke University
Jon Mandle, SUNY Albany
John Quiggin, University of Queensland
Eric Rauchway, University of California Davis
Corey Robin, Brooklyn College
Brian Weatherson, University of Michigan
The organizers will deliver signatures to University of Rhode Island administrators.
Erik Loomis is no stranger to this blog. A gifted young scholar of US labor and environmental history, Loomis is also a blogger at Lawyers, Guns and Money. Many of us have tussled and tangled with him, most recently over whether leftists should vote for Obama. We have often disagreed with Loomis, not always pleasantly or politely, and he has certainly given as good as he has got.
But now we must stand by Loomis’s side and speak up and out on his behalf, for he has become the target of a witch hunt, and as an untenured professor at the University of Rhode Island, he is vulnerable. Loomis needs our solidarity and support, and we must give it to him.
This past Friday, in the wake of the tremendous grief and outrage millions of people felt over the Newtown mass shooting, Loomis tweeted the following: I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.
Wayne LaPierre is the head of the National Rifle Association. It seems obvious to us that when Loomis called for LaPierre’s head on a stick, he had in mind something like this from the Urban Dictionary: A metaphor describing retaliation or punishment for another’s wrongdoing, or public outrage against an individual or group for the same reason. After the BP Oil Spill; many Americans would like to see Tony Hayward’s head on a stick, myself included.
Ever since putting someone’s head on a stick ceased to be a routine form of public punishment—indeed, the last instance of it we can think of is fictional (Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, though it references an actual event from the French Revolution)—calling for someone’s head has been a fairly conventional way to express one’s outrage or criticism. Two months ago, for example, right-wing blogger Glenn Reynolds voiced his anger over the State Department’s lax provision of security in Benghazi by demanding, “Can we see some heads roll?” Yet that very same Glenn Reynolds is now accusing Loomis of using “eliminationist rhetoric.”
Other conservative voices have joined in. The Daily Caller says Loomis “unleashed a flurry of profanity-ridden tweets demanding death for National Rifle Association executive Wayne LaPierre.” Townhall put Loomis’s tweets in the context of NRA members and leaders getting death threats. And just this morning, Michelle Malkin wrote at National Review Online:
What’s most disturbing is that the incitements are coming from purportedly respectable, prominent, and influential public figures. Consider the rhetoric of University of Rhode Island professor Erik Loomis…. Unfortunately, Loomis is not alone…. So, it’s come to this: Advocating beheadings, beatings, and the mass murder of peaceful Americans to pay for the sins of a soulless madman. But because the advocates of violence fashion themselves champions of nonviolence and because they inhabit the hallowed worlds of Hollywood, academia, and the Democratic party, it’s acceptable? Blood-lusting hate speech must not get a pass just because it comes out of the mouths of the protected anti-gun class.
This campaign has now brought Loomis into the crosshairs of the state and his employer. Loomis has already been questioned by the Rhode Island State Police, who told him that someone had informed the FBI that Loomis had threatened LaPierre’s life. Loomis also has been hauled into a meeting with his dean. And now the president of the University of Rhode Island, where Loomis teaches, has issued the following statement: The University of Rhode Island does not condone acts or threats of violence. These remarks do not reflect the views of the institution and Erik Loomis does not speak on behalf of the University. The University is committed to fostering a safe, inclusive and equitable culture that aspires to promote positive change.
We do not expect any better of the orchestrators of this campaign—this is what they have done for many years, and doubtless will be doing for years to come. We do expect better of university administrators. Rather than standing behind a member of their faculty, the administration has sought to distance the university from Loomis.
Even to suggest that Loomis’s tweet constitutes a “threat of violence” is an offense against the English language. We are dismayed that the university president completely fails to acknowledge the importance of academic freedom and of scholars’ freedom independently to express views (even intemperate ones) on topics of public importance. This statement—unless it is swiftly corrected— should give alarm to scholars at the University of Rhode Island, to scholars who might one day consider associating themselves with this institution, and to academic and professional associations that value academic freedom.
However, this is not merely a question of academic freedom. It also speaks to a broader set of rights to speak freely without the fear of being fired for controversial views that many of us have been flagging for years. Everyone should be clear what is going on. As a blogger at Atrios has pointed out, what the witch hunters want is for Loomis to be fired. Indeed, the calls have already begun (see comment thread here). Though Loomis has a union, his lack of tenure makes him vulnerable.
We insist that the University of Rhode Island take a strong stand for the values of academic freedom and freedom of speech, that it not be intimidated by an artificially whipped-up media frenzy, that it affirm that the protections of the First Amendment require our collective enforcement, and that all employers—particularly, in this kind of case, university employers—have a special obligation to see that freedom of speech become a reality of everyday life.