by Kristine Phillips
The Sydney Morning Herald
The University of Tampa in Florida has fired a visiting professor who appeared to suggest on social media that Hurricane Harvey is karma for Texas for voting Republican.
Kenneth L. Storey, a sociology professor, was immediately slammed on social media after he tweeted this Sunday: “I dont believe in instant Karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas. Hopefully this will help them realize the GOP doesnt care about them.” Two days later, he was out of a job.
In a statement Tuesday, the university denounced Storey’s comments, saying they were made on his private Twitter account and do not reflect the school’s views.
“We condemn the comments and the sentiment behind them, and understand the pain this irresponsible act has caused,” the university said, adding that other faculty members will take over Storey’s classes.
“As Floridians, we are well aware of the destruction and suffering associated with tropical weather. Our thoughts and prayers are with all impacted by Hurricane Harvey.”
Storey, who also hosts a podcast, appears to have since deleted his Twitter account. Earlier, he followed up his initial tweet with two responses before deleting the entire thread, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
On Monday, he tweeted an apology, according to the Times: “I deeply regret the statement I posted yesterday. I never meant to wish ill will upon any group. I hope all affected by Harvey recover quickly.”
The Washington Post called a number registered to Storey, but a man who answered said, “No, thank you,” and hung up after a reporter introduced herself.
But in a statement to ABC affiliate WFTS, Storey said he did not intend to offend anyone, and his tweets were taken out of context.
He said, in part:
“I was referring to the GOP denial of climate change science and push to decrease funds from agencies that can help in a time like this. I hope all affected by the storm are safe and recover quickly. I also hope this helps the GOP realize the need to support climate change research and put in place better funding for agencies like NOAA and FEMA.
“I’ve been clear with that through various tweets that followed the initial tweet. It is hard to express one’s full thoughts in 140 characters and I realize that taken out of context some tweets may sound extremely off-putting. I never intended it to be that.”
Texas officials have confirmed that at least 16 people have died in the wake of Harvey, which has been battering the state since Friday night. Forecasters say up to 50 cms more of rain could fall on Texas and Louisiana by Thursday. Thousands have been rescued from high waters, and officials warn that many more could be forced out of their homes.
Ari Cohn, an attorney for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which advocates for free-speech rights at American colleges and universities, said the organisation is investigating Storey’s firing.
Cohn was not immediately available for comment, but he told the Tampa Bay Times that Storey’s firing is problematic.
“Many universities seem to decide, ‘Well, it’s not worth the trouble of sticking up for our faculty members’ rights,’ and that’s troubling,” Cohn said. “The University of Tampa’s own policies say faculty members retain their rights to speak as private citizens, which is exactly what Ken Storey seems to have done.”
Social media users who commented on the university’s Facebook page have called for Storey’s firing. Several University of Tampa students also have joined the chorus of criticism, saying that as a professor, Storey should have known what not to say in a public forum.
“That was really ignorant of him to say,” Neisha Gamble, a 20-year-old entrepreneurship major told the Tampa Bay Times. “Yes, he has free speech, but there are some things you should just keep to yourself . . . There are drownings and killings happening . . . Don’t wish that upon anyone, and then send a fake apology out.”
Gamble, who is from Houston, said she’s still trying to reach her family there.
“I thought it was pretty messed up,” junior Patrick Holt told the Times. “Twitter’s the area of free speech, and you can say what you want, but there’s an ethical line.”
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