[NB: Below is the text of a letter I sent today to UWM Chancellor Mark Mone, protesting the intimidation of my first amendment rights to free speech by two UWM police officers.]
June 2, 2015
Mark Mone, Chancellor
Chapman Hall 202
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Milwaukee, WI 53201
Dear Chancellor Mone,
I write to protest in the strongest possible terms an act of intimidation carried out this afternoon by two members of the UWM Police Department on behalf of the UWM administration. Not only did this police action constitute a gross misuse of UWM resources, but it also committed an actionable violation of my first amendment rights to free speech.
When I returned to my office in Curtin Hall this afternoon, from an emergency meeting of the Faculty Senate, I was surprised to find two armed, uniformed UWM police officers waiting for me. They asked to talk to me in my office. The purpose of their visit was to investigate a tweet I had written in response to a blog post by my UWM faculty colleague Rachel Buff. The tweet, which is copied at the end of this letter, read: “A heartfelt plea for solidarity from @rachelidatweets. But methinks unions aren’t enough. Armed insurrection, anyone?”
The lead officer, Lieutenant John Krusick, told me that because the Board of Regents was meeting on campus on Thursday and Friday, the administration was concerned that I might be planning some kind of intervention (an “armed insurrection?”). Lt. Krusick said that he knew I was “passionate” about what’s been happening to the UW System lately (he had a whole pile of printed tweets in his hand, although he only showed me the offending one), and that the officers had been asked to check up on me to make sure I wasn’t planning anything that might endanger the meeting of the Board of Regents. He likened this to a situation where a student might say or post on social media something threatening to his professor, which would prompt the campus police to speak with the student.
I should not have to tell an educated academic like yourself how faulty this analogy is. My tweet was written in response to a colleague’s blog post about solidarity, and the “Armed insurrection, anyone?” was clearly light-hearted wordplay on the common expression, “Tennis, anyone?” That this tweet could be construed as a threat, or to whom it might be threatening, is beyond me. The only threat involved in this situation was by the UWM campus police, and by extension your administration, against me. The message was clearly meant to deter me from exercising my right to free speech: we are watching you, so you better watch what you say.
Indeed, what is most troubling about the event was not the interaction with the two UWM police officers, who behaved professionally and politely, but the fact that someone in your administration appears to be closely monitoring my social media activities. In addition to monitoring my public speech, someone in your administration is concerned enough about my “passionate” opposition to the destruction of tenure, shared governance, and academic freedom that they wanted to send me a message of intimidation.
Sadly, I have over the past several months been cautioned by colleagues, friends, and family to be careful about speaking out against your administration and the UW System. But I have repeatedly insisted that neither you nor President Cross would seek retribution against me merely for speaking my mind against policies which you both support. I hope I am right. But it is a sad state of affairs that people who care about me feel motivated to warn me about passionately expressing my opinions. Their concern about my welfare speaks volumes about how both your administration and the University of Wisconsin System are currently perceived.
I would encourage you to keep monitoring my tweets and Facebook updates. You might not like what you read, but you might learn something. I will be posting a copy of this letter on social media, and if necessary I am prepared to share it with an attorney. I will not allow myself to be intimidated from continuing to criticize the ongoing destruction of a great public university system and your unwillingness to say or do anything to try to stop it.
Professor of English
Director, Center for 21st Century Studies