SADOW: LSU Firing Idiot Voice-Mailer Appropriate, But It Changes Little

Not just on philosophical grounds, but more relevantly on practical grounds Louisiana State University was correct in terminating a graduate student’s assistantship for levying a direct threat of harm against a state lawmaker – and dramatically increasing his employment chances down the road.

Last week, LSU sociology graduate student Marcus Venable, who must have an excitable nature, lost it upon learning Republican state Sen. “Big” Mike Fesi had voted to overturn Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of HB 648, which prohibits (from the start of next year) surgical or chemical sex alterations of minors, legislation that correctly understands research shows a significant proportion of children who do this express regrets and that a significant proportion have underlying psychiatric issues that don’t improve even after these interventions or non-medical interventions. The outright ban equips parents to safeguard their children better from attempts outside the family to play to children’s transitory thinking, which because their typically underdeveloped emotional and intellectual capacity is suspect, if not goad them to embark upon irreversible interventions.

The successful override so unhinged Venable that he left, from his campus office phone, a profane message to Fesi full of emotion and absent of any facts. While incredibly boorish, most of it, even a part about celebrating Fesi’s death, legally was harmless – until his last sentence, where he declared the celebration would be resulting from “when we put you in the ground.”

For much of my life, I received threats of harm because of what I wrote, beginning on my dorm room phone when I was 19. This led to a practice of paying to keep my home phone numbers unlisted until now, although threats to me to my office phones dropped off years ago I suspect because caller identification became common and technology made any call traceable by law enforcement (occasionally, I still get one by surface mail, predictably anonymously, to my Louisiana State University Shreveport office, usually along the lines of, “we’re watching you,” “we know where you work,” etc.). Over 40 years ago, it was only slightly unsettling, as I knew only cowards and bullies that would recoil and hide at the first show of defiance issued such things.

That was then. Today, such messaging takes on much more gravity, especially on the political left with its eliminationist expression. It’s not that the left since historically and ideologically has shown over the years an increasing disregard for human life and suffering, as it always has countenanced violations against individuals who it puts on an enemies list in the name of its presumed greater cause. It’s that with such rhetoric happening despite the costs of detection going up as well as proliferating instances of such threats being carried out and a general rise in sociopathic violence in society, you simply can’t be sure any more that these aren’t empty.

None of this was in haste in Venable’s case. He took the time and effort to procure Fesi’s number and then to make the call, using university resources to do so. If LSU is anything like other universities and like it was almost 40 years ago when I signed a system graduate assistant contract, it contains language relating to a general morals clause that states if you act criminally in a way that discredits the university, you can be fired (as well as getting canned for not attesting to the loyalty oath). Additionally, the system has policy that considers his use of the phone as misuse of university property, subjecting him to discipline.

Venable’s booting amusingly has led to the usual campus suspects who routinely condemn speech, and non-threatening at that, which triggers them to defend this example of genuine hate speech as not hateful enough to give him his walking papers. Mistakenly, so does the usually on-target Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which has a long and illustrious history in defense of free speech (note: I have worked with the group in the past). It terms the message as hyperbole and therefore not unprotected speech, but that is, as noted above, a serious misjudgment.

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But don’t mistake the valid grounds for termination that LSU had as the reason for that occurring. In reality, no doubt Venable’s threat in the aggregate minds of campus decision-makers concerning his employment was greeted as regrettable overenthusiasm and bad judgment in its deployment, but basically sound in theory and motivation. It would not be surprising, given how academia so often these days supplants wisdom with nuttiness, if a few secretly wished they had done the same.

No, the reason why he was terminated was revelation of his action made LSU look bad, with the school’s allowing some kook with LSU imprimatur to berate dangerously the majority of the state’s population – and families who send their progeny and donations to LSU – for their views they shared with Fesi concerning the new law, as well as this carried the implication that the typical instructor there was an entirely unhinged nutjob, which doesn’t serve as the best advertisement for enrollment. Venable may have engaged in unprotected speech, but that would have been tolerated except for the ruin to LSU’s reputation he represented by his continued employment there.

Yet he may have the last laugh. Undoubtedly, this incident has sent his stock through the ceiling in faculty lounges, disconnected as they may be from the real world and reality, across the country from admiration of his zeal. When he hits the market eventually, Internet searches will turn up this and he’ll zoom to the top of hiring lists, with the caution during his interviews that he tone it down a bit when he can’t be guaranteed his communications would be confidential. They’ll lionize him between trying to punish other instructors who for reasons of conscience use pronouns aligning with students’ actual sex (FIRE has successfully defended attacked faculty members in such instances).

Authorities will decide whether to charge Venable by the end of the week. Regardless, cheer for this assertion of equal protection under the law (unlike, for example, in Washington, D.C. where the highest official in the land rates preferential treatment for partisan and ideological reasons) even as we must recognize the underlying incident reflects a disease spreading in academia.

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