Professor getting death threats over NRA tweet, colleagues support his free-speech rights

Kansas University journalism professor David W. Guth’s message about the NRA on social media last week has prompted anger from gun rights supporters, rebuke from KU officials, an indefinite leave from his job and, now, death threats from some angered by his tweet.

Meanwhile, his journalism school colleagues issued a statement in support of his free-speech rights and the chancellor issued a statement saying that the decision to put Guth on leave was not related to the content of his message on Twitter.

Today Guth said he had received thousands of angry tweets, emails, phone calls and Facebook posts since last week. Among those messages have been death threats, which Guth has shared with the Lawrence Police Department so it can help him monitor the situation, he said. “I’m not taking them too seriously, but I’m not ignoring them.”

Last week, Guth posted a message on Twitter in the aftermath of the shootings in the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard that left 13 dead.

“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,” Guth tweeted.

The message was met by anger and outrage from gun rights supporters and others who said that Guth was wishing death on the children of NRA members. KU officials condemned Guth’s tweet, and by the end of the week he was placed on indefinite administrative leave with pay.

Support from colleagues

Several of Guth’s colleagues voiced their support for him in a statement today signed by 13 professors of the KU School of Journalism: “We do not agree with our colleague David Guth’s recent comments, but we support his right to express his ideas, just as we support the rights of others to express their own opinions about his comments.”

They added, “Because of the polarized nature and volume of response to Professor Guth’s comments, we support his decision and the decision of the university administration for Professor Guth to transfer his students and classes to other professors at this time.”

Guth said that he had “received no indication” that his leave was disciplinary, but rather it was a measure to protect his safety as well as that of students and the public.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said in a statement today that the decision to put Guth on leave “was taken in order to avoid further disruption of the learning environment and not because of the nature of the professor’s comments, regardless of how controversial they may be.”

To determine when it will be appropriate for Guth to return, a group will be formed to advise the provost, said Timothy Caboni, KU’s vice chancellor for public affairs.

The group will not have decision-making authority. Instead, Caboni said it will advise the provost’s office based on its assessment of whether or not “the conditions and concerns have changed enough to allow for (Guth’s) return in a way that is not disruptive.”

The group will be composed of staff members from KU’s risk management, student affairs, public safety, facilities and provost’s offices, as well as a senior faculty member from a school other than the journalism school.

Duration of leave is uncertain

Caboni said he did not know how long Guth’s leave might last. Officials have made arrangements for Guth’s classes to be taught by other faculty members for the rest of the semester. Reports surfaced that Guth had agreed to go on a planned sabbatical early, but Caboni refuted them in a statement earlier today.

The controversy around Guth’s tweet could spill into other university bodies as well. Faculty Senate President Christopher Steadham said that group has been “actively monitoring the situation.”

“We certainly recognize the need to have a swift formal response,” he said, but declined to elaborate on what form that response would take while the senate is still gathering information and opinions from faculty members.

Meanwhile Kansas state legislators continued in their condemnation of Guth, some of them calling for his dismissal.

Legislators and others who want Guth fired are focusing on a portion of the tweet that they say calls for violence. But Guth says his tweet is being misinterpreted.

State Sen. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, said the tweet is inexcusable because it “urges people to use guns to perpetrate violence on other people and their children.” Smith, whose daughter Kelsey, 18, was a murder victim in 2007, said, “I am aghast at his conduct.”

Last week, Guth said he wasn’t advocating violence. He said he was trying to make gun advocates see mass shootings from the view of the victims.