UNCW Professors reflect upon Star News editorial on Mike Adams

Casey McAnarney, Editor in Chief

In an editorial published Dec. 4 in the StarNews, the editorial board of the paper discussed the implications of the controversy regarding Dr. Mike Adams that reached national news at the end of 2016, stating that the matter was not one of free speech but of professionalism.

The situation in which the editorial refers to revolves around an article written by the UNC Wilmington professor of criminology in which he talked about a student’s visit by the Secret Service after a comment made over Trump’s impending visit to campus. What ensued from the article posted on The Daily Wire were outside readers leaving responses for the student that made her feel uncomfortable and unsafe. This student has since transferred from UNCW and more coverage of this story can be found on The Seahawk’s website.

“But this is not about free speech or academic freedom; it’s about professional standards,” the editorial read. The editorial asked if these actions of Dr. Adams were unprofessional and asked if students should not have to expect possible “ridicule” from an employee of the university. Ultimately, the conclusion was that this “is an issue of professional conduct and standards, not free speech.”

Since the controversy with Adams made headline news last year, many departments at the university spoke out in opposition of his actions. The Creative Writing Department, Faculty Senate and Adams’ own department of Sociology and Criminology all wrote statements condemning or distancing themselves from the situation.

“The undersigned faculty of the Department of Sociology and Criminology at UNCW are committed to providing an inclusive educational environment for all students,” Adams’ department wrote in a formal statement. “We value freedom of speech and neither endorse nor support recent public statements or actions that have resulted in the harassment and discriminatory treatment of students.”

Similarly, the Creative Writing Department’s statement discussed the necessity for free speech but also for the protection against ridicule stating, “As writers, we believe in free speech. We are appalled that a fellow teacher would abuse that freedom to publicly ridicule, harass and humiliate a student.”

Since the end of 2016 and the editorial by the StarNews was posed, professors have reflected on the situation. For some, the matter being about professionalism still rings true.

“[The editorial] hit the mark on an important aspect of this entire controversy,” UNCW Creative Writing professor, Timothy Bass, “which is that the level of professionalism a college professor should show in dealing with a sensitive, controversial situation.”

Bass found that the editorial accurately discussed the level of unprofessionalism shown in this situation by Adams. Adams showed himself as “irresponsible” towards all students in dealing with this specific student, according to Bass, since it could mirror possible treatment of other students.

Based on the code of ethics for Sociology and for educators in general, his behavior is inconsistent with what is expected of sociologists, criminologists and other scholars, according to Dr. Richard Olsen of the Communication Studies Department. Olsen also posed the question of how this behavior could impact the brand image of UNCW, especially since national news focused more on the actions of Adams rather than the responses of students and professors.

But this could be a learning experience, as Olsen tells his students that the “primary lesson from this is we can be better and this is why we need to be better.”

“Students are embracing the spirit and letter of the respect compact and saying ‘this ain’t right,’ and that’s a good thing,” Olsen said.

When it comes to toxicity, there are two routes according to Olsen: either we spend a lot of effort trying to clean it up or we can quarantine it and just walk past it. Olsen finds that in some cases the latter may be the better choice.

Currently UNCW is taking a stance more for freedom of speech for private citizens rather than discussing the implications of unprofessionalism, “which is a defendable position,” Olsen said. However, the editorial in the StarNews makes the case that if Chancellor Jose V. Sartarelli and Board of Trustee members do not “address this issue more directly and fully,” it could have consequences.