University confiscates prof’s door posters as ‘threat’

Officials say they removed TV character’s quote to protect campus

Posted: October 01, 2011
By Michael Carl

A Midwest university has censored a professor for displaying a poster on his office door with a television character’s quotation that school officials contend “can be interpreted as a threat.”

The poster by University of Wisconsin-Stout theater Professor James Miller was one of two items removed from his door by campus police at the direction of university police Chief Lisa Walter and with the support of Chancellor Charles Sorensen.

The campus police chief has threatened Miller with criminal charges for disorderly conduct if he duplicates the postings, and the professor is demanding that the Menomonie, Wisc., university respect his First Amendment rights.

The initial offending poster depicts a quotation from actor Nathan Fillion’s character Mal in the sci-fi series “Firefly” that aired briefly on Fox in 2002.

Confronting an adversary, Mal says, “You don’t know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake. You’ll be facing me. And you’ll be armed,” the Daily Caller reported.

Miller put up the poster Sept. 12, and four days later Walter removed it, explaining in an email that “it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing.”

Miller responded to the university police chief’s actions by putting up an orange caution sign that states “Warning: Fascism.” It, too, was removed. The sign shows a stick figure beating a prone figure with a club. Beneath the figures it states, “Fascism can cause blunt trauma and/or violent death. Keep fascism away from children and pets.

Miller has sought help from FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a non-profit group that advocates free-speech rights on university campuses.

FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel boiled down the issue: “A professor has been censored twice, reported to the ‘threat assessment team,’ and threatened with criminal charges because of satirical postings on his office door.”

Kissel said that after FIRE intervened, the chancellor and other senior administrators “defended the university’s absurd actions.”

Kissel believes the university is engaging in a clear case of politically correct censorship, citing the chancellor’s defense.

In a statement, Sorenson called the removal of the poster an “act of sensitivity” and “care” for the university community.

Kissel, in contrast, called it “one of the most extreme abuses of the First Amendment caused by an overreaching ‘threat assessment team.'”

Contacted by WND for comment, Mell referred WND to the university’s press statement in which Sorensen claimed the entire issue is being misrepresented.

Sorensen insisted that the university believes in free speech.

“UW-Stout administrators believe strongly in the right of all students, faculty and staff to express themselves freely about issues on campus and off. This freedom is fundamental on a public university campus,” Sorensen’s said in his statement.

But the chancellor maintained that the posters constituted a threat, arguing the administration has “the responsibility to promote a campus environment that is free from threats of any kind – both direct and implied.”

“It was our belief, after consultation with UW System legal counsel, that the posters in question constituted an implied threat of violence. That is why they were removed,” he said.

Sorenson contended it was “not an act of censorship.”

“This was an act of sensitivity to and care for our shared community, and was intended to maintain a campus climate in which everyone can feel welcome, safe and secure,” the statement said.

Kissel said that Miller is keeping all options open. But he emphasized that “the regents or the university can resolve the problem by acknowledging the mistakes and reassuring the UW-Stout campus that free speech will truly be protected, including when someone quotes a television show on a poster.”

University officials have called off a planned threat-assessment meeting. Kissel believes it’s because they felt the heat.

“After FIRE brought national attention to the issue, the meeting was canceled,” he said.

He called the cancellation, however, “too little, too late” and said the mass emailing of the university’s statement made the problem “much worse.”

The university has not changed its position that the Fillion poster constituted an incitement to violence, Kissel said. The FIRE VP believes that by canceling the meeting, the university hopes the issue will go away.

Professor Miller has not responded to WND’s request for an interview.

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