Archive for Friday, October 25, 2013

Guth protected by state policy

October 25, 2013


Several high-ranking legislators have called on Kansas University to fire journalism professor David Guth over his angry social media comment directed at the National Rifle Association.

But as long as Guth separated his social media post from his position as a public employee, there is little KU can do about it, according to state employee policy.

"Under state policy, if you are going to speak out on an issue, you have to make clear you are doing so as a private citizen and not in the capacity of a state employee," said Rebecca Proctor, interim director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees.

The dispute is over a Twitter post from Guth in September following the shootings that left 13 dead at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., Guth wrote: "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."

The comment produced a public outcry.

Guth was placed on paid administrative leave by KU officials who sharply criticized his comment, but said the action was taken not as a disciplinary measure but because the incident had caused disruption in his classes.

On Thursday, KU announced that Guth would be assigned to non-classroom activities away from campus for the remainder of the semester, and then in January he will start a planned semester-long sabbatical. Guth, who said that his tweet was misconstrued, also issued an apology.

News that Guth wasn't terminated was criticized by Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson.

"When Professor Guth took to social media to wish death and damnation upon innocent children it reflected poorly on us all. By failing to render stronger sanctions against him for his actions, I fear the Legislature will conclude that the University of Kansas has just given its endorsement to the culture of violence Professor Guth sought to glorify," Bruce said.

But state Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, said KU could not fire Guth.

"Based on my conversations with University officials, legal counsel established that it was absolutely clear that they could not terminate Professor Guth because of his actions," Wilson said. KU officials declined to comment on the issues leading to the school's decision on Guth.

On his Twitter account, Guth, originally from Maryland, described himself as "An Eastern Shoreman turned professor and historian. A devoted husband, father and dog owner. Most important: an independent thinker."

Wilson said there are other examples of state employees making controversial statements outside their jobs and the state has taken no action.

Wilson said that several members of the Westboro Baptist Church, whose members conduct anti-gay protests at funerals of U.S. service members, work for the state. And he noted that in 2011 state Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, created a political firestorm when he said, "It looks like to me that if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works maybe we have found a (solution) to our illegal immigration problem."

"If Senator Bruce or his colleagues are going to characterize the University or any other state agency based on the private tweets, comments or actions of a single employee, then he should also look beyond Mount Oread," Wilson said.

In addition to state policy, KU provides protections for tenured faculty against dismissal and other sanctions. The "Code of Faculty Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct" in KU's policy library guarantee's faculty "freedom of inquiry, expression, and assembly."

It also states that faculty "shall be exempt from disciplinary action" except in cases of failure to carry out academic responsibilities, violation of university regulations, fraudulent or illegal conduct, violating the rights and academic freedoms of students or staff, or a breach of professional ethics in carrying out their duties as faculty.


David Reber 4 years, 7 months ago

Funny how it's the Constitution-thumping right-wing politicians calling for Guth to be fired. I guess they haven't read much of it.... freedom of speech and such.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

Freedom of speech doesn't guarantee freedom from consequence. Speak poorly to the general public about your employer and see what happens. Seems like a government employee just got fired for talking about his supervisors in unflattering ways. See even Democrats will fire someone over what they say.

Bob Forer 4 years, 7 months ago

Yes it does John. You obviously don't fully grasp the concept of "freedom of speech." If there were adverse consequences, such as losing one's job, for voicing an unpopular opinion, it wouldl't be a free and unfettered right. And in America, the Courts have consistently interpreted the First Amendment as granting a free and unfettered right to voice opinions, however unpopular. I think you could probably benefit from a brush-up course in Civics 101.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

I think you could use a brush up in the workings of the real world. What might be so in Civics 101 has nothing to do with the real world. Other than the make believe world of college professors, freedom of speech is not unlimited. One can not yell fire in a theater unless there is a fire. One can not make threats of harm against the president. Try using the "n" word in public and at work and see if there is any consequences. After you find your teeth that someone knocked out for you, you can remind them you have freedom of speech rights. While the first amendment may give the right of freedom of speech, congress has passed laws that limit certain kinds of speech and society has unwritten laws that have been accepted over time that limits speech. There are many instances in the real world where speech is not free in all cases. If you don't believe that go to the highest ranking supervisor in your place of work tomorrow and cut loose a profanity laced racist rant directed at the supervisor and his/her family. When they fire you, you can bring up that free speech idea. The government employee that was recently fired found out that not all speech is free.

Bob Forer 4 years, 7 months ago

John, You haven't a clue. I happen to have graduated from law school, and even though I am far from a constitutional law expert, all law students are required to take Constitutional Law, and even the worst law student understands basic legal cnocepts which apparently youy have yet to grasp. .

First of all, the First Amendment only applies to government action. Since Guth is a government employee, he is protected by the First Amendment. On the other hand, most folks are not employed by the government, and therefore, they have no First Amendment protections regarding their employment, other than basic rights to freely excercise their relgious beliefs. Such people are also protected from being fired because of their age, sex, race, or national origin. Accordingly, unless they have an employment contract which states otherwise, their employer can permissibly fire them for their publicly uttered opinions.

You wrote: "While the first amendment may give the right of freedom of speech, congress has passed laws that limit certain kinds of speech and society has unwritten laws that have been accepted over time that limits speech." Nothing could be further from the truth. Before discussing the First Amendment, it is probably a good idea that you read and understand it first. It reads, in pertient part, that "Congress shall make no law .... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the 1st Amendment applies to the States as well as Congress by virtue of the 14th Amendment. Any law that the Congress or the States have passed or might in the future pass that "limits certain kinds of speech" has, and always will be ruled unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Moreover, we live under the "rule of the law" and under such philosophy, which has been well-established for centuries, "unwritten law" is utterly and completely incompatibible with "the rule of law." Simply put, you haven't a clue as to what you are talking about.

Falsely yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre is not considered a limit on free speech, but instead, is not considered "speech" at all because it is a false statement which presents a clear and present danger to those people in the threatre.

The "real world" that you speak of only exists only in your imagination.

If anyone deserves to be fired, it is your high school civics teacher. Or perhaps you didn't pay attention, cut class, or enjoyed one too many naps during class.

Bob Forer 4 years, 7 months ago

John, if your only response is to call me names, I guess it means that you stand corrected. I will always and gladly suffer a little name calling if it is the consequence of a fellow citizen obtaining a better understanding of what this great country is all about.

Cheers, and best wishes.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

Calling like it is Bob. I stand by what I wrote. You must be a criminal lawyer because you certainly are not civil.

Bob Forer 4 years, 7 months ago

Actually, I served eight years as the Labette County Attorney (Southeast Kansas).

Bob Forer 4 years, 7 months ago

John, this is a public forum. You are speaking to the public. If you aren't acquainted with an issue or subject, it is best for all of us that you remain silent. You misstatments simply serve to misinform the public, and when it comes to something Americans should hold their to their hearts, such as the US Constitutions, it is important--at least to me--that the information be accurate. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their lives defending that piece of paper we call the Constitution. Since fellow Americans have died protecting it, I feel the least I can do is ensure that those who have not defended it with their lives, at the very least, have accurate information as to what its about. That includes you, and the public you speak to when you post your statement in a public forum. .

If, in defending those who have given their lives, I offend the living who freely partake of those rights daily, I feel absolutely no remorse.

You're a big boy. If you are brave enough to voice a statement publicly--and I congratulate you for being one of the few bloggers who have chosen to continue now that the LJW has changed their policy--then, you should have the courage to accept a critique. That's what freedom of speech is all about--the free marketplace of ideas.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

Your critique does not need to be condescending. Your idea that only those "acquainted" with the issue should comment is inconsistent with a public forum. Your idea would limit comment on political issues to politicians, legal issues to lawyers, medical issues to physicians. Simply not the idea of a public forum. Don't give"I'm passionate about the constitution" as justification to say someone is "clueless". Believe it or not I have an advanced degree in an area of study I am passionate about. I am happy to explain the current information to people when they have a question or support an misinformed position. Some might be "clueless" but to tell someone that is highly inappropriate and inflammatory. Being passionate about a subject does not excuse poor manners. Fine you are the expert on freedom of speech, I am not. Hopefully that will soothe your superiority complex. I really like how you say you are passionate about the constitution etc including the freedom of speech, yet you tell me unless I am an expert on freedom of speech I should not post any comments on this blog. I hope you are smart enough to see the irony of you saying that in the best interest of the freedom of speech I should not be allowed to join in the conversation.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

So you Bob get to decide who should have the freedom of speech that you are so passionate about protecting. That is the definition of pompous.

Bob Forer 4 years, 7 months ago

John, if somebody irresponsbily made a false and misleading public pronouncement about anesthesiology, I am sure you would consider it your professional responsibility to correct the misstatments. As a US citizen with a basic understanding of the constitution, I feel that I have a like duty to corrrect those--especially persons who enjoy an increased stature because of their public professional standing--who make incorrect and misleading statements about something that is central to the American way of life.

I am not advocating that anyone's speech be suppressed. But if one chooses to make their opinions public, then they should also understand that they will be called to task for making irresponsbile commments. Really, its as simple as that, and as a medical doctor, I would hope you understand that principle.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

While I might attempt to correct someone who makes a false statement about anesthesiology I wouldn't start the critique by saying "you don't have a grasp on the subject", or you should "brush up on biology 101" or say "you cut class, didn't pay attention or enjoyed one too many naps during class" and later say "you don't have a clue" or "the worst first year med student has a better understanding" as you I did to me.

You have advocated my speech be suppressed. Read you response above when you state "if you aren't acquainted with the issue or subject, it is best for all of us that you remain silent". How is one to interpret that statement without coming to the conclusion you are advocating me not to exercise my freedom of speech rights you so passionately hold dear.

I have never on this sight made any reference to my line of study or work. In fact I can count on one hand the number of people in Lawrence that know my profession. So I have never "enjoyed an increased stature because of my public professional standing"in this town or on this site.

You try to shame me further by repeatedly stating I have made" irresponsible" comments. As a lawyer you know very well the difference between irresponsible and incorrect. I very well may have made some incorrect statements but you don't get to play judge and say I spoke irresponsibly. And as a lawyer I would hope you understand that.

You have repeatedly made comments directed at me in a condescending manner apparently in an attempt to embarrass me. I find it difficult to believe you would speak to your family, friends, or strangers face to face in such a manner. Fine you are more educated about the first amendment than me. I would hope so you being a lawyer. That does not give you the right to recommend I stay "silent" as you did above, nor does it give you the right to try to embarrass me by repeatedly writing in a condescending manner.

You are a big boy. If you are brave enough to post a statement publicly then you should have the courage to accept a critique. That's what freedom of speech is all about.

Jean Robart 4 years, 7 months ago

Free dom of speech does not extend to shouting fire in a crowded theater.

John Graham 4 years, 7 months ago

Bob if you would pay attention instead of trying to act superior, you would note I have repeatedly posted that Guth did not deserve to be punished for what he said. I did feel his statement was classless and deserved a public rebuke. That is all.

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