U. of R.I. leader defends prof’s NRA remark as protected speech

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The president of the University of Rhode Island has issued a statement supporting the right of a professor to express his views after he called for the National Rifle Association CEO’s “head on a stick.”

President David Dooley’s comments on Dec. 23 came after a statement last week in which Dooley distanced the university from a posting on Twitter by history professor Erik Loomis. Loomis wrote the post on Dec. 14, the day 20 children and six adults were killed by a gunman using a semi-automatic weapon inside a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

“I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick,” Loomis wrote. LaPierre is the chief executive of the NRA, the nation’s largest gun-rights lobby.

Loomis has since written in a blog that his comment was meant to be a metaphor for holding LaPierre responsible for his actions and was not meant as a threat. He has said he received death threats as a result of the comments.

On Dec. 18, Dooley released a written statement saying the school did not condone acts or threats of violence and said Loomis’s remarks did not reflect the views of the university. Dooley’s statement drew criticism from URI’s faculty union and from professors around the country, who called on him to stand up for academic freedom and freedom of speech.

In his Dec. 23 statement, Dooley wrote that the university had been contacted by many people who “forcefully expressed serious concern about [Loomis's] statements,” and others who strongly supported Loomis. Dooley said his initial statement was meant to make clear that Loomis was speaking solely as an individual.

“It is our conviction that Professor Loomis’s personal remarks, however intemperate and inflammatory they may be, are protected by the First Amendment, as are the views of those who have contacted us in recent days,” Dooley wrote.

Louis J. Kirschenbaum, a professor and president of URI’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, who had criticized Dooley’s earlier remarks, said the group was pleased that the new statement would put the matter to rest. Loomis did not return a message seeking comment.

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