The Arizona Desert Lamp

Professors Against Free Speech

Posted in Campus, Technology by Evan Lisull on 9 February 2009

You would think that a day where the Police Beat has no marijuana citations is a good day. Yet in this case, it just means that the UAPD have moved onto more bizarre non-crimes:

A student was referred to the Dean of Student’s Office after sending unwarranted e-mails to a former teacher on Feb. 2 at 1.45 p.m.

Well, this is reasonable, I suppose. After all, this could very well fall under harassment, so long as the professor made it very clear to the student that he did not want the emails. If there imminent threats of violence, then authorities must be contacted. I wonder, though: why wouldn’t the professor just block the email address in question?

Police responded to the Koffler building in response to a person receiving unwanted e-mails. When they arrived, they made contact with a teacher who said he had been receiving e-mails from a former student. The student was mad about the grade he received in the professor’s class in the fall semester. The student said things like the professor was “biased” against him and did not like him. They also questioned the professor’s integrity and said that he should try to make things right. The e-mail also said, “You think you’re so tough. You don’t know what tough is.”

Apparently, expressing your opinion about a professor’s teaching style and questioning their integrity is ‘harassment.’ Readers can look forward to a live-blog from Tucson municipal jail after ASUA gets sick of our criticism and files for ‘harassment.’ Here’s the kicker:

The professor said he did not tell the man to stop contacting him yet. Police advised him to do so. He was told to contact police if he received another e-mail. [Emphasis added-EML]

A student is unhappy with the way that a professor has treated him in class. He decides that the professor should know about these complaints, and contacts him. This student does not swear, does not threaten violence (if “you think you know what tough is. . .” counts as a ‘threatening’ statement, then the word has lost its meaning), does nothing that constitutes a crime. Yet the unhappy professor, instead of doing something rational like writing back and telling him to stop contacting him or simply blocking the email, calls the police. These are the same police who, ostensibly, are working against real crimes, like bike theft and actual assault and drunk driving (not drunk walking!).

One would also be wise to note the chilling effect that this sort of action will have on free speech on campus. The idea that even mild criticism of a professor will merit a referral to the Dean of Students’ Office is extremely troubling. Professors have the right to be protected from genuine abuse, yes; but they do not have the right to have their delicate feelings protected by the police powers. If the university decides that this is indeed a violation of the Code of Conduct, the FIRE will have to consider making up a new ranking for the UA that is lower than the school’s current “red light” status.

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One Response

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  1. Laura Donovan said, on 9 February 2009 at 11:35 am

    I completely agree. Without sounding overly crude, the professor just sounds like a tattle tale, and maybe he wanted to punish the student in some twisted way. Seriously, though, there’s no reason to call the police over an emotional email, and as you said, there was no actual threat involved. The professor should have first told the student to stop sending annoying messages. It’s strange to me that a professor’s first instinct is to call the cops instead of handle the situation on his own.


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