UNCW responds to dispute between professor, student

Published: Nov. 16, 2016 at 10:30 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2016 at 7:25 AM EST
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WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - UNC Wilmington Chancellor Zito Sartarelli addressed the campus via email Wednesday after students raised concerns about the way one of the university's professors wrote about a student on campus.

In September, Dr. Mike Adams, a professor of criminology and a columnist for TownHall.com, wrote an entry called "A 'Queer Muslim' Jihad," in which he described how a student on campus was questioned by Secret Service after making social media statements regarding then presidential candidate Donald Trump's visit to the university in August.

Student Nada Merghani said she was surprised to see him use her name in the article.

In the post, he writes, "Her claims to be a 'queer Muslim' are probably part of an act designed to fit into as many victim categories as humanly possible. Sometime I wonder whether LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Thespian. So much drama, so few letters in the alphabet."

According to Merghani, the online article set off threatening comments and messages from others.

"I don't think anyone ever expects to be attacked by a professor at their institution," Merghani said. "That was the most hurtful facet of it, knowing that this is someone my institution pays be here, someone who has access to our students, someone who teaches the next generation of free thinkers. This is how they view the students at the institution they're supposed to be protecting and educating."

Now she plans to transfer to another college.

"I'm just devastated by the fact that once I leave, there will probably be another student who has to go through this," Merghani said. "This man is on their campus. Someone who acts this way, who avidly incites hatred and violence against women and minorities is on their campus and they are paying tuition and paying his salary."

She said university officials told her there was nothing they could do.

In recent days, Adams has been responding to comments about the post through Twitter.

In a message to campus, Sartarelli reminded the campus that the university does not regulate or respond to opinions from students and faculty, but that if anyone feels harassed or discriminated against, they should report it.

Dear Campus Community:

I want to share an update, address concerns raised on our campus in recent weeks, and reaffirm UNCW's long-held values of freedom of expression, inclusiveness, and treating our fellow Seahawks with respect and dignity.

Over the past several months, we have been working to revise the Seahawk Respect Compact, which, while not a policy, demonstrates our aspirational commitment to a respectful, safe environment for our students, faculty and staff.  The document was created in 2008 and signed by the leadership of various campus constituencies. We are in the process of seeking feedback from the current leadership of those constituencies, and in the coming weeks, we will be ready to finalize that document and share it with campus. 

I have previously shared my position that speech we do not agree with, or which may upset us, does not equate with speech that is threatening. Our students and faculty have the right to share their opinions, both on and off campus. We as an institution do not, and should not, regulate or respond to those opinions. There is often misinformation involved, unfortunately, and even language many would consider ugly, but this comes with the territory of free and open expression. 

However, our commitment to freedom of expression does not supersede our commitment to student and employee safety. When a concern is raised and there is evidence of a true threat to the safety of a student or a faculty or staff member, I can assure you that we take the matter very seriously and investigate accordingly. We offer students and employees all the support we can and encourage continued communication between the student or employee and the Dean of Students' office, Human Resources, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and/or University Police as appropriate.

During this sensitive, and, frankly, potentially polarizing time for our campus and our country, let me speak beyond the broad strokes of civility and respect; those are the values we have agreed to as a society, and values we expect of anyone who comes to UNCW, as a student, employee, or visitor. But like any community of nearly 20,000 people, our campus is not immune to incidents ranging from insensitivity to criminal behavior. We will not tolerate violations of our anti-discrimination policy.

If you believe you are the victim of discrimination or harassment, we strongly encourage you to report it here. If you believe you are the victim of a criminal act, please contact University Police at 962-2222.

We can't address these incidents without awareness of them. By coming forward, you will have done so not only for yourself but for all Seahawks. I would also encourage you to reach out to those whose perspectives do not align with yours. Discuss with civility your respective beliefs, and consider what common ground you may have despite your differences. 

This campus, like any institution of higher education, is a marketplace of ideas. We will agree with each other on some, and disagree on others. But we minimize the educational experience when we try to shout down the people with whom we don't agree. We must continue to support freedom of expression on our campus, while acknowledging that the Seahawk Respect Compact is a critical component of our  culture. I look forward to reaffirming that document, and I remain very proud of what we can accomplish when our actions reflect those values.


Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli

Adams responded to a WECT inquiry Wednesday saying, "Excellent! This Chancellor gets it!"

Adams has a history with UNC Wilmington. In 2014, Adams prevailed in a seven year long legal battle with the university in which he claimed he was bypassed for a promotion due to his conservative political views. The university was required to pay more than $700,000 in legal fees from the case.

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