My turn: Exercising your freedom of speech - WECT TV6-WECT.com:News, weather & sports Wilmington, NC

My turn: Exercising your freedom of speech

Some people are outraged that UNCW hasn’t done more to stifle the opinions of Dr. Mike Adams. But I say good for UNCW for not getting involved. (Source: WECT) Some people are outraged that UNCW hasn’t done more to stifle the opinions of Dr. Mike Adams. But I say good for UNCW for not getting involved. (Source: WECT)

I’ve observed that most people support free speech until they find themselves not agreeing with the message. Then they want repercussions.

Free speech is ugly sometimes.  It allows high-profile athletes to kneel during our national anthem when the vast majority of us show our respect. It allows citizens to boo our Vice President-Elect at a Broadway Show.  And yes, it allows a college professor to give his opinion about a run-in between a college student and the Secret Service on the campus of UNC Wilmington. 

Some people are outraged that UNCW hasn’t done more to stifle the opinions of Dr. Mike Adams. But I say good for UNCW for not getting involved. Dr. Adams is a smart man who knows what he’s doing.  He’s pushing things right up against the line between just being crude and promoting harassment, but it doesn’t appear to me that he’s crossed that line.  And he’s getting attention for his actions, which is exactly what he wants. 

I think UNCW is getting undue criticism in regards to this situation.  If we can’t count on a pillar of our state’s educational system to support free speech, even when it is something we don’t want to hear, then I believe all is lost.  

Fortunately, UNCW has been taking the right approach. 

That’s my turn. Now it’s your turn. To comment on this segment, or anything else, email me at yourturn@wect.com.

Copyright 2016 WECT. All rights reserved.


Emailed comments from viewers:

Gary, I appreciate what you said during your column. I am a graduate of UNCW and Mike Adams has long been a controversial figure before this recent post he wrote. People do not understand this is the exact reason why professors have tenure. Without it, professors would stay silent in fear of getting fired and not take the opportunity to share their ideas with students and make people consider an alternative opinion to shape their own beliefs. Unfortunately, this is just another example of while there are few people vocal about this situation, it doesn't necessarily mean it is how a majority of people feel. I wish we could go back to a time to agree to disagree, and not shame someone just because they do not believe the same thing you do.

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You are dead on relative to free speech! May not always agree, but always look forward to "My Turn". Keep the faith!

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As a tax payer, parent, and member of the Christian Clergy, the public verbal attack upon a student by an adult professor at UNCW is both unprofessional and totally unacceptable! Calling her a queer on social media would not be tolerated at other Universities such as NC State where my child is a student. This professor is in an unequal position of power, and this goes beyond "Freedom of Speech" to a reprehensible personal attack and bullying. This social media post is an abuse of power, and this individual should not be entrusted with any position of authority over young people.

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Freedom of speech should not lead to harassment from the initiator and his/her followers to the level of hate speech by its incendiary nature. Faculty members are expected to challenge students perhaps provocatively at times but that should not be equated with harassment and verbal attack. How would any parent feel about sending their child to a university  where he or she is not protected against such kind of behavior by its faculty and in fact where they may be disparaged based on their identity. The First Amendment was never meant to protect one from the consequences of saying something that places another in potentially harmful circumstances.  UNCW has certainly made the news recently based on Professor Adams' comments but not in favorable terms.  In my opinion UNCW has dropped the ball on this one. I wonder how much Professor Adams' successful lawsuit against UNCW in 2007 has given its legal counsel cold feet for perhaps being sued again for renewed retaliation. The university's response  is disappointing to this viewer.

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Freedom of speech does not mean liberty to defame, deride, destroy another human being with the weapon of words. That is not an choice which presents truth. It is murder by voice. When the person opting to "freely voice" his or her opinion—even judgment—is a professional educator, the responsibility to choose words carefully is even more critical. Words matter. Words are important. Words can heal or hurt. They can promote wisdom or wickedness. Words evoke life or evince death. Which option evidences true freedom of speech—and which one promotes licentiousness with words? The question remains to haunt us.

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My name is Lauren Krouse. As an MFA Candidate in Creative Nonfiction at UNCW, I know just how important free speech is and prize it immensely. I wanted to use mine to respond to your “My Turn: Exercising your freedom of speech” segment. 

First off, it is laughable to me that this is being called a free speech issue when clearly it is a harassment issue. Mike Adams is a radically unprofessional professor who spends his life out of the classroom as a pseudo-intellectual internet troll tossing out hatred to readers who gobble it up and spew it right back out. Unfortunately, I wasn't shocked when an older male reader referred to Nada Merghani as a c*** and said Mike Adams was "his kind of guy." I agree with him on the second part: Mike Adams is his kind of guy. 

If this were truly a free speech issue, Mike Adams would have shown up at the University's public forum to defend himself, and Townhall.com would have actually published my comments on his article (numerous comments were never posted for no apparent reason, and I didn’t call anyone the c-word). 

It is difficult for me to watch a grown man on my local news network lightly discuss Mike Adams' hate speech as if it's on the same level as athletes not standing for the national anthem or the VP-Elect being booed at a showing of Hamilton. I appreciate that you brought up these two examples, though, because they are so clearly examples of free speech at work whereas Mike Adams' example is not. 

Refusing to stand for the national anthem is a form of nonviolent protest used to shed light on racial injustice. No one is hurt by this, and the athletes have a valid message. As Linebacker Brandon Marshall said, "I'm not against the military. I'm not against the police or America. I'm against social injustice." When people at the Hamilton showing booed Pence, they were, once again, not being violent or threatening, and they were protected by First Amendment rights.

You said “free speech is ugly sometimes” in respect to these examples. Neither of these examples sounds ugly to me. Here's what's ugly: a tenured professor writes an article in which he tears down an individual student, specifically for her sexuality (queer) and religion (Muslim). That's it. That's all the article is. 

There is a huge difference between a well-written critique of a person or group’s behavior, decisions, or beliefs and a hate-fueled tirade against one person. If Mike Adams had written a piece about how sexuality and religious belief can contradict each other, as I think he believes is true of queerness and Islam, I would be capable of reading it and forming an intelligent response. That is not what this man did. 

Don’t play Mike Adams’ game and pretend along with him that this is a matter of free speech. Grow a pair and call it what it is: harassment.  

Here’s one final thought to consider for those of you who still defend Mike Adams: Would you call this a matter of free speech if a professor attacked your daughter like this, or would you just tell her to shrug it off? 

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I respectfully suggest that free speech and bullying are two vastly different concepts and even though that word is being overworked, consider walking the blocks in her socks. Feel free to quote me.

Thanks for the sessions, keep them coming

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Free speech is offering one's opinion for or against someone or something. But what the UNCW professor did was down right bullying and I thought we were all trying to stop all bullying of any kind.

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You were right on the money on your piece regarding free speech.   Sometimes those with strong opinions must be reminded about our constitution.

I have lived in North Carolina for  4 years and have watched this state move sociologically and politically backwards.  I am especially concerned about the proposed voter ID law, and the "Bathroom law" , which in essence created a problem were there was none.  Anything talked about re the bathroom law is antecdotal.   Transsexuals are no more prevalent as predators as are gays or any other population.   And the voter ID law is especially written so that it is much harder for minority people to vote.  Not just race, but also the economically disenfranchise.   And will there be more gerrymandering to come?

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Your point about freedom of speech in regard to the drama currently unfolding at UNCW puzzles me. I agree that the freedom to speak one's mind and feelings is imperative to maintaining a liberated society. The Founders of our country agree with us as well. There's a reason the first amendment was first in the Bill of Rights. That cluster of protections, shielding our rights to free speech, religion, peaceable assembly, and the press, are integral to our powers as citizens. 

Unfortunately, as we have grown as a country and adapted to changing technology, there have been many changes and legal curtailments to that fundamental right, as well as the freedom to gather peaceably in protest. Some of those laws have been to the government's benefit, not the citizens, such as the alien and sedition laws and the municipal restrictions on protesting. However, some of those laws have been necessary to protect other people's rights, such as the laws about libel and harassment. 

This student, who had her name posted in full online, is caught in the middle of yet another Mike Adams crusade to bully and harass a vulnerable student into doing something to defend herself. There's no other reason why a grown man would be posting Twitter updates and articles about a teenage queer Muslim girl but to get a rise out of someone. There have been many stories told about other incidents involving Adams harassing students and faculty at UNCW in the wake of these events. I can't personally speak to the veracity of every single one, but it seems to me that they paint the picture of a man who is looking for someone to fight back so that he can martyr himself on the altar of free speech, like he did during his recent lawsuit against the school. 

It seems that UNCW is not refusing to act on this incident as a principled stand on Mike Adams' glorious freedom to mercilessly mock and subject a teenage girl to threatening hate mail from his readers. The school is cowed by Adams' recent lawsuit to secure himself tenure, not protecting anyone's rights. They are refusing to protect a student from being harassed by one of their employees online. This is not a question of freedom of speech. This is a question of what a school's responsibility to their students are, and how they should protect their marginalized and vulnerable students during a time of unprecedented hate violence against Muslim Americans. They have failed this student to protect themselves. 

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Most of the discussion about Dr. Mike Adams, in particular Gary McNair's recent "my turn" segment, has missed the target by making a debate about professional standards in to one about first amendment rights. The first amendment clearly protects the right to say many things, including things we personally find highly offensive. The problem comes in that a key feature of professions (as distinct from other occupations) is an internal code of conduct, such as attorney-client privilege. If a doctor released a patient’s medical information online, the first amendment would not protect them from being punished because of the code of conduct central to their profession.

For those who argue that Adams was “off duty” and therefore not representing the profession, it should be remembered that by calling out a student at UNCW by name he invoked his relationship to the university as a professor. Indeed, Adams argued as much when explaining that he referenced the student’s race, sexuality, and religion because she originally invoked them in her post from August.

It becomes even more difficult to buy the “this is just free speech” line when Dr. Adams has repeatedly called for professors and staff at this university and others to be fired for expressing political views he does not agree with, free speech be damned.

The key question then becomes: did Dr. Adams violate the normative standards of the profession, as outlined by his agreement as a faculty member with the university (the Seahawk Compact)? In spirit, it is quite clear that he did. The focus of the discussion, however, should be framed around how seriously he violated this compact and what sanctions should come from it. Arguments that stray from that narrow focus, such as those expressed by Gary McNair, will be bound to miss the target. 

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