We recently discussed the controversy surrounding a confrontation between Thrin Short, 16, and her sister Joan, 21, and Feminist Studies Associate Professor Mireille Miller-Young. Miller-Young has now been charged with criminal conduct including Theft of Person; Battery; and Vandalism. All are misdemeanors.
The formal criminal charges will increase demands that Miller-Young be terminated as a faculty member. Even without the criminality, she engaged in an act that should be anathema for any academic or academic institution: she was trying to silence others on campus. Given the videotape evidence, I would expect an offer of a plea if the prosecutors dropped the battery charge. Battery, even misdemeanor battery, makes any continuation as a faculty member problematic.
Of course, even without the battery charge, Miller-Young has acted in a way that is anathema to all intellectuals. Ironically, she has acted in the same way that critics of early feminists and birth control advocates responded to their protests. Feminist signs and protests were attacked and students censored for their views.
The Shorts were handing out pro-life pamphlets when they say Miller-Young confronted them and became irate over their demonstration. They videotaped her after she appeared to organize students in yelling “take down the sign.” They say that she grabbed the sign and walked off–ignoring the protests of the teenagers. Campus police were called and Short says that she was pushed by Miller-Young three times — leaving bruises on her wrists — at an elevator confrontation.
On the video below, Miller-Young is seen taking the sign with graphic images and saying “I may be a thief but you are a terrorist.” At the elevator, she can be seen shoving the teenagers and blocking them. The fact (as noted by her students) that the teenagers do not go to the school is no excuse for this type of conduct. If there was some real violation in the protests (which seems dubious), Miller-Young has no authority to quash the speech. This appears a clear content-based act by Miller-Young. It is even more disturbing to see her encouraging her students to silence opposing views by stealing a sign. It is the very antithesis of the academic mission which is based first and foremost on free speech and association — and civility.
Miller-Young lists her areas as “Pornography; Sex Work; Black Film, Popular Culture and Art; Feminist & Queer Theory; African American & African Diaspora Studies; Visual Archives; New Media; Ethnography; Oral History.” Her bio states that she focuses on pornography and African-American women.
According to reports, Miller-Young has retained an attorney. Catherine Swysen of law firm Sanger Swysen & Dunkle (Notably, Swysen draws not only from her considerable legal experience but experience as a former teacher in the University of California system). She is making no comment but a student her Women of Color class, insisted that she was write to do what she did because “She’s pregnant, so she’s very sensitive to horrifying images like that.” It is very distressful to see a student supporting anti-free speech conduct, a concern expressed recently with regard to French students in suing Twitter.
The delay in issuing an apology is only going to reaffirm concerns in the minds of some faculty. I fail to see a viable defense for this conduct. Once again, regardless of the status of these teenagers or the disturbing images of the protests, this was an act of free speech. If there is a prohibition on such displays (which would itself raise free speech issues), this was not how academics address controversial speech. If Miller-Young had a legal concern, she can call the police — not lead students in stealing signs and trying to silence their speech.
The faculty code states that faculty “accept the obligation to exercise critical self-discipline and judgment in using, extending, and transmitting knowledge.” This includes a prohibition on “any exploitation, harassment, or discriminatory treatment of students.” Misconduct includes:
1. Intentional disruption of functions or activities sponsored or authorized by the University.
2. Incitement of others to disobey University rules when such incitement constitutes a clear and present danger that violence or abuse against persons or property will occur or that the University’s central functions will be significantly impaired.
The admission on the tape that she has stolen the sign will not help in any university investigation. Regardless of any claim of provocation by Miller-Young, the means chosen by the professor is clearly unacceptable and inimical to the academic mission. To call people with opposing views “terrorists” is a shocking view for an intellectual. To enlist students in an act of censorship magnifies the fundamental misconduct shown on the video. The response of her students reaffirms that they have learned from this example and fail to appreciate the shared value in free speech that extends across political and social divisions.