TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — More than 100 current and former University of Kansas faculty and staff Wednesday publicly affirmed the free-speech rights of a professor whose tweet against the National Rifle Association sparked a political firestorm and demands from legislators for his firing.
The statement described the tweet last month by David Guth, an associate professor of journalism, as “intemperate” but said the signers support his right to express his ideas. The statement said promoting freedom of expression should be “a core value of any university.”
Guth posted the tweet after shootings killed 13 people at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. It said, “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 university placed Guth on paid leave indefinitely, but several Republican leaders of the GOP-dominated Legislature want him fired. Also, Sen. Greg Smith, an Overland Park Republican, has said he won’t support budget proposals from the university until Guth is terminated.
Bill Tuttle, a retired American studies professor who helped organize the public statement, said the signers worry that the university will face “considerable right-wing pressure” and be threatened with potential budget cuts.
“We were just concerned that they need a little moral support,” Tuttle said of university administrators.
Guth declined to comment Wednesday. He has said he wasn’t advocating violence but was trying to make gun-rights advocates look at shootings from the point of view of the victims’ families.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said Guth’s tweet was “offensive” in a statement to the university, but she has said Guth was placed on paid leave to avoid disrupting learning.
Timothy Caboni, vice chancellor for public affairs, said in an email Wednesday that a committee will make a recommendation on the length of Guth’s leave, so that his return won’t be disruptive. Caboni said there’s no timetable for the review.
Smith said the staff and faculty signing the statement are out of touch with most Kansas residents. Smith said he agrees with the affirmation of free-speech rights but added, “It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for your actions.”
“How many of his students are children of NRA members?” said Smith, whose daughter, Kelsey, was murdered in 2007. “I just don’t agree that he can be held harmless. There’s no recourse for the citizenry other than a public outcry.”
The public statement came less than a week after 15 anthropology faculty members issued a statement that placing Guth on leave has “a chilling effect” on academic freedom. Four of those faculty members signed the statement issued Wednesday.
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