Former trustee threatens to withdraw funding over professor’s controversial statements, professor defends comments

Former trustee threatens to withdraw funding over professor’s controversial statements, professor defends comments
Professor Mike Adams defends recent twitter posts that offended thousands. (Source: WECT)

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Two petitions calling for the removal of a University of North Carolina Wilmington professor have garnered nearly 25,000 signatures in the last two days alone.

Mike Adams, a sociology and criminology professor, has made national headlines before for his polarizing statements involving race, gender, and sexual orientation. Now, it’s his comments on the COVID-19 shutdown and violent protests over George Floyd’s death that have sparked outrage.

Both petitions call for the professor’s removal, and one even asks signers to withhold all financial contributions, from donations to tuition, from the university until Adams is gone.

“For years Mike Adams has been a thorn in the side of UNC Wilmington,” the petition seeking 25,000 signatures reads. “From bullying a student into transferring to an inflammatory Twitter account that contains threats towards minorities and those exercising their first amendment rights.”

Adams, who also works as columnist for The Daily Wire and Town Hall, offended thousands with a May 29 Twitter post that read, “This evening, I ate pizza and drank beer with six guys at a six seat table top. I almost felt like a free man who was not living in the slave state of North Carolina. Massa Cooper, let my people go!”

Despite complaints about overreach by the governor during the Coronavirus pandemic, many see Adam’s use of the racially insensitive slave master term as offensive, and therefore inappropriate given his position as a university professor.

Adams defended his post to WECT, saying the slave master analogy he was making had to do with the Governor’s oppression during the shutdown, not race. But his opponents point to other comments he has made in the past that they feel gives context to “Massa Cooper” comment. In 2016, Adams made national news after calling a student a “queer Muslim.”

The same year he posted: “Black Lives Matter supporters are either racist, emotionally unstable, or suffering from severe intellectual hernia. Or all of the above.” In a separate post that year he wrote, “When someone kills a cop you know his last words were probably either ‘Allahu Akbar’ or ‘Black Lives Matter.’”

WECT briefly spoke to Adams Thursday. He said he has had concerns with the Black Lives Matter group in the past, but feels their recent protests over the death of George Floyd are warranted. The “technique that [lead to Floyd’s death] was utterly indefensible criminal homicide,” Adams said.

Adams added that his recent concerns over the violent protests are not focused on Black Lives Matter’s actions, but instead he is concerned that “criminal behavior of Antifa is being blamed on Black Lives Matter,” accusing Antifa activists of hijacking legitimate peaceful protests.

Adams also managed to offend many women with a May 28 tweet suggesting, “Don’t shutdown the universities. Shut down the non-essential majors. Like Women’s studies.”

WECT did not get to ask Adams about that specific tweet before he ended the call, but did ask him about another tweet he posted June 3 that many women were taken aback by: “When you write the university asking them to fire me don’t forget to leave a mailing address so I can send you a box of panty liners.”

Adams said that comment was not meant to be misogynistic, that the term “diapers” would have also conferred the sentiment he was trying to express: that the people complaining about him were being babies.

Adams claims that the same people complaining about his insensitive language have used profanity to describe him. He even filed a complaint with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office this week after he says he received a death threat from someone he offended.

While UNCW has expressed regret over Adams comments over the years, he has not been disciplined.

“Hateful, hurtful language aimed at degrading others is contrary to our university values and our commitment to an environment of respect and dignity. Its appearance on any platform, including the personal platforms of anyone affiliated with UNCW, is absolutely reprehensible. However, no matter how upsetting and distasteful the comments may be, they are expressions of free speech and protected by the First Amendment. The rights of free expression must apply to the full spectrum of content, even speech that may be offensive to the members of our university community and the general public. That said, please know that the university’s constitutional obligations and support of free expression do not lessen our displeasure or disgust when those viewpoints offend or otherwise upset those who read these comments. We stand firmly against these expressions of hatred, and the university is reviewing all options in terms of addressing the matter,” a UNCW spokesperson said Thursday.

The university attempted to deny Adams tenure in 2006, but ended up getting sued for discriminating against Adams’ protected speech. They ultimately lost the lawsuit and gave Adams the promotion in question. The lawsuit cost UNCW hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But Gary Shipman, a former member of the UNCW Board of Trustees and a well-known Wilmington attorney, says the university now has grounds to take disciplinary action under UNC System policy regarding political activity of employees. The policy states: “an employee may not use the authority of his or her position to endorse, campaign for, oppose any candidate, political party, partisan political group, referendum or issue.”

“What 'Professor,’" Shipman said using air quotes, “Mike Adams cannot do, that is prohibited, for which he can be disciplined including but not limited to terminated, what he can’t do is he cannot use ‘the authority of his or her position.’ Can’t do that, Mike. And you are. And you know you are. You’re an antagonist. And I got that, I am too. But I’m not an employee of a public university. And I’m not trading on my name as a professor in order to spread my message of bigotry, misogyny.”

Shipman pointed to the fact that the first thing Adams lists on his twitter profile — where many of the offending tweets have been posted — is “professor.”

When asked about the fact that many other professors are likely participating in some of the rallies that Adams has mentioning in his posts, Shipman says that Adams is different, because of the public persona he has made for himself by serving as a columnist for national publications.

“I am fully supportive. I’d sue people to defend Mike Adams as a private individual’s rights of free speech, but not trading on his public position as a professor of this university. He can’t do that,” Shipman said.

While Shipman recognizes UNCW may be reluctant to challenge Adams because they have lost a lawsuit against him before, he said this issue is different, and worth fighting for. Shipman said he feels so strongly about the matter that he is withdrawing his funding from the university, his own alma matter, and encouraging others to do so until Adams is disciplined or removed from his job.

“We review any perceived threats that are brought to our attention, and at this point, the conduct and materials at issue do not contain any evidence of a true physical threat toward any members of our community,” the statement from UNCW added. “That said, we want to encourage all UNCW students and employees to utilize university procedures and policies to raise issues or complaints related to discrimination, harassment, and/or possible threats. Further, we encourage everyone in our audience to fully engage in their rights of free expression.”

“We know this isn’t a fully satisfactory response to your concerns. We ask that you continue to express those concerns and to inform authorities if you believe your safety or well-being is in danger.”

Several current trustee members declined to comment when contacted.

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