THE White House is calling on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas to investigate a Fil-Am history professor after she expressed an opinion critical of President Donald Trump during one of her lectures.
This comes in the wake of the deadly massacre in Las Vegas that claimed the lives of 58 people and injured about 500 others after Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino during a country music concert on Sunday, October 1.
As FOX News reported, Prof. Tessa Winkelmann said, “Right when he got elected, I told my classes, three semesters ago, that some of us won’t be affected by this presidency, but others are going to die…Other people will die because of this. And we’ve seen this happen, right?”
Winkelmann was quoted based on a video reportedly obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal that showed her speaking to her class also saying:
“He’s [Trump] threatened to declare violence against North Korea and other places…And words, especially if they’re coming from someone who is the president, have consequences. . . I don’t know that these events would have inevitably happened whether or not he got elected, but he has rhetorical powers every president has to encourage or to discourage (violence). So far all he’s done is to encourage violence.”
One of the students was reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal to be “dumbfounded” and said the professor’s comments were “appalling,” in the wake of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal also wrote that a student told them that Winkelmann’s comments polarized the classroom and students began shouting at each other.
According to FOX News, Winkelmann’s commentary has since been criticized by both the university and the White House.
“While we respect academic freedom in the classroom and the right to free speech, we believe the comments were insensitive, especially given the series of events this week and the healing process that has begun in the community,” UNLV spokesman Tony Allen said.
FOX News reported that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wants the University of Las Vegas to investigate Winkelmann, saying “She should be ashamed of herself, and the university should look into it. What a terrible example to set for students.”
“It is sad she is teaching students such divisive, inaccurate and irresponsible rhetoric,” Trump’s press secretary added.
Amid all these reactions to her comments, the Fil-Am professor apologized through a statement emailed to the Review-Journal:
“This week has been very difficult for members of our community, and we have allowed students space in our classes to discuss how they have been affected and to openly convey their feelings,” Winkelmann said. “I regret that my comments caused more pain during this difficult time. Emotions were running high and I wish I would have been more thoughtful in how I directed the conversation.”
While I respect Prof. Tessa Winkelmann for her humility and compassion for the people of Las Vegas as the nation is still in shock and pain over the tragedy, I am unsettled by the thought that this incident shows how in the United States of America under President Donald Trump, a history professor giving her own commentary and academic analysis about an issue in a university setting may be chastised by the same university and even be subject of an investigation as prodded by the White House only because her commentary was critical of the president.
What was false, malicious and inaccurate about her opinion? Was she attacking the president personally? Wasn’t she talking about the power of the “words” uttered by the leader who holds the most powerful position in the nation, and perhaps in the whole world?
And why should she be criticized over comments that “polarized the classroom and students began shouting at each other”?
A university should give the students the platform and the training to express and take dissenting critical opinions, and learn through the process how to exchange differing opinions in a respectful and constructive manner. This should be the training ground for the responsible exercise of our constitutionally protected right to free speech.
This incident is but one example of how the response of the White House and the University of Nevada may have a chilling effect on the exercise of our First Amendment right.
Would, could, and should the citizens of the United States of America — the land of the free and the home of the brave — be silenced?
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Gel Santos Relos is the anchor of TFC’s “Balitang America.” Views and opinions expressed by the author in this column are solely those of the author and not of Asian Journal and ABS-CBN-TFC. For comments, go to www.TheFil-AmPerspective.com, https://www.facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos