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U. of Wisconsin Professor and Administrators Clash Over Posters Called Threatening

The University of Wisconsin-Stout has come under fire from free-speech advocates for refusing this month to let a theater professor decorate his office door with posters described by some administrators as threatening. The conflict over speech began when the professor, James Miller, hung a poster from the science-fiction television series Firefly that referred to killing. The campus police chief took it down, telling Mr. Miller in an e-mail exchange that he could face a criminal charge if he rehung the poster or another one similar to it. When Mr. Miller hung a second poster denouncing fascism as leading to violence, the campus police took it down, as implying a threat, at the urging of a campus threat-assessment team that had conferred with the university system’s office of general counsel. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free-speech advocacy group, has accused the university of censorship, but top campus officials argued in an e-mail to the faculty and staff that they had “a responsibility to promote a campus environment that is free from threats of any kind.” As discussed in a July 31 Chronicle article, colleges have struggled to balance free-speech and security concerns in dealing with complaints that faculty members have somehow threatened others on the campus.

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