Professors decry ‘witch hunt,’ rally around Erik Loomis in name of ‘academic freedom’

Eight professors have joined together to issue a statement in support of University of Rhode Island assistant professor Erik Loomis, who last week tweeted that he wanted NRA executive vice president “Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.”

The authors of the statement, posted on the blog Crooked Timber, defend Loomis’ tweet as an example of metaphor and say their defense was “pulled together on an emergency basis” — perhaps explaining why distinguished academics would cite the Urban Dictionary as their source in explaining what “head on a stick” means, as well as their omission of his retweets of other violent metaphors wishing for those who support arming teachers to be “beaten to death” and Dick Morris to be hunted down and skinned for breakfast.

Nevertheless, Loomis has found defenders in academia, who worry that “his lack of tenure makes him vulnerable,” a state of affairs the rest of us who don’t enjoy the defense of “academic freedom” — that is, “scholars’ freedom independently to express views (even intemperate ones) on topics of public importance” — face every day while arguing our beliefs in the public sphere. The fact that Loomis’ tweets seemingly had nothing to do with his teaching or his field of study further stretches the idea that academics should enjoy special protection from criticism. Meanwhile, the authors of Loomis’ defense call on university administrators to “affirm … the protections of the First Amendment” while overlooking a call for the head of a proponent of the Second Amendment.

We at Twitchy wish harm on no one, but Loomis’ public tweets and retweets were enough to elicit a statement from the University of Rhode Island distancing the school from them. Supporters who made no mention of the ugliness of Loomis’ Twitter activity were quick to call the criticism of Loomis an “ugly, vindictive witch hunt.”

Try to get fired? Is that a metaphor for reposting someone’s own words?

No, but you see, there’s an important distinction. Violent rhetoric — um, metaphor — wasn’t acceptable when Sarah Palin now-famously used an image of crosshairs on an election map. But as a defense of Loomis on the blog Lawyers, Guns & Money informs us, “Rhetoric is only ‘violent’ when its intent is encourage violent acts to a receptive audience.”

So while Palin’s map stands as an example of violent rhetoric, the statement that declares Loomis to be in the “the crosshairs of the state and his employer” is not. As long as we’re having fun with metaphor now, let’s all call for heads on sticks.

Is that what Loomis’ defenders meant when they called for supporters to “Be polite, be civil, be firm”? We’d prefer to call for cooler heads to prevail, and we’ll assume our “metaphor illiterate” readers know we don’t mean that literally.

Again, we see no attempt to silence; in fact, the “right-wing witch hunt” arose from little more than (metaphorically) holding up a megaphone to Loomis’ existing speech. Was Loomis “forced” to delete his Twitter account, as another blog asserts, or to remove his university affiliation from his profile? Twitchy and other bloggers have no such power, and we wouldn’t use it if we could. In the meantime, a vigorous debate over guns continues.

But if we as a nation are truly going to have a “conversation” about guns in the wake of the unspeakable Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, let’s say what we mean, and stand by it.

Related:

Liberal journo Mike Elk sad about death threats to death threat connoisseur Erik Loomis

Flashback: Erik Loomis criticized Sarah Palin for ‘violent rhetoric’

Sick retweet by disgraced Rhode Island prof Erik Loomis: ‘Hunt down Dick Morris like a pig’

Rhode Island professor Erik Loomis deletes his Twitter account; Update: What is he hiding?

University of Rhode Island professor’s retweet: Murder anyone who thinks teachers should be armed; Update: Police met with prof; Update: University issues statement

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