Criminal Charges Threatened On College Professor For ‘Firefly’ Poster
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A University of Wisconsin–Stout theater professor, James Miller,has come under fire after putting up a poster for the Joss Whedon sci–fi western cult classic, Firefly, on his office door.

The poster (seen here) included one of Captain Malcolm Reynolds’ (Nathan Fillion) many classic quotes: “You don’t know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake. You’ll be facing me. And you’ll be armed.” But apparently there’s a lot of very stupid people involved with monitoring the happenings of The University of Wisconsin–Stout, because campus police saw the poster, blindly only saw the words “kill you,” and removed it because clearly some kid was going to wander by, see it, and kill someone.

Chief of Police Lisa A. Walter e–mailed Miller, informing him that they had removed the poster and that “it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing,” even though it’s clear that Captain Mal is simply stating that he only kills if he has to, and not because a poster made him do it.

Miller then responded with “Respect liberty and respect my first amendment rights,” to which Walter tried to explain, saying “My actions are appropriate and defensible. Speech can be limited on a reasonable expectation that it will cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat. We were notified of the existence of the posting, reviewed it and believe that the wording on the poster can be interpreted as a threat by others and/or could cause those that view it to believe that you are willing/able to carry out actions similar to what is listed. This posting can cause others to fear for their safety, thus it was removed.” And then tagged on a threat of criminal charges as well, saying “If you choose to repost the article or something similar to it, it will be removed and you could face charges of disorderly conduct.”

Then Miller put up a second poster (seen here) about fascism, which of course was also taken down, with e–mail explanation from Walter. You can see their e–mail correspondence here and here.

Feeling that his rights had been violated, Miller went to FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) about his situation. They then wrote a lengthy e–mail to UWS Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen (seen here) asking them to end their censorship of Miller, apologize for what happened, and rescind a request for a meeting about the incident by the school’s “threat assessment team.”

That e–mail is yet to be responded to, but FIRE Vice President of Programs, Adam Kissel, spoke on the situation, saying “It is both shameful and absurd for UWS to suggest that campus community members are so impressionable and unreasonable that merely seeing a reference to violence on a poster will lead them to commit either actual violence or a substantial disruption of the campus. The police and the threat assessment team are the true threats to freedom at UW–Stout.”

What are your thoughts on the situation?

[Source: FIRE via io9, The Daily Caller]

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  1. It always makes me laugh when Americans preach that they have a right to free speech. This is the reality.

    Comment by Anonymous — September 27, 2011 @ 7:24 pm

  2. There have been over 65 school shootings since columbine (1999) and this guy is a teacher at a college – this is one of those times where it’s ok to say “he should know better”

    A lot of schools practice zero tolerance towards anything related to violence, especially guns (even toy guns). In all reality, they could have just as easily had him take an unpaid leave of absence.

    The guy needs to suck it up and be a professional instead of a little brat who is upset because an elder took his toy away.

    Comment by Keith — September 27, 2011 @ 7:37 pm

  3. And how many of those schools were “Gun-Free” zones?  Do you really think the zero-tolerance policies have any impact on people who are deranged enough to do those horrific acts? 

    Comment by Darury — September 27, 2011 @ 10:51 pm

  4. Wait let me make sure I get this right. The guy put up a tv show poster with a quote and his college as well as posters here believe that he’s in the wrong? So how much longer will it be before they sensor our thoughts? How much longer before they sensor these very boards? 

    Seriously I taught yearbook for several years and I had my walls PLASTERED with pictures from movies, quotes and I recommended books by Stephen King to my students… does that suddenly mean that because of what happened in Columbine and other schools I should change MY outlook or the way that I deal with children and others? 


    Nor does it mean that the establishment, government or any other damn body of authority has the right to tell me that I can’t be a fanboy to a show that I love and characters I enjoy. 

    Bradbury was right all those years ago….damn

    Comment by Gabriel Diaz — September 27, 2011 @ 11:54 pm

  5. Except that this occurred on a college campus, an adult environment, and not a high school campus, where peoples’ actions are governed by regard for the safety of children.  If something like this happened on my college campus, as a freedom-loving individual, I would feel the need to get involved on behalf of the professor.  Not only is this a violation of his rights, it is simply puerile and petty.

    Comment by Margaret Plunk — September 28, 2011 @ 8:20 am

  6. Ohhh…. I so want in on this discussion. (And permission to link to you good people when I continue my ranting – I mean writing – on my own blog? Pretty please?)

    Part of the point of a free-thought Academia has been, cross cultures time etcetcetc (sans dictatorship-esque control) the challenging of ideas, the questioning of cultural taboos, and the oh, what’s the phrase…. yeah, free speech. (Or as close as the government flavor of the month will allow – and to head off responses to that, I’m looking at a long view here. As in since Socrates kind of long, k?)

    A society and culture cannot grow without an enviroment existing within it that will act as a catalyst and as a checks & balance. When such is lost, stagnation will inevitably lead to a decline in said culture (Reference: Medieval period in Europe, current North Korea, Mao regime, Iran under Ayotollah, Russia under etcetcetc) Now, history has also shown there to be a breaking of said stagnation by masses after a point – Example, Renaissance period – however, this usually comes at a cost paid dearly.

    I am not trying to say that forcing this professor to remove his poster is the equivilent of the kind of censorhip found under such harsh examples – but I will say the example reminds me a bit too much of the accounts found in “Reading Lolita in Tehran” (my recommendation to any who have not read this, by the by) eg. it is a quiet kind of censorship that ultimately harms us the most, and that it is the posters we do NOT see that should affect us the most at times.

    LissaRhys – your loquacious Typingdragon

    Comment by Melissa Felton — September 28, 2011 @ 10:48 am

  7. Thank you. I was beginning to despair that there was no voice of reason out there.

    Comment by Melissa Felton — September 28, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  8. Ahhh, college….

    Comment by Heath McKnight — September 28, 2011 @ 10:50 am

  9. Seriously? Tell me, why should those who plan on breaking the law by committing murder – and usually suicide I might add – suddenly decide not to kill those around them and themselves on the basis of some kind of “zero tolerance” policy? The laws only work on those that choose to follow them and those that get caught – and a large amount of the time the latter skirt it anyway.

    On a side note, your arguement is diminished by the “little brat” comment, especially in light of the fact that the person being discussed is obviously a very intelligent and well spoken person who was not only within their rights on every action taken; they also followed policy and procedure to handle the matter. That is hardly the behaviour of a “brat”. It is instead quite, let’s see, professional.

    Second side note: Professor, not teacher. He earned the title, award him that at least.


    Comment by Melissa Felton — September 28, 2011 @ 10:57 am

  10. Thank you.

    Comment by Melissa Felton — September 28, 2011 @ 10:58 am

  11. you’re right, there’s only been 4 college campus shootings in the past 4 years. They are much more sensible than HS kids

    Comment by Keith — September 28, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

  12. you’ll also remember that part of the reason those shootings happened is because everyone ignored the possible red flags that were popping up.

    Comment by Balzaak — September 28, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

  13. Chief of Police Lisa A. Walter should force FIRE to change its name. It’s violent and threatening!

    Comment by Matthew Raymond — September 28, 2011 @ 1:31 pm

  14. I work with MD’s and I see the little brat persona break out frequently. Just because a person is well educated doesn’t mean they can’t be socially inept

    Comment by Balzaak — September 28, 2011 @ 1:32 pm

  15. Being a student at Stout, I am more than supporting the professor.  I’m sure everyone who wasn’t interested in attending Stout is clawing at the gate now…

    Comment by Guest — September 28, 2011 @ 4:47 pm

  16. Oh, I agree entirely; I’ve seen the same. The point I was attempting to illustrate was the fact that he followed proper channels in response; quite frankly I think the level of reaction shown was relativly on the calm side of indignation (provided that’s possible, lol).

    Comment by Melissa Felton — September 28, 2011 @ 9:13 pm

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