How should a faculty member respond to targeted harassment? Many viral outrage stories, such as those published by Campus Reform and College Fix, come and go without causing a stir. However, many others are picked up within the right-wing media ecosystem. When this happens, donors, alumni, students, parents, and random strangers can bombard faculty members with hateful and threatening emails, phone calls, and social media messages. Our research finds that forty percent of faculty members written about by Campus Reform receive threats of harm. Sometimes college administrators and presidents receive calls to fire the faculty member. These situations can spiral fairly quickly, so it is best to take a number of early precautions. We have compiled tips from our experience, the experiences of other faculty members who have experienced attacks, as well as a number of really helpful online sources (see below):
Create a Harassment Response and Prevention Plan
- Encourage your institution to create campus-specific resources for responding to political attacks on faculty. These procedures should include clear guidelines for faculty, chairs, and administrators. They should lay out the existing policies and campus resources. The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s “Harassment Response and Prevention Plan” is a great model.
Before a story is published
- Block CampusReform, College Fix, and other outlets from your Twitter feed, along with any “student corespondents” that might be “reporting” on your campus.
- If desired, make social media accounts private. That being said, for many faculty having a public social media profile is an important part of our professional and academic work. Don’t self-censure out of fear of what these outlets might write. However, if you are only interested in using social media to communicate with friends and family, making your accounts private can help inoculate you from unwanted attention.
- Make it clear on all social media accounts that the views you express are your own, and not those of your employer. This is in accordance with guidance from the AAUP on academic freedom and extra-mural utterances.
- Include language in your class syllabi about the importance of considering multiple perspectives. But also the classroom punishments for making unauthorized recordings of class discussion or leaking material to partisan outlets. Include college policies, codes of conduct, etc. pertaining to these topics as well. Explain the pedagogical necessity of maintaining trust in the classroom.
- Become active in your campus AAUP chapter and/or union; or create an AAUP chapter if one does not already exist on campus. Having a campus organization committed to protecting academic freedom can make all the difference should you or a colleague find yourself at the center of a manufactured controversy.
- Educate yourself, your colleagues, and your administration about the threats posed by Campus Reform and other right-wing organizations that harass faculty. Isaac Kamola (email@example.com) is happy to participate in teach-ins or other events.
- Consider purchasing professional liability insurance from the AAUP. This can help cover legal expenses that might accrue as a result of targeted harassment.
If contacted for comment
- In general, ignoring these outlets is a completely reasonable response. These stories are designed to stir up outrage and, therefore, treating Campus Reform, College Fix, Daily Wire, etc. as news outlet deserving a response can only give them underserved legitimacy.
- If interested in providing a comment do so in writing. And consider providing one that implicates the whole endeavor. For example:
“Campus Reform is a right-wing political organization that received $5.9 million, including from billionaire dark money sources, to write outrage pieces about individual faculty and academic institutions. Therefore, I do not find it necessary to respond to the accusations being made, or insinuated, by this partisan outlet." [feel free to use/edit this text as needed]
When a story is first published
- When named in a “story,” contact trusted colleagues, administrators and/or departmental chairs to inform them of the story, and ask for their support. If helpful, pass along links to this website.
- Tell administrators that, should the situation reach a point where a public statement is needed, you expect they: a) do not make any statements without running it by you first, and b) that such statements includes strong support of your academic freedom. Feel free to pass along a link to our “Resources for Administrators” page.
- If desired, make your social media accounts private or set to “friends only” (see above)
- Make a GoogleAlert for your name. This can help keep track of whether the story is gaining momentum within the right-wing media ecosystem.
- Consult PEN America’s “Online harassment Field Manual”
Are you considering publicly responding?
- Responding to these attacks publicly can be an effective way to educate the public about who these organization are and how they operate. But such engagement online is not for everyone.
- If you are interested in making a public response I would recommend checking out these two Twitter threads and this blog post as stellar examples.
- Include an analysis of who these organization are, who funds them, and the role they play within a larger political/media infrastructure.
If the story gains traction
- Alert the relevant administrators and remind them about your expectation that they publicly defend your academic freedom.
- Ask administration (or the campus technology professionals) to remove your email address, telephone number, office address, office hours and any personal information from your institution’s website.
- Contact your campus union and/or AAUP chapter to ask for a statement of support.
- Contact Isaac Kamola (firstname.lastname@example.org) who is always willing to brainstorm strategies and responses. He can also put you in contact with other faculty who have had similar experiences.
If things get really ugly
- If your home address has been doxxed, consider staying with friends or family until the threats and harassment subside.
- Ask friends and colleagues to help. They can help pre-filter hateful message from your email and social media. Ask them to save emails, phone recordings, and screen shots as a record, but they don’t need to share the content with you. Consider forwarding copies to the relevant administrators so they are aware of the extent of the harassment. Tools like Heart Mob and Squad Box may prove helpful in these contexts.
- If desired, make a plan with campus safety or the campus police, and make sure your colleagues know how to contact campus safety.
- Sending a threatening email is considered “unlawful communication.” If desired, you can turn these emails over to law enforcement and file a police report.
- Companies such as Norton LifeLock (a paid security service) can locate sites containing your personal information so you can remove this information from the internet.
If your institution does not protect your academic freedom
- Contact your AAUP chapter, union, and/or faculty committee charged with issues of academic freedom.
- Contact Isaac Kamola (email@example.com) who is always willing to brainstorm strategies and responses. He can also put you in contact with people at the national office of the AAUP who can provide additional support.
Public Records Requests
While the details vary from state to state, for those working at a public institution, anything used in the line of work (whether that’s a .edu email account, Gmail, Iphone texts, phone records, etc.) is likely subject to Freedom of Information (FOIA) or state public record requests. One approach is for faculty to regularly delete these, as well as any .edu emails. If they are not deleted, faculty members may be legally responsible for providing these records.
Adames, Hector Y., Nayeli Y. Chavez-Dueñas & Kenneth S. Pope, “Targeted: Surviving Social Media Attacks.” Inside Higer Ed.
Dutt-Ballerstadt, Reshmi. “Striking a Nerve.” Inside Higher Ed. March 2, 2018.
Cloud, Dana. “Responding to Right-Wing Attacks.” Inside Higher Ed. November 7, 2017.
Tressie McMillan Cottom, “Academic Outrage: When The Culture Wars Go Digital.“