More than 100 active and retired faculty and staff at Kansas University today released a signed statement in support of the free speech rights of Professor David Guth, who was placed on leave after he wrote a controversial tweet blasting the NRA.
Bill Tuttle, retired professor of history and American Studies, helped gather the signatures, saying he wanted to "stiffen the backbone of the university" in the face of calls from some legislators to have Guth fired or face appropriations battles.
"They are under attack," Tuttle said of the university.
The statement released by the current and former KU employees said, "Whatever one may think of Professor David Guth’s recent comments, we support his right to express his ideas, just as we support the rights of others to express their own opinions about his comments. Promoting freedom of expression should be a core value of any university."
Last month, after the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C., Guth, a journalism professor, posted on the social media site Twitter: "The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you."
Some criticized Guth, saying he was wishing death on the children of NRA members. Guth said he wasn't advocating violence, but trying to make gun-rights advocates see mass shootings from the point of view of the victims' families.
Top KU officials and the Kansas Board of Regents blasted Guth's statement, and KU said it would conduct a review of the situation. KU Vice Chancellor for Public Affairs Tim Caboni said today that KU was still forming the committee and the charge and scope of work for the review. "We are not going to create an artificial timeline for when the group will complete their evaluation," he said.
Guth was placed on indefinite leave, but KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said that was done to avoid disruption of his classes "and not because of the nature of the professor's comments, regardless of how controversial they may be."
At that time, Guth said he agreed to take administrative leave "in light of the abusive email threats I and others have received."
Contacted today by email, Guth declined to comment on the situation.
Earlier, most of the professors of the School of Journalism and department of anthropology supported Guth's rights to free speech. Some of those professors' names were also on the list released today.
Powerful legislators, including Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, have said Guth should be fired. And other legislators have said if he is not fired, then they will not vote for KU's budget.
Tuttle said, "We've seen this happen before with Susan Wagle going after Dennis Dailey."
Tuttle was referring to Wagle's allegations made in 2003 that Dailey, who had taught a human sexuality class, had shown pornographic videos, used inappropriate language and harassed female students. An investigation by KU found no validity to the claims.
At that time, Wagle had pushed through a budget amendment that could have eliminated $3.1 million in state funding to KU's School of Social Welfare budget, but then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed the provision.
Here is the statement in support of Guth that was released today, followed by a list of the signers.
As members of the faculty and staff of the University of Kansas, the undersigned individuals strongly support the freedoms of expression specified in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Whatever one may think of Professor David Guth’s recent comments, we support his right to express his ideas, just as we support the rights of others to express their own opinions about his comments. Promoting freedom of expression should be a core value of any university.
John J. Bricke
Michael S. Engel
E. Gaele Gillespie
Mary Lynn Hamilton
Richard F. Hardin
David M. Katzman
Elizabeth B. Kozleski
Jeffrey P. Moran
Catherine L. Preston
Sarah RobinsBrian Rosenblum
Sarah Goodwin Thiel
Kathryn Nemeth Tuttle
Nathaniel D. Wood