The University of Tennessee has made the right call in its “investigation” of University of Tennessee law professor and prolific blogger Glenn Reynolds. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports:
The University of Tennessee College of Law Dean Melanie D. Wilson said Tuesday that no disciplinary action will be taken against one of its law professors and contributing columnist for USA TODAY and the News Sentinel who urged motorists to run over demonstrators blocking traffic in Charlotte, N.C.“The tweet was an exercise of his First Amendment rights,” Wilson wrote in a post on the law school’s website.
In an email to the law school, Reynolds explained the offending tweet in more detail:
I was following the riots in Charlotte, against a background of reports of violence, which seemed to be getting worse. Then I retweeted a report of mobs “stopping traffic and surrounding vehicles” with the comment “run them down.”Those words can be taken as encouragement of drivers going out of their way to run down protesters. I meant no such thing, and I’m sorry it seemed to many that I did. What I meant was that drivers who feel their lives are in danger from a violent mob should not stop their vehicles. I remember Reginald Denny, a truck driver who was beaten nearly to death by a mob during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. My tweet should have said, “Keep driving,” or “Don’t stop.” I was upset, and it was a bad tweet. I do not support violence except in cases of clear self-defense.
This whole episode is a (likely futile) reminder that our discourse would be well-served if people on both sides of the political divide were more charitable in interpreting each others’ expression. That’s as true when a black athlete takes a knee during the national anthem as when a white law professor tweets in haste.
Despite the passive-aggressive tone of the UT dean’s statement—at one point, she suggests melodramatically that faculty and students must now “try to rebuild our law school community”—it’s refreshing to see a law school make it clear that it will not punish a professor. Many academic bureaucracies claim “respect for diversity” as their raison d’être but exhibit a punitive narrow-mindedness that is incompatible with the freedom of thought and expression that universities should defend at all costs.