Yesterday, my colleague Sarah McLaughlin reported on Bergen Community College’s asinine decision to place Professor Francis Schmidt on unpaid leave pending psychiatric evaluation for posting a picture on Google+ of his young daughter wearing a shirt containing a quote from the popular Game of Thrones series.
This morning, facing mounting criticism and bewilderment, Bergen Community College (BCC) doubled down on its claim that administrators were dutifully investigating a possible threat to campus. College spokesman Larry Hlavenka Jr. gave this official statement:
The referenced incident refers to a private personnel matter at Bergen Community College. Since January 1, 2014, 34 incidents of school shootings have occurred in the United States. In following its safety and security procedures, the college investigates all situations where a member of its community – students, faculty, staff or local residents – expresses a safety or security concern.
Talk about digging a deeper hole. Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen an administration resort to citing school shootings and terrorist attacks in order to make its censorship or discipline seem slightly less ridiculous. Nor is it the first time we have seen a TV show reference be treated as a threat, as FIRE President Greg Lukianoff reminds us in The Huffington Post.
Ken White over at Popehat explains what most find obvious:
No honest or near-normal intellect would say, as [BCC administrator] Jim Miller did, that the “fire” in the slogan might refer to an AK-47, a profoundly idiotic statement that resembles arguing that “May the Force Be With You” is a threat of force. Nobody with self-respect or minimal ability would claim that this professor’s treatment was somehow justified by school shootings.
But White also reminds readers that Bergen Community College’s actions did not occur in a vacuum:
Bergen represents what we, the people, have been convinced to accept. Bergen is mundane in a world where we put kids in jail to be brutalized over obvious bad jokes on social media. Bergen exists in a world where officials use concepts like “cyberbullying” to police and retaliate against satire and criticism. Bergen exists in a world where we have allowed fears — fear of terrorism, fear of drugs, fear of crime, fear for our children — to become so powerful that merely invoking them is a key that unlocks any right.
As a nation, we all need to decide whether we will surrender our critical thinking in response to buzzwords like “terrorism” and “drugs” and “crime” and “school shootings.” On a local level, we must decide whether we will put up with such idiocy from our educational institutions. So tell me, students and teachers and alumni of Bergen Community College. Are you going to put up with that? Because institutions that act like this are not helping young people to be productive and independent adults. They are teaching fear, ignorance, and subservience.
Quite right. Fortunately, it appears that there are those who do value critical thinking, and they are already pushing back against this clear failure to exercise reason and common sense. Bergen Community College’s Facebook page has been flooded with comments (check out the “Recent Posts by Others” section), and one Internet poll with over 1,175 votes as of this writing has more than 99% of respondents disagreeing with the college’s action (a mere 8 voters thought that the picture was threatening).
Check back to The Torch for future developments. In the meantime, Peter Bonilla, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, will be joining the National Rifle Association’s Cam & Co. radio show at 2:40 p.m. (Eastern) this afternoon to discuss the incident. Find out how to tune in at http://www.nranews.com/cam.
Ari Cohn is Program Officer, Legal and Public Advocacy at The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
Used with the permission of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.