Pharyngula

Grrr. This story pisses me off beyond all reason. It’s a trumped up contretemps generated by one of our local Minnesota Republican hacks, griping about a UM faculty member using her campus email.

A University of Minnesota professor has come under fire for sending a message using her university e-mail account to help comedian Al Franken with his likely U.S. Senate candidacy.

Sally Kenney, director of the Center on Women and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, sent an e-mail last week from a “umn.edu” address to an undisclosed number of recipients saying that “Al Franken has asked me to put together a Minnesota Team Franken.”

That’s it? She came “under fire” for using her email account? You know, this is a potential US Senator, asking for the assistance of a university faculty member in organizing a campaign—this ought to be a source of pride, the kind of civic outreach we should be pleased to see in a professor. What the hell is wrong with people to complain about this? Especially since she was careful to state up front that this was not a university-endorsed activity:

Kenney declined to comment on the controversy. J. Brian Atwood, dean of the institute, said the message clearly was marked “private” and included a detailed disclaimer from Kenney stating that she was communicating as an individual and not as a university faculty member.

The source was the odious Michael Brodkorb. Did I say he was a hack? He’d have to acquire some infinitesimal modicum of dignity in order to drag himself up out of the gutter slime and qualify to the title of “hack”. Right now, all he is is a junior shit-stirrer; he dreams of being a hack, if only a magic fairy would come along and enchant some hack-level measure of talent into his sludge-flinging brain. I’m sorry, Michael, but fairies don’t exist, so there will be no magic to help you overcome your limitations.

Republican blogger Michael Brodkorb, who recently posted the e-mail on his website minnesotademocratsexposed .com, accused Kenney of using “a taxpayer funded tool not available to competing campaigns. … It crossed the line into clear advocacy.”

A tool not available to competing campaigns? What? Here, you lying wanker, I’ve got 20 gmail invites. Want one? E-mail is pretty much the lowest, simplest, commonest utility around nowadays; the university hands these things out to all of our students. Are we going to start monitoring email to make sure the users don’t commit that horrible sin of expressing their own opinions?

As for advocacy: hell yes! University employees ought to be advocates for our own views. When I signed my contract, I don’t recall one of the conditions being that my blood would be drained and replaced with some colorless, odorless, flavorless fluid that was designed to be inoffensive, nor was I told I had to be neutered to work here. If we are to function as public intellectuals, we cannot do so by burying our opinions and pretending to a false and magisterial aloofness—that’s just not the way the world works.

Now Brodkorb is the kind of marginally multicellular ooze who might play this fake story up, but what I find particularly appalling is that some other university people are mumbling their support of his thesis.

A colleague of Kenney’s, Larry Jacobs, director of the institute’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, said that “as someone who works with people from all parties, it’s just an inappropriate use of university resources. … I don’t ever recall seeing an e-mail like that from a faculty member.”

Hmmm. Maybe Jacobs was hired under a different contract—one that required bloodlessness and castration. Does he really pretend that he is an objective observer with no opinions, and is he so fearful that he thinks no one will like him if he admits to an opinion? Email is a commodity, a privilege handed out with our employment, a teeny-tiny perquisite to help compensate for our teeny-tiny salaries, and it’s hardly a drain on university resources for a faculty member to send out correspondence with it. If you want to see a drain on university resources, try turning university employment into an excuse to regulate every action of our faculty.

David Schultz, an ethics expert at Hamline University, said “what’s bad about it is that it lends credence to the perception that academics and professors are all liberal and using college resources to help Democrats. … You shouldn’t use your e-mail or your title or your position to leverage help for particular candidates.”

Why not?

Seriously, what is it with these clowns who want to muzzle academics? It’s not as if we wield some kind of direct clout, able to compel people to obey us with threats and blandishments — we are people who write and speak and have no powers beyond being able to express ourselves (and many of us do not do even that particularly well). And yet people like Brodkorb whine and want to deprive us of even the right to state our opinions, and a certain subset of the university establishment will readily cower and promise not to bark, ever again.

Not me, though.

My name is PZ Myers, I am an associate professor at the University of Minnesota Morris, and you can contact me at myersp@morris.umn.edu. I will be voting for Al Franken, I will be campaigning for Al Franken, I will be praising Al Franken on my blog, and I will be writing email to my friends urging them to vote for Al Franken. I am an academic and a professor, and I’m liberal and proud of it.

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Go, Al!


Smartie has more.


How about this? College Republicans are freely using umn.edu addresses (and I suspect the college Democrats do the same). Shall we inform all our students that they may not use the email accounts we’ve given them to engage in political activities?

Comments

  1. #1 David Marjanovi?
    January 25, 2007

    Professor Kenney was, indeed, asked to use a resource which is not available to other competing campaigns

    Excuse me? Of course it is.

    Oh, you mean, you won’t find a right-wing professor? If reality has a liberal bias, that’s your problem, not anyone else’s. Besides… search harder. They exist.