Kansas Board of Regents and University of Kansas officials were justified in condemning the incendiary tweet of a journalism faculty member after the Washington Navy Yard massacre.
Associate professor David Guth crossed a line of decency as well as civility by wishing damnation on National Rifle Association members and saying, “next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters.”
Guth, who was later quoted about such a topic generating “more heat than light,” should have anticipated the firestorm he could invite. The proper way to start a conversation, as he also took credit for doing, is not by wishing for children to die.
Where the incident gets more complicated is in KU’s decision to put Guth on paid indefinite administrative leave, and in outraged lawmakers’ demands that Guth be fired and, at least in one legislator’s case, that KU’s funding be linked to Guth’s termination.
The official reason for his leave was to “prevent disruptions to the learning environment” and allow a review of the situation. But KU’s move has the appearance of punishment abridging his freedom of speech.
His firing would further the impression that KU is trampling on not only the First Amendment but its own code of faculty rights (though Guth arguably violated a KU policy that faculty members “endeavor to be accurate, restrained and respectful of other opinions, and should indicate that they are not speaking for the university”).
That Guth’s opinion was expressed via social media raises other legal questions.
In any case, Guth’s tweet was bad timing for KU and the Board of Regents, which need to win more friends at the Statehouse if they hope to overturn funding cuts.