The two Tennessee Tech (TTU) professors who posted flyers threatening a Turning Point USA (TPUSA) advisor and students defended their actions in a radio interview on Monday. They claimed it constituted free speech.
The professors in question were TTU Department of Foreign Languages Associate Professor Dr. Julia Gruber and English instructor in English and religious studies Andrew Smith. The Rude Pundit host Lee Papa conducted an hour-long interview with Smith and Gruber. Papa facilitated discussion over the possibility that Tennessee Tech would punish the professors for posting the flyers.
Papa identified Gruber and Smith as grassroots Cookeville activists involved in a litany of left-leaning organizations, such as Black Lives Matter, the Tennessee Indigenous Coalition, the NAACP, and the Cookeville Mutual Aid Society. Collectively, the pair also advise or co-advise chapters of the LAMBDA Gay-Straight Alliance, NAACP, College Democrats, Presbyterian Student Association, and the Student Environmental Activist Coalition.
“They always put their students first, but they find their social justice work integral to the mission of their work and the mission of any university,” explained Papa.
As The Tennessee Star reported on Tuesday, the TTU Human Resources’ investigator concluded that the flyers were intended to harass, threaten, and intimidate anyone involved in the TTU Turning Point USA chapter. The investigator recommended that the two professors be found in violation of TTU’s Code of Conduct.
Gruber categorized her behavior as an “act of activism.” She said that she’s been investigated before, but didn’t disclose what for.
Smith explained that he made the flyer because one of his targets, TTU TPUSA campus advisor A.J. Donadio, was a racist and that TPUSA is a racist organization.
He explained further that he’d shown Gruber and other professors the flyer, and that Gruber was the first to post one copy of the flyer. Smith said that he decided to post one flyer himself after that. He also claimed that no students saw the flyer.
Yet, several students reported seeing the flyer.
Papa disagreed that the flyer was out of line. He equated it to TPUSA’s Professor Watchlist.
However, flyer stated that Donadio and TPUSA weren’t welcome on TTU’s campus, that there couldn’t be unity with racists, and that Donadio’s and TPUSA’s speech isn’t protected free speech. These were aspects that the investigator determined carried the intent of harassment, intimidation, and issuing threats.
In contrast, TPUSA’s list doesn’t call for any removal of the professors. Their “About Us” page explains the list’s purpose at length:
The mission of Professor Watchlist is to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom. The project is comprised of published news stories detailing instances of bias, propaganda, or speech infringement on college campuses. […] TPUSA will continue to fight for free speech and the right of professors to say whatever they believe, however students, parents, and alumni deserve to know the specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in our lecture halls.
Gruber went on to say that Donadio’s cheering during a local school board meeting over their refusal to remove a “racist” mascot – the Algood Middle School Redskins mascot – instigated the flyer’s creation. Gruber created a GoFundMe last week to reverse the school board’s decision.
Both Gruber and Smith were adamant that the flyer constituted an exercise of free speech. They said they were open to debating TPUSA members and advisors over their beliefs, despite the flyer’s assertion that those involved in TPUSA expressed speech that wasn’t protected or tolerable.
Smith insinuated that Donadio’s decision to go to the police “over a piece of paper” was an overreaction.
Papa asserted that this investigation against the flyer was just a means of silencing professors who think differently. Smith and Gruber agreed.
Gruber and Smith have hired legal counsel to fight TTU’s investigation and any potential sanctions.
– – –