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UNCW prof threatened with a lawsuit for responding to student's e-mail

By Jon Sanders

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November 15, 2001

A UNC-Wilmington student is threatening a lawsuit against a professor because she was offended by his response to her mass email, sent also to him, in which she claimed the war on terrorism was an "intensification of US imperialist repression already in progress."

The student, Rosa Fuller, sent an email addressed "To the students and faculty of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington" shortly after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. In it she blames the United States for the attacks because of its "occupation and imperialist warfare in the Middle East," its "unequivocal support to Israel's assassination of Palestinians who are 'suspected' of being terrorists," and its being "the main enemy of … human and democratic rights" and "the main source of oppression" in the world. She also suggests the U.S. nurtured the Taliban, criticizes the media for being "war-mongering" in stirring "chauvinistic, racist fervor" against "innocent Arab and Muslim Americans, including children," and hints that Pres. George Bush and his administration stand "to benefit from the results of the 'attack on America.'" Fuller cites the World Socialist Web Site (www.wsws.org) as her source.

Fuller sent the email to, among others, Criminal Justice Prof. Mike Adams. "The time for silence is ended; the time for rational discussion is now," Fuller wrote. "If you support open, unbiased, democratic discussion of all the facts, please forward this e-mail to friends and acquaintances both on and off campus."

The text of Adams' entire reply follows:

I will certainly forward this to others and I hope they will respond. My response will be brief as your "statement" is undeserving of serious consideration. Your claimed interest in promoting rational discussion is dishonest. It is an intentionally divisive diatribe. The Constitution protects your speech jut as it has protected bigoted, unintelligent, and immature speech for many years. But, remember, when you exercise your rights you open yourself up to criticism that is protected by the same principles. I sincerely hope that your bad speech serves as a catalyst for better speech by others.



Not surprisingly, Fuller received replies, some quite harsh. According to Charlton Allen in FrontPage Magazine, Fuller initially tried to file charges with the University Police Dept., saying she was being threatened, but the police considered her claim frivolous. Nevertheless, they brought in several students for questioning over their responses, and some students' parents were called and informed that their children were being sought for intimidating another student.

Next Fuller lodged a complaint against Prof. Adams with the university, seeking access to all the email messages he sent during that period, under the theory that if people responded negatively to her email, then Adams put them up to it. That effort, too, was mainly rebuffed, but the university did search through Adams' email.

With the help of her mother, UNCW Prof. Patti Turrisi, director of UNCW's Center for Teaching Excellence, Fuller complained to Adams' dept. chair, Dr. Cecil Willis, to demand a full investigation of Adams and access to his emails. So far her complaints have been dismissed as frivolous, including by the Provost and University attorney. Fuller now suggests she will seek a lawsuit for defamation and seek access to Adams' emails under the Freedom of Information Act.

According to her email to campus authorities, Fuller says Adams "berated me, with no semblance of argument, with abusive epithets, which falsely represented me as 'dishonest,' 'intentionally divisive,' 'bigoted,' 'unintelligent,' and 'immature.' The intent of such a message is intimidation and defamation." Adams did no such thing, however; some of those epithets were applied to Fuller's statement, and the rest were applied to hypothetical speech that is protected by the Constitution.

Fuller told the Pope Center that "if it is found that Dr. Adams sent his false representation of me to others, and if these others acted on his false representation, and sent me abusive e-mail communications, I shall also accuse him of libel in my complaint to the University."

According to Allen, this episode is not the first in which Turrisi has sought to silence a fellow faculty member. Writing that "Turrisi appears to have quite a history of filing frivolous complaints," Allen recounts how, "several years ago, she demanded the university discipline a colleague who disagreed with her regarding the general statutory principle for several degrees of rape, a rule followed by all jurisdictions in the United States. Apparently, Turrisi believes that a professor who argues that some rapes are worse than others is unfit to teach America's youth."

Turrisi and her daughter's "efforts to silence others with whom they disagree are exactly the methods they accuse Dr. Adams and others of using: namely, intimidation and intolerance," Allen wrote.

Adams, meanwhile, has been somewhat amused at the episode. He has praised the university administration and Willis for their patience and support. As for Turrisi, Adams told Allen that "if Dr. Turrisi continues to lead this witch hunt, I'll have my mother call her department chair."

 


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