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Board of Trustees member asks Chancellor to investigate after UNCW Professor posts ‘Blow up Republicans’

Published: Jun. 25, 2021 at 4:09 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - A UNCW Professor is facing scrutiny after posting ‘Blow up Republicans’ on his Facebook page. The post was created on May 17, according to Campus Reform and screenshots have been published of the post, which has since been deleted.

Dan Johnson is an associate professor at UNCW where he teaches recreation therapy, according to UNCW’s faculty page.

UNCW spokeswoman Andrea Weaver confirmed the university was aware of the post and offered a statement.

“UNCW was made aware of a now-deleted social media post made by a UNCW faculty member on a personal platform. The university acted on the information in a timely and appropriate manner. The faculty member expressed deep remorse and deleted the post,” according to the statement.

Despite UNCW’s statement, Board of Trustee member Woody White sent an email to the rest of the board along with Chancellor Jose Sartarelli voicing his concerns with the Facebook post, as well as what he perceives as a double standard when it comes to free speech.

“Our BOT has, under Dennis’ leadership, has given lip service that we value free speech for years and we have tried to create an environment where it is protected. The problem at UNCW, and at nearly every other university across the nation, is the double standard. Free speech is tolerated – even celebrated – when it condemns conservative thought and speech. When it goes the other way, conservatives are shamed, canceled and bullied. Just last year, our chancellor was censored by the faculty and student body for what he said at a town hall. And he did not suggest that anyone should be blown up,” White wrote.

White was referring to an incident that occurred in December of 2020 where the Faculty Senate voted 51-20 to censure Sartarelli.

A post that has since been deleted by UNCW professor Dan Johnson.
A post that has since been deleted by UNCW professor Dan Johnson.(CampusReform.Org)

“Will the faculty and students convene a tribunal to condemn Mr. Johnson, as they did the Chancellor, if it is determined that Mr. Johnson said “Blow up Republicans”?” White wrote.

The post by Johnson is not the first time a UNCW professor drew criticism for his social media presence, most notably, former professor Mike Adams.

The university attempted to deny Adams tenure in 2006 but ended up getting sued for discriminating against Adams’ protected speech. The university lost that lawsuit and it cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

White mentions Adams by name, admitting that although he made distasteful comments, he never ‘suggested blowing up anything.’

Student President responds

Robert Fensom, student body president, responded to the email chain criticizing any further investigation into the post, saying it would have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech.

“To begin, my understanding of the status of Mr. Johnson’s communication is that it is constitutionally protected speech. If that understanding is correct, then we should also acknowledge the chilling effect caused by investigations, an impact that would be felt both by Mr. Johnson and the entire campus community,” he wrote.

Fenson goes on to cite court cases protecting speech claiming this particular language did not meet the threshold of being a true threat.

“The statement “blow up Republicans,” while distasteful, does not rise to these standards. It instead mirrors closely the political hyperbole recognized by Watts v. United States,” Fenson wrote.

White responded to Fenson’s response posing questions as to where those opinions were when Sartarelli was censured.

“Your recitation of 1st Amendment law is impressive, although I recall no similar argument from you last year when the Chancellor was censored and excoriated on our campus for saying something much less troublesome than what Mr. Johnson is alleged to have said. I do not recall you supporting the 1st Amendment with such vigor then as you do now, but I commend you for doing so,” White said.

It appears that the university agrees that the statements made by Johnson are protected as free speech.

“Any hateful language by faculty, staff, or students aimed at others is contrary to our university values and our commitment to an environment of respect and dignity. It is absolutely reprehensible. However, no matter how upsetting and distasteful such comments may be, they are expressions of free speech and protected by the First Amendment unless they represent a true threat. UNCW reviews any perceived threats that are brought to our attention. We have determined that the conduct and now-deleted post at issue do not contain any evidence of a true threat toward any members of our community,” The statement from the school concluded.

Despite the Facebook post’s content, White did not call for the firing of the professor. In fact, it was the opposite.

“I have received a number of emails demanding that he be fired. If it is determined that he posted this, should he be fired? No. Not in my opinion, although it is not our decision, as you know,” White wrote. “I certainly think one should be held accountable for what they say but to what extent, is not up to the BOT. Perhaps students choose to avoid his classes, or maybe the school should hire a notable conservative professor that could challenge (without violent language) his liberal orthodoxy.”

WECT reached out to Johnson, as well as other members of the Board of Trustees for comment but have not received any at the time of publishing this article.

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