Friday, March 6, 2009

With apologies to Anonone: returning to the issue of free speech and gun control

Anonone left an important comment on my yesterday post about a student investigated by police after a classroom presentation on the right to bear arms. Read that here for context.

I would normally respond to A1 in the comments section, but I am at a remote site and the wireless server I'm using won't allow me to access that page. So, A1, this is the best I can do in response. To continue the dialogue I probably won't be able to respond to anything else you offer until late tonight or tomorrow (just so you know).

After reading the post, A1 says (in its entirety):

Steve,

1) You don't know what Wahlberg actually said.
2) You don't know how he said it.
3) You don't know what his relationship was with the professor or classmates.
4) You don't know what his university relationships were.
5) You don't know his medical or psychological history.
6) You don't know how many guns he owned or if he was bringing them on campus.

My point is that there is potentially so much more to this story than is or can be publicly known that to condemn the professor for reporting this to the police with just the facts you have is pretty lame. With the historical context of mass murders at Columbine and Virginia Tech and not having all of the facts, I can't fault the professor for being extra cautious.

I am sure you can imagine circumstances where you would feel it necessary to report this type of incident to campus authorities, but the information that might inspire you to do so could not be made public (psychological history or veiled threats, for example) .

I hope that the professor was doing the right thing here. I don't think you or I have enough information to judge.


Let's first note that I am a professor, I give this type of assignments, and I work at a university that has a history of gun violence at certain times. So I am not commenting on an abstract milieu, but the one in which I live and work. That means that I may be able to glean some more from the information that is provided in the original article than A1 thinks.

First point: while I will admit the information in the article may be incomplete, I am working on the assumption that the information that is presented is accurate. If not, it obviously affects the conclusions. But the burden of proof is thereby on somebody who challenges the accuracy of the article. The ability to raise questions, as I often remind my students, is not the same thing as offering evidence.

So let's take A1's objections/observations one at a time:

1) You don't know what Wahlberg actually said.

Here's what the article attributed to him:

Wahlberg thought that concealed carry was an appropriate topic for class. It is important to note that while Wahlberg is a gun owner and a Second Amendment advocate, he never threatened to harm anyone during his presentation.

After giving the presentation - during which he advocated for students' right to bear arms....


So we glean that Wahlberg did not threaten to harm anyone (which, I would submit, can be interpreted as he did not use threatening language); that he probably told them he was a gun owner; that he probably suggested that students had the right to carry concealed weapons and (even, I suspect) probably advanced the thesis that the Va Tech massacre might have been averted or mitigated by somebody with a concealed weapon. I am assuming, therefore, a pretty radical second amendment defense. So I do have a reasonable grasp of the range of things he might have said.

A1: 2) You don't know how he said it.


By this A1 seems to mean his demeanor; whether he was matter-of-fact, confrontive, or even came across as a wacko. We do know from the post that nothing he said caused any student complaints or concerns to be recorded. We may also legitimately infer that the professor neither (a) curtailed the discussion or the class; not (b) expressed to Wahlberg that his presentation had caused such concern that it would require a call to the university police.

Having supervised similar discussions in many classes, and reading the original story, I can suggest a worst-case scenario: the young man started with a recitation of Constitutional rights and NRA talking points, probably presented as if they were the most logical conclusions in the world, and expressing mystification that anybody could disagree. Some people in the room (possibly including the professor) would have taken strong issue with these views, attempting to rebut them, and probably sharing some personal, anecdotal information about the impact of gun violence, and counter-arguing that we'd face a far more dangerous day-to-day existence with everybody carrying concealed weapons than from the status quo or even if handguns were illegal. The discussion may have become heated; classroom political discussions often do.

A1 can argue that I don't know this, and that's valid--to an extent. But like most teachers (and I'm in my third decade of doing this) you develop a pretty good feel for the patterns of discussion and conflict in the classroom. I've seen this discussion play out dozens of times, both under my control and under the supervision of other professors/teachers with completely different political views. I infer--and I think it's a reasonable inference--that the class process did not markedly differ from this scenario, or the deviation would have been newsworthy. Time will tell if I am correct about that.

updated: here's what another professor who agrees with the instructor for turning Wahlberg in, says (note the part in bold):

But Jerold Duquette, an associate professor of political science at CCSU who sits on the Faculty Senate Committee on Academic Freedom, say the Wahlberg case is not so clear-cut.

“This is a situation where both sides can come up with a reasonable explanation,” Duquette said.

“[Wahlberg] certainly has a reason to complain, since he didn’t do anything directly threatening. But I wouldn’t say the administration has a reason to sanction or punish the professor or the police.... I don’t know if I would have done anything differently in the situation.”


Here's another account of what happened in the class that suggests my inferences are on point:

After the oral presentation was over, professor Paula Anderson of Communication 140, promptly filed a complaint with the CCSU Police against student Wahlberg claiming he made students “scared and uncomfortable.” Professor Anderson deemed Wahlberg a “perceived risk” and felt it was her duty to “protect” her class.

What did the young man say in his oral assignment that was so threatening? Shockingly, Wahlberg had the temerity to discuss concealed carry laws, guns on campus in the hands of law abiding students, and the problems with the concept of a “gun free zone.” He was gauche enough to have posited that if students and/or professors had legal guns on their persons in 2007 the death toll in the Virginia Tech shooting spree could have been much lower.


I don't suggest that the instructor should be censured; I do suggest that her course of action was not appropriate.

A1: 3) You don't know what his relationship was with the professor or classmates.


I know his classmates did not complain or approach the professor (from the news account); I know that the professor approved the subject and did not terminate the class; I know the professor alleged (according to the story) that the misgivings causing the police report came from the dialogue in the class rather than any previous history.

A1: 4) You don't know what his university relationships were.


I'm not completely sure what you mean by university relationships, but I can tell you with above 95% certainty that the professor didn't either. Unless students are my majors, or unless they come into my office to discuss those type of issues, the professor won't know about it.

A1: 5) You don't know his medical or psychological history.


No, I don't--for sure. But again there reasonable inferences to be drawn. The professor neither knew nor would have access to that information (say "hi" to FERPA) because the student would have been over 18. The university police would have had access to such information, and would have felt the necessity to check such out. They neither cited him for violations of school policy nor restricted him in any way nor made a referral to counseling nor attempted to confiscate any of his weapons. This allows me to draw the reasonable inference that the police found no evidence of significant medical or psychological history.

A1: 6) You don't know how many guns he owned or if he was bringing them on campus.


How many guns he owns is completely immaterial to the story. There is no limit to the number of legally acquired weapons an individual may own. You may not like it, but he could be a gun collector with 500 weapons and it's not germane.

Was he bringing them on campus? I refer you to my previous comment: the police did nothing. They did not cite him for a violation or attempt to confiscate anything. Moreover, A1, it is not automatically illegal in many places to have a weapon on campus. Many universities allow students to have registered weapons on campus in rifle or pistol clubs, to be checked out for use on a range. In some states the university does not have the ability to prevent somebody from keeping a weapon in his/her automobile. In some states there is no specific prohibition from carrying a concealed weapon around campus as long as the individual has a concealed carry permit.

Granted: this story takes place in Connecticut, so I suspect with a reasonable chance at accuracy, that both state law and campus policy prohibit the carry of concealed or unconcealed weapons on campus. The fact that the police questioned him about the location of his weapons supports this. [I tried the school's website and could not find a policy, however, and I admit I did not have time to look up the applicable state law.)

Updated: here's the best account I can find about Wahlberg's encounter with the police:

That night, police called Wahlberg, a 23-year-old senior, and asked him to come to the station. When he arrived, they they read off a list of firearms that were registered in his name and asked where he kept them. Guns are strictly prohibited on the CCSU campus and residence halls, but Wahlberg says he lives 20 miles off-campus and keeps his gun collection locked up in a safe. No further action was taken by police or administrators.


So Wahlberg didn't have weapons on campus and had not brought them there.

A1: My point is that there is potentially so much more to this story than is or can be publicly known that to condemn the professor for reporting this to the police with just the facts you have is pretty lame.


Ah, what you've done here is subtly re-position the burden of proof. As I have demonstrated, there is a lot more information available in this story than you suggest, and that information that blatantly contradicts my inferences and experiences was likely to have been newsworthy enough to be included.

But the most important point here is that the burden of proof in this instance needs to rest with the professor. If I make allegations based on a classroom discussion wherein no students have complained that cause a student to be investigated by the university police, I have a responsibility to, well, act responsibly. I don't believe that the professor's conduct in this instance does not rise to that level, based on the information available.

A1: I am sure you can imagine circumstances where you would feel it necessary to report this type of incident to campus authorities, but the information that might inspire you to do so could not be made public (psychological history or veiled threats, for example) .


A1, I have called security on disruptive students and have informed campus police when I have had specific information about a student with a weapon in the dormitories or a student making threats--and I've done so in an environment where the stakes are real. So you don't have to go the imagination route here. I have also worked in and around law enforcement situations on military bases where this issue comes up more often than you would suspect. I don't speak here as somebody just commenting on a story: I speak as somebody with significant experience and expertise in similar situations.

What I know from the article is that the instructor did not terminate the discussion, approach the student, approach other students, or file an immediate complaint. She consulted her dean and her department chair. In that situation, with current paranoia over institutional liability, there is absolutely no chance that an administrator would advise anything else. Not because it was a rational course of action, but because it covered their ass.

The student's rights played no part in any of those decisions. Wahlberg now has an official record with the university police of having had at least threatening behavior alleged against him. That will now show up in background checks for the rest of his life, despite the fact that the police do not appear to have found any validity to the complaint.

Update: nor does Wahlberg now feel comfortable in returning to the class, even though he has been cleared:

"I don’t think that Professor Anderson was justified in calling the CCSU police over a clearly nonthreatening matter. Although the topic of discussion may have made a few individuals uncomfortable, there was no need to label me as a threat," Wahlberg said in response. "The actions of Professor Anderson made me so uncomfortable, that I didn't attend several classes. The only appropriate action taken by the Professor was to excuse my absences."


The instructor has sent a pretty significant message about the limits of debate at that university.

Here's an analogous situation (admittedly one without weapons involved) that actually occurred where I work approximately ten years ago: I had a colleague, a young African-American professor, who is a very dynamic instructor. He was doing a unit on lynching in the late 1800s-early 1900s. In order to put the situation in context he did a dramatic reading of a KKK newspaper justifying lynching as social control for blacks, who were too savage to respond to normal laws.

If you are a teacher, you know that when you read something like that in class, you have to sell it. You read it with vigor and try to use your voice to capture the sense of the writer. I can assure you my colleague is an expert at this.

An instructor in another department, walking past the door to the classroom as this went on, heard the reading, and was outraged that someone would be spewing racist filth at a black university. Without inquiring about the context (or even discovering that the reader was an African-American himself), she went to her department chair and dean to file a complaint of racist behavior and violating speech norms (has to be norms because we don't have a speech code).

Instead of getting all the facts, both the dean and the department chair helped her fill out the complaint and forwarded it, with endorsements, to our dean and our department chair, demanding action be taken against the instructor.

Even when the true situation became known to the complaintant, she asserted that my colleague should be prohibited from using the document in a class (or, at least, should not be reading it allowed) because her right not to be offended trumped both his free speech rights and his instructional judgments.

While my colleague was eventually cleared, I can make a strong case for the fact that it later hurt his promotion chances and was a proximate cause of his later leaving the university to take a position elsewhere. He is today one of the top four or five nationally known scholars in his field, and the acknowledged expert on lynching.

But students at my university do not get to experience him teaching any more.

A1, your take and mine represent the divide in our culture. I have seen you in various posts impute horrendous motives to people with whom you politically disagree based on far less evidence than this story provides. Yet here, you seem to be following Dick Cheney's 1% doctrine: if there's even a 1% chance that somebody might, someday snap, then we're justified in curtailing their rights to protect everybody else.

I don't believe that. I am clearly willing to tolerate a somewhat higher level of risk in exchange for individual rights than you are.

But--particularly with your history of bashing your political opponents with broad stereotypical strokes based on little or no situational evidence--I find your criticisms of my interpretation here to be ... more amusing than valid.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

He is today one of the top four or five nationally known scholars in his field, and the acknowledged expert on lynching.

[ Having been academically Lynched himself. ]

Tyler Nixon said...

We may need to do an intervention with you, Steve!

The fact that you spent that much thought and detail (as you always do) to answer this particular anonymous clown is very worrisome.

Seriously not worth a second of thought or effort.

Anonymous said...

"In that situation, with current paranoia over institutional liability, there is absolutely no chance that an administrator would advise anything else. Not because it was a rational course of action, but because it covered their ass."

Unfortunately for the majority of us with colorful dispositions [ The Balls to discuss issues equally.].

We will need to be more than squeaky clean. And understand the threat of personal attacks, however scurrilous can ruin our reputations and affect our employment.

As our right to speech is curtailed.

'You can get people to harm others, all you have to do is to convince the idiot that the other person presents a possibility for harm. So the idiot, premptively, destroys an innocent person,
based on propaganda. '

[ Sounds like a quote from Chaiman anonone, head idiot. ]





we

Tyler Nixon said...

Nevertheless, your evisceration of the clown was quite nicely done!!

Anonymous said...

Tyler,
Does intervention include copious amounts of beer and Whiskey?
And some food.

a pig.

Steve Newton said...

Tyler
A1 in this case is the surrogate for the argument that anti-2nd amendment rights "advocates" are making here and elsewhere.

Had A1 made the case elsewhere, I would not have bothered. But when you set up such an obvious "straw person" on my street, you're going to get what you deserve: called on it.

That, to me, is a fundamental difference between this blog and others: when I think somebody is making an poor argument, I will lay it out in detail with facts and references rather than simply calling the person an idiot.

Tyler Nixon said...

That's why I am so glad to be your 'colleague' (blogleague?), Steve.

Anonymous said...

And you also failed to provide the professor's full statement on the matter:

“It is also my responsibility as a teacher to protect the well being of our students, and the campus community at all times. As such, when deemed necessary because of any perceived risks, I seek guidance and consultation from the Chair of my Department, the Dean and any relevant University officials.”

Do you disagree with her statement of responsibility? Or are you just assuming with no evidence that she acted in bad faith because she disagreed with the student's thesis on the second amendment?

Clearly, she felt a "perceived risk" and she followed the proper channels in dealing with it. She would have been derelict in her duties and irresponsible not to have followed through on it. In fact, it would have been easier for her to do nothing.

As it turned out, this student was not a real threat. But what if she hadn't reported it, and he came back with guns blazing?

Now, you write that "The instructor has sent a pretty significant message about the limits of debate at that university." Why? Did she censor him? No. Stop his presentation? No. Tell him not to come back to class? No.

Tell me, Steve, specifically, whose and what rights were curtailed? First amendment rights? No. Second amendment rights? No. Fourth amendment rights? No.

Doesn't the professor have first amendment rights to report a perceived threat? Of course. Did the police violate anybody's rights in questioning the student? Apparently not.

But you say, "Wahlberg now has an official record with the university police of having had at least threatening behavior alleged against him. That will now show up in background checks for the rest of his life, despite the fact that the police do not appear to have found any validity to the complaint."

On what basis do you allege this? I didn't know college professors still pushed the old "permanent record" bogeyman.

On the other hand, I could say with much more certainty say that "now this professor will be hounded for the rest of her career by gun nuts who can't imagine that she might have actually experienced a real perceived threat." I would bet she has already started receiving death threats.

Steve, everybody has different levels of risk tolerance, often based on our life experiences. I know somebody who hates to drive in the rain because of an accident she was involved in on a rainy road. That this professor may have a lower risk tolerance level than you or me doesn't make what she did wrong. Maybe one of her friends was killed at Virginia Tech; that could lower one's level of perceived risk tolerance significantly.

Finally, the ad homonym about my alleged "history of bashing [my] political opponents with broad stereotypical strokes based on little or no situational evidence" is neither relevant or true. I always have evidence.

anonone

Tyler Nixon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

I am sorry, the first part of my comment was cut which was:

I wanted to thank you for the nice response, until the comparison with Dick Cheney at the end. You really know how to hurt a guy, don't you?

Without going through each point step-by-step again, I understand why you are uncomfortable over the University's response. I am also uncomfortable with it, but in the aftermath of Virginia Tech and Columbine, I can understand why the professor did what she did.

Seriously, thanks.

anonone

Anonymous said...

tsk, tsk, Tyler. Haven't we had our fun?

VAH! DENUONE LATINE LOQUEBAR? ME INEPTUM. INTERDUM MODO ELABITUR.

Whatever.

anonone

Tyler Nixon said...

LOL.

"ad homonym"?

Is that related to 'ad synonym' or 'ad antonym'?

Please try not to communicate in a ("dead") language you obviously don't understand.

Also, it is just so revealing of your mindset that you dance around the 1st Amendment issue, as if being investigated and interrogated by the police for making non-threatening political statements in a university class is just hunky-dory.

No chilling or deterrent effect there, eh?

Gimme a break with this clown.

Anonymous said...

...he wrote, responding to a deleted comment...

anonone

Anonymous said...

Tyler,

From a legal perspective, are you saying that the police don't have a right and a duty to investigate a reported threat?

Or that people don't have the right under the first amendment to report what they, in good faith, perceive as a threat?

anonone

Anonymous said...

Knock, knock

A1, 'who is there?'

Response:
The Police...
The Government...
The school administration...


A1: 'oh, good. I thought it might be the NRA.'

Steve Newton said...

A1
My frustration: I've written you three different answer and the server ate my homework every time. I'm now at an airport; maybe this server will allow me to speak.

I thought you'd appreciate the Dick Cheney shot. :)

Out of order, your concerns:

I did not quote the professor's entire statement because I did not have it when I wrote. Nonetheless, there is nothing substantive in it that I did not cover.

There is no First Amendment right involved in making a police complaint. The First Amendment deals with restraint of speech, not consequences. Presumably, if Wahlberg is convinced that her charge was malicious (I'm not advancing that thesis), he could sue.

The record: university police departments are accredited law enforcement organization with arrest powers. In order to access Wahlberg's list of registered firearms they had to enter an inquiry under his name in a national database. In order to justify that, they'd have to make a report into the DHS database regarding the fact that there was a complaint. Regardless of the fact that such a complaint was unfounded, if Wahlberg now goes into the military, into law enforcement, or into education he will--at the very least--be required to explain the complaint when it pops up on a background check. In certain cases, the existence of such a complaint is sufficient--whether proved or not--to require a waiver for a job. This is not the "permanent record" crap you dismiss it as; this is the reality of the American Homeland Security State.

Clearly, she felt a "perceived risk" and she followed the proper channels in dealing with it. She would have been derelict in her duties and irresponsible not to have followed through on it. In fact, it would have been easier for her to do nothing.

Given the preponderance of the evidence, she was undoubtedly correct in asking the advice of her chair. The chair exercised horrible judgment here.

How was the student harmed?

1) Do you really think at this point he will receive a fair evaluation from someone on record as considering him a potential violent threat?

2) She has publicly characterized his classroom discussion as threatening, despite the fact that all of the evidence available suggests it was not.

3) The student was embarassed and intimidated enough not to come to class again for several days.

4) It will be a cold day in hell before that student can freely express his views in this class on any subject where he differs with the professor.

Those are realities.

Notice how you then do exactly what you accused me erroneously of do: you assert that the professor will be hounded (evidence?) and has probably received death threats (evidence?); maybe one of her friends was killed at Va Tech (evidence?). I provided you with detailed explanations of exactly why your questions about the student himself were unfounded. You could not and did not answer those, and then shifted the argument to make the professor into a public-safety-minded martyr rather than admit what is evident from the information we have: the student expressed no threat--clear or veiled--to merit this outcome.

You're right that everybody has different levels of acceptable risk--but you do not have, she does not have the absolute right or (even as a professor) responsibility to impose an unusually low level of risk tolerance on other adults in a public setting.

Here's my final (and admittedly totally unsupportable) supposition about what happened. My gut tells me that his presentation unnerved her, and that she lost control of the class, and convinced herself in conversation with her chair that the issue was not that she blew the discussion moderation, but that the student was both to blame and dangerous. Again, I have no evidence of that, but I do have nearly thirty years of experience working in that environment, and I have seen that pattern play out on multiple occasions.

Gee I really hope my computer lets me post this.

Tyler Nixon said...

Sorry about the deleted comment. It was basically the same comment amended, and you literally posted your reply just as I deleted mine to re-post.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,

Sorry about your server frustration!

It seems to me that many on blogs are concluding without evidence that she made this report because she disagreed with the political expression of this student. There is no reason to believe that that is the case.

I believe that the professor acted in good faith in reporting what she thought was a perceived threat. As you know, there are many other ways that a teacher could undetectably penalize a student for political expression that would not cause any attention like this did, so I don't think that she did it for that. My guess is that this communications professor hears a lot of opinions that she disagrees with, and I think it would become evident pretty quickly if she were punishing students for them. On the surface, it doesn't seem to be the case here.

I have carefully read your posts, and I don't think that there is any evidence that the teacher acted in bad faith in reporting her "perceived threat" but she is being demonized by many for doing what she did, including you, who wrote that " that her course of action was not appropriate."

In regards to the student being harmed, apparently, he was the one who went to the press with this story, not the professor or the University or the police. I don't have any problem with that, but then you shouldn't be complaining about this following him for the rest of his life, either. He doesn't seem to mind. In fact, he seems to be a bit of a martyr to me

How the U.S. Homeland Security System operates is not the responsibility of the professor or the student. I don't like it either, but that is a different diatribe, eh?

What this case really comes down to, in my mind, is to whether or not you want to penalize or smear school officials for good faith reporting of perceived threats. I believe that she felt a threat and reported it as part of her duties. Do you want to "chill" professors from reporting this type of thing in good faith? I don't.

As to your questions ;
1) Do you really think at this point he will receive a fair evaluation from someone on record as considering him a potential violent threat?


Possibly not, but this should be discussed with the department chair. I think he should be at least allowed to drop the class without penalty.

2) She has publicly characterized his classroom discussion as threatening, despite the fact that all of the evidence available suggests it was not.

Where did she publicly characterize his classroom discussion as threatening? She didn't. He went to the press. Read her statement again. It was not personal at all.

3) The student was embarrassed and intimidated enough not to come to class again for several days.

He was so embarrassed that he went to the press instead of school. Hmmm.

4) It will be a cold day in hell before that student can freely express his views in this class on any subject where he differs with the professor.

Honestly, I doubt that. He doesn't seem easily intimidated. He even said that he knew "the topic of discussion may have made a few individuals uncomfortable."

In regards to your other points, I was purely speculating that the professor would be hounded for the rest of her career and I would bet that she will receive death threats. Why? Because I have seen it happen in my house simply for pro-gun control letters to the editor. Also, I was using "Maybe one of her friends was killed at Virginia Tech" to make the point as to why she or someone else might be have a lower threat sensitivity, not that I have any evidence she did know somebody.

In regards to your points from my previous note and your answers to my six questions (thanks for the thoughtful reply), most of your responses were still speculative based on incomplete press reports. I did not read interviews from any other eyewitnesses or students that were present – did you? For example, if other students did complain to the University, the University probably would not be allowed to reveal that anyway. So all we have are the student's comments, limited official University statements, and speculation and comments from people who weren't there, including you and me.

I don't see the evidence for saying the teacher did not act responsibly and in good faith by reporting the threat. And apparently, she went by the book.

But even if your admittedly unsupported speculation in your last paragraph is what happened, I still think it is unfair to smear her in the press and blogs as someone who punishes students for expressing political views that she may not like when there is no evidence that was the case. I believe she and her chair acted in good faith.

By the way, I am not against people owning guns.

Best wishes for a safe flight,

anonone

Anonymous said...

No problem, Tyler. Thanks for pointing out my Latin misspelling. It was funny.

anonone

Bowly said...

He was so embarrassed that he went to the press instead of school. Hmmm.

There's nothing suspicious about that. After what happened, he didn't trust the school (or especially the professor) to treat him fairly.

Steve Newton said...

A1
Just to close this out: I don't think that suggesting her conduct was not the appropriate response is demonizing the professor.

I specifically said she should not be censured, and I said (admittedly in a later comment) that the individual who really blew it was the department head.

Part of the problem in this discussion, A1, is that I live and work in this milieu, and it is difficult to keep correcting your honest misconceptions about how things work inside universities.

You are wrong, for instance, that the university would not have publicly acknowledged the existence of students complaints. They would not have provided details, but they would have trumpeted from the rooftops any corroborating evidence to go with her suspicions.

You now focus quite closely on the issue of "good" or "bad" faith, as if that were the issue. It's not, not really. It's a fairly complicated issue of professional conduct in a judgment call situation.


The burden of proof in such a situation is with the person making the accusation, and it is fairly clear from the police questioning that she raised the suspicion that he carried his gun onto campus in violation of existing policies. Otherwise they would have had neither motivation nor justification to run a list of his registered firearms and then quiz him over the locations. The police have no right to ask a citizen those questions without the existence of an accusation or a tip.

I say again; even if her motives were pure, the facts of the case as we know them do not justify the accusation.

We'll obviously agree to differ on this one.

Anonymous said...

Here is my totally unsupportable guess at the gist of what he said:

"If I walked in here tomorrow with a gun and started shooting, none of you could stop me because it is against the law for law-abiding people to carry guns on campus. I think this is wrong."

Something like that would be a pretty good attention-getting opening for a speech in a communications class! But even though the speaker would not mean it as a threat, I can understand why others might think it was, particularly in our age of mass shootings at schools and churches.

We disagree whether or not it should have been reported. I don't have enough information to make that judgment, so I will give the benefit of the doubt to the teacher. Sometimes "covering your ass" is a good thing, particularly if you think it might possibly be shot off with real bullets.

Finally, think about the analogy of "joking" about guns, bombs, or hijacking with a stewardess on a plane before it takes off. If you do it, no matter how unthreatening your comment is, you will almost certainly be removed from the flight and questioned, if not arrested. There is essentially zero tolerance for this speech. Similarly and unfortunately, given the mass murders by gunmen on campuses and in churches, people's sensitivity to perceived threats is much higher. It is a symptom of our age.

It was a good discussion, and your perspective as a professor was enlightening.

anonone

tom said...

"From a legal perspective, are you saying that the police don't have a right and a duty to investigate a reported threat?"

No anonone, from a legal perspective the police have absolutely no rights other than the ones that are intrinsic to all individuals. And even those may be somewhat curtailed by the Oath they swore and their duty as public servants.

As for "duty to investigate a reported threat", again the answer is no. In Warren v. District of Columbia the Court ruled that it is a "fundamental principle of American law that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen." There are many similar cases. Many states have enacted statutes barring complaints against police for failure to investigate reports, prevent crimes, etc.

Further, police should consider the credibility of any report and if they pursue it they should do so with a presumption of innocence, and in a way that does the minimum harm to the subject(s) of the report in case it turns out to be erroneous. (obviously things often don't work out that way in practice.)

"Or that people don't have the right under the first amendment to report what they, in good faith, perceive as a threat?"

"Good Faith" does not include making claims for which there is no evidence, such as saying that students were "scared and uncomfortable" when in fact no one complained about such feelings.

Anonymous said...

If the bullet hits at 3 O'clock.

What direction do I move the rear sight?

If the bullet hits LOW at 4:30,
which way do I move the front sight?


I better not work out the Geometry in my math class.

Anonymous said...

Tom,


I think that the Supreme Court would be interested to know that police have "absolutely no rights other than the ones that are intrinsic to all individuals" since quite a few of their cases have involved determining the rights of law enforcement agents over the rights of individuals in various circumstances. For example, I don't have the right to search your car under any circumstances but police officers do have the right to pull you over and search your car under some circumstances.

Yes, they are under no "general duty," but most take an oath to enforce the law and protect citizenry, etc. It isn't a duty as a legal obligation necessarily, but when police are on the job it is often called "on duty."

Yes, they should consider "the credibility of any report," and I would assume that they did, in this case. There is no evidence that they did not.

You wrote:

"Good Faith" does not include making claims for which there is no evidence, such as saying that students were "scared and uncomfortable" when in fact no one complained about such feelings.

There is no credible evidence that the teacher said that "students were "scared and uncomfortable'". None. And hearsay isn't credible. The only first hand report that we have is that Walberg himself said that he knew "the topic of discussion may have made a few individuals uncomfortable." There are no first hand witnesses commenting on the specifics of this incident other than Walberg.

What there truly is NO evidence for is that the teacher made her complaint based on the political views of her student.

anonone

tom said...

"but police officers do have the right to pull you over and search your car under some circumstances."

That is not a right, it is a power of government. A technicality, I realize, but an Important one.

Anonymous said...

That is not a right, it is a power of government. A technicality, I realize, but an Important one.

Point taken and understood, thanks.

anonone

Mike W. said...

Now, you write that "The instructor has sent a pretty significant message about the limits of debate at that university." Why? Did she censor him? No. Stop his presentation? No. Tell him not to come back to class? No.

Calling the police on someone has a chilling effect on free speech does it not? I know that if one of my professors had called the police on me as the result of a classroom discussion I would not want to step foot inside that professors classroom again.

According to the information we have it seems that not a single student complained about Walhberg's presentation, which leads me to believe that this was a hysterical, irrational reaction by the professor.