Rutgers University lecturer on leave after a controversial tweet

Rutgers University lecturer Kevin Allred has been put on administrative leave after expressing his displeasure over Donald Trump’s election in a tweet.  He asked, “will the 2nd amendment be as cool when i buy a gun and start shooting atrandom white people or no…?”  [sic all the way through]  He added a pair of eyes to the message, perhaps to hide his inability to use the shift key.  The police, concerned presumably more about public safety than the rules of writing took him to Bellevue Hospital in New York City for a psychiatric evaluation.  Allred claims that the doctors saw no reason for his having been brought to them, adding that he was told that “politicians say much worse on live television with no repercussions.”

Allred reacted to the scrutiny that he received by law enforcement and fellow Twitter users in a follow-up tweet:  “YES, my 2nd amendment tweet was incendiary but completely w/in free speech. ZERO direct threat involved. posed as a rhetorical question.”

It may be that he meant to add a /s, but was worried that the two extra characters would have been too many in his original tweet.  But speculating in a public forum about taking random shots at people isn’t something that guarantees light treatment, especially given the number of mass shooters who leave a trail of warnings in their history before going on killing sprees.  He does declare on his website’s biography page that one of his core values to be “no shame,” though he doesn’t mention cluelessness.

His Twitter account reveals his obsession with celebrity, mixed with trendy left-wing politics.  This fits in with his claim to fame, a class that he has taught at Rutgers, titled, “Politicizing Beyoncé,” as he describes it,

an innovative interdisciplinary college course that attempts to think through contemporary U.S. society and its current race, gender, class, and sexual politics by analyzing the music and career of Beyoncé Knowles-Carter through the lens of historical and contemporary black feminist texts.

I can hear my readers here making comparisons to hypothetical classes that deal with baskets and swimming pools, and I will admit that a course focusing on Beyoncé sounds like a special chamber of torture in what I imagine hell would be, but the fact is that classes like that tend to be electives, and even when required, a student’s major is a matter of personal choice.  Having taught college students for almost twenty years, I have no doubt that many of Allred’s students sign up in hopes of an easy A.  Rate My supports this, since he has a difficulty rating of 1.4 out of five, so he isn’t teaching a class designed to weed out people who aren’t going to make it in their chosen fields.  (My own level of difficulty is 2.4, if that means anything.)

Yes, I’m dismissive what he teaches, but I respect and insist on his right to teach the class.  Academic freedom is a complex topic, but in summary, the concept is that professors must be able to express the conclusions that we’ve come to over the course of our careers.  The point of that is to assure that colleges will be havens of diverse ideas and open criticism.  But academic freedom does not mean that there are no limits on what a professor may say.  Just as with free speech generally, making threats or calling for acts of violence are not protected.

Allred is free to express his opinions about white people as a group or about Donald Trump specifically, but when he talks about shooting random whites, he has crossed a line.  Gun control advocates constantly tell me that all rights comes with responsibilities, and taking that statement as it is, it is correct.  One of those is to avoid harming innocents.  Speculating about the reaction that would come if he were to shoot people who did nothing more than have the misfortune to encounter him doesn’t meet that requirement.

The police and the university took appropriate action in investigating Allred, just as law enforcement generally should take threats seriously.  If that were done more often, the fifteen minutes of fame for deranged individuals would be about how we caught them before they did serious harm, rather than for all the lives that they took.  And social media users would understand that telling the world about the harms that they want to commit isn’t the same thing as expressing ideas.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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