The chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Martin issued a statement late Friday identifying Dr. Charles Bradshaw, associate professor of English, as the author of an anonymous letter that contained threats of violence against the student sponsors of a Student Government Association resolution to allow students concealed carry privileges on campus, a story The Tennessee Star broke on Friday morning.
“As many of you are aware, a situation arose this week from an open letter issued by Dr. Charles Bradshaw, UT Martin associate professor of English, under the pen name ‘Wesley Sniper’ that contained descriptions of mass violence on our campus,” Dr. Keith Carver, UT Martin chancellor said in the statement.
“The letter was originally crafted as an example of satirical writing for one of Dr. Bradshaw’s classes; however, the letter soon became distributed to a much broader audience. Many individuals who saw the letter outside of the class became concerned for the safety of the campus and reported the matter to the police,” Carver continued.
“After an initial investigation, the UT Martin Department of Public Safety quickly determined that the campus was not in imminent danger. Dr. Bradshaw was placed on paid administrative leave while the matter was fully investigated. The campus reported the situation to the Weakley County District Attorney, who declined to press charges because Dr. Bradshaw engaged in speech protected by the First Amendment,” Carver said.
“It is now clear that Dr. Bradshaw intended the letter to be used only as an in-class example of satire. Despite his intent, Dr. Bradshaw recognizes the legitimate safety concerns raised by readers of the letter and offers the following apology,” Carver noted.
In an open letter, (whose full contents are seen below) Bradshaw “apologize[d] for the problems created by a letter many have seen and responded to that I wrote satirizing S.R. 1704, “A Resolution to Allow Students to Concealed Carry on Campus.”
Alex Joyner and Jade Bleskey, the members of the Student Senate who sponsored the resolution, were impressed with Chancellor Carver’s statement but did not consider Dr. Bradshaw’s apology sufficient.
“Even it was not his intent to threaten us, in my opinion, lack of intent does not justify the letter. If a student had written exactly the same kind of ‘satirical’ letter directed towards a professor or group of professors, the outcome for that student would not have been nearly as forgiving as the outcome appears for Dr. Bradshaw,” Joyner said.
“Our faculty members and students need a better understanding of free speech, without having it infringe on the rights of students, or threatening their lives,” Bleskey added.
“And to further that goal,” Joyner said, “we intend to formally invite both Ben Shapiro and Steve Bannon to address the faculty and students here at UT Martin in a public forum on what the First Amendment really means for everyone, including conservatives and students who want the right to concealed carry.”
The full text of Bradshaw’s letter of apology can be seen here:
An Open Letter from Dr. Charles Bradshaw
I would like to apologize for the problems created by a letter many have seen and responded to that I wrote satirizing S.R. 1704, “A Resolution to Allow Students to Concealed Carry on Campus.”
The letter was written as an example of satire to be used in a class examining different types of written argument and to prove its usefulness to current events. I informed the class that an anonymous faculty member had written it, but it was in no way presented as embodying any political views or actual views that I or any real person held. Nor did I suggest or imply that students should hold a particular view of the “Conceal-and-Carry” situation.
I anticipated that laughter, not fear, would be its effect in my class and among my colleagues, and I shared several copies, anonymously, with selected members of my department.
When I found out that campus police were inquiring about the letter, I immediately contacted them to let them know I was the author.
I am sorry, given current events, for any fear or anger this has caused for students or any others who support the university. I have the utmost respect for the people I work with on campus and for state government officials and would never wish to scare or harm them. The university has been an extremely peaceful place for me over the years, and I took that security for granted in constructing this letter. I meant neither violence nor harm to any individual or entity mentioned or implied.
Most of all, I owe UTM’s Student Government Association an explanation. I hold UTM students in the highest regard and reverence their agency in student governance and their freedom to make their own decisions. As a professor, I go to great lengths to empower my students to be independent and responsible thinkers, so it hurts and embarrasses me personally and professionally to think that I have curtailed these values in any way or belittled any student. I applaud the initiative taken by the students who fostered this resolution and sought to responsibly debate in a transparent manner with their colleagues. I am truly sorry if this letter made light of the legislative process or disrespected their bravery in bringing forward such an important consideration. This is the very heart and soul of higher education, and I honor their efforts.
I also want to apologize to the other entities and officials of the university that have been involved in this misunderstanding. They have been thorough and quick to respond to every concern, always with the campus’s safety at the forefront of their minds.
“Coming so soon after the terrible events in our nation where so many people were lost to violence and UT Martin lost one of our own heroic alumni, the subject of mass violence was not the best example to use even for satire,” Chancellor Carver added in his statement.
“While I acknowledge Dr. Bradshaw’s right to engage in satire, I appreciate his apology and sensitivity to the concerns of our university community,” Carver concluded.
Students Joyner and Bleskey were not the only ones who did not consider Bradshaw’s apology sufficient.
“School kids can be suspended for fingers and sticks, but a college professor can dodge ‘zero tolerance’ by claiming First Amendment protection for provoking violence, or at least pretending to,” political analyst Steve Gill told The Star.
“Why can’t a 7-year-old get the some constitutional protection for chewing a Pop Tart into the shape of a gun by simply declaring it ‘artistic expression’? ” Gill asked.
“People have suffered far worse punishments after doing far less than this professor. Sadly, the only actual protected speech that is tolerated on campuses today is liberal speech,” Gill continued.
“”Perhaps an appropriate punishment for this supposed English scholar would be to require him to diagram every sentence in this month’s American Rifleman, the NRA monthly magazine, in order to be reinstated to his position,” Gill concluded.
“Odd that they would condone an attack on the 2nd Amendment by hiding behind the 1st Amendment,” one Capitol Hill insider told The Star.
“If the ‘satirical’ letter was poking fun at Black Lives Matter, Hillary Clinton or global warming, does anyone doubt there would be a massive outcry and demands for punishment of the offending writer? Instead they circle the wagons and welcome an obviously left-wing academic back into their fold,” the insider noted.
Dr. Bradshaw received his Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri in 2002.
He teaches courses in “American Literature before 1900, Studies in the American Novel, Southern Literature, Survey of American Literature, Introduction to Literary Studies, Composition,” according to his page on the UT Martin website.
His research interests are “Early American Literature and Politics, Early American Novel.”
You can read the full statement from Chancellor Carver here:UT_Martin_Carver_Statement_Nov_3_2017