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Hey, remember last fall when Barack Obama shut down the government just so he could eject disabled WW II veterans from the monuments on the National Mall? Now, a lot of you may have been under the impression that the shutdown was the result of tea party Republicans' demand that Obamacare be defunded or they would shut down the government, possibly because the liberal media kept reporting tea party Republicans saying that was their goal. But if you were a college professor whose classes were affected by the shutdown, it would have been a very bad idea to refer to any of that in an email to your students, because you would run the risk of activating the Internet Howler Monkey Rage Brigade -- which is exactly what happened to Rachel Slocum, an assistant professor of geography at University of Wisconsin at Lacrosse. AChronicle of Higher Education story details what happened after Slocum realized on the first day of the shutdown that students wouldn't be able to complete an assignment because websites for the Census Bureau and Education Department had gone offline, so she sent the following unspeakable insult to let the 18 students in her class know how to proceed:


Some of the data gathering assignment will be impossible to complete until the Republican/tea party controlled House of Representatives agrees to fund the government. The Census website, for example, is closed. Please do what you can on the assignment. Those parts that you’re unable to do because of the shutdown will have to wait until Congress decides we actually need a government. Please listen to the news and be prepared to turn in the assignment quickly once our nation re-opens.

Rachel

Since you're reading the email, you can pretty much assume that it ended up being distributed a bit farther than the 18 students in her class.

One of Slocum's students, Katie Johnson, had become politically enlightened as a freshman and knew better than to just let some radical leftist smear Republicans for shutting down the government. Johnson, at the time an intern at Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, did what any good conservative student would do: rather than talking to the professor or to anyone at the university, she proudly cried "#oppression!" on social media, and sent out a Tweet of Great Butthurt:

Can't do my homework for class; govt. shutdown. So my prof. blames Republicans in an e-mail blast...

What's beautiful about that is the acknowledgement that the government shutdown is actually affecting her, and the implication that it's "blaming" to accurately describe by whom and why the government was shut down. Also, since when is 18 students an "email blast?"

And then things got rolling. Slocum woke up the next morning to an inbox full of hate mail:

Some threatened to have her fired. Others described plans to lobby state lawmakers to stop giving tax money to her college.

"Clearly you have forgotten that the student is your customer," one person wrote. "They pay you for services rendered." Another told Ms. Slocum: "Quit your job because you are a worthless douchebag." By lunch, the professor would find herself up against an entire network of conservative organizations.

The great shame, of course, is that in her highly visible position as a prof, she couldn't even reply to "I'm going to have you fired" with the David Sedaris-endorsed line, "Oh Yeah? I'm gonna have you killed."

And then a bunch of rightwing blogs, chief among them Media Trackers -- the people who got that "National Guard trains to take your guns" story so badly wrong -- and the victimization clearinghouse Campus Reform were on the story, because after all we can't have poor little conservative snowflakes being subjected to ideas they disagree with. The Daily Caller accurately described the email as nothing less than a "campaign against Republicans" by a "leftist professor" at a "public, taxpayer-funded" university, so of course it was time for calls for Slocum to be fired, for the university's funding to be cut, and so on.

Fortunately, the university administration came to her defense, explaining all about academic freedom and stuff, right? Precisely, except for the part where the university's chancellor, Joe Gow -- who'd been getting his own share of emails from parents saying their child would never go to UW and demanding that Slocum be disciplined -- told Media Trackers that Professor Slocum had been advised that her email was inappropriately partisan and that she had agreed to send an apology. Slocum considered her email an accurate description of the shutdown, but sent the 18 students an apology anyway, though she also included details supporting her contention that the shutdown was a Republican thing, possibly because it was. She also asked that the second email not be sent on to "conservative blogs or listservs," which Katie Johnson considered a challenge, so she sent it on. Come on, silly liberal, why would you bait your teabagger informant like that?

Final score, all these months later -- Slocum is looking for a new job -- not because of this foofaraw, but because before the whole mess, she had already been denied tenure; now she's worried that being thrown under the bus by her administration may hurt her chances in a tight job market. Chancellor Gow is very sad that he's been made to seem like the bad guy for simply protecting the university's funding. And the student, Katie Johnson, now thinks maybe it would have been better to talk to Slocum before exposing her to national condemnation:

Looking back on the episode, she says she regrets that Ms. Slocum became the target of uncivil attacks. Talking directly to her professor probably would have been a better course of action, she now says, than creating a public controversy.

On the other hand, Johnson is very happy with the cool internship she has at Americans for Prosperity, where she's working with social media. She seems nice.

[Chronicle of Higher Education]

Follow Doktor Zoom on Twitter. He sure does miss teaching college, yep, sure does.

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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