University Threatens Criminal Charges Over Firefly Poster

Andy Chalk

One Flag, One Fleet, One Cat
Nov 12, 2002
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University Threatens Criminal Charges Over Firefly Poster


A professor at the University of Wisconsin is facing threats of criminal action for putting up a poster featuring a quote from the sci-fi television series Firefly.

"You don't know me, son, so let me explain this to you once: if I ever kill you, you'll be awake. You'll be facing me. And you'll be armed." If you're a Firefly [http://www.amazon.com/Firefly-Complete-Blu-ray-Nathan-Fillion/dp/B001EN71CW/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1317065450&sr=8-2] fan, that quote will be instantly recognizable as one spoken by Captain Malcolm Reynolds, explaining to a new passenger one of the many interesting philosophies that governs his life. It also apparently had some resonance with Professor James Miller of the University of Wisconsin, who hung a poster featuring that quote and a picture of Captain Reynolds, also known as actor Nathan Fillion, on his office door.

But on September 16, he received an email from University Police Chief Lisa A. Walter, telling him that she had taken the poster down because "it is unacceptable to have postings such as this that refer to killing." When Miller complained, Walter told him, "The poster can be interpreted as a threat by others and/or could cause those that view it to believe that you are willing/able to carry out actions similar to what is listed," and furthermore, that if he put it back up or posted anything similar, he could be charged with disorderly conduct.

So Miller, a theater professor, replaced it with a different poster: a silhouette of a riot-gear-clad policeman [http://thefire.mobify.me/article/13588.html] putting a beatdown on someone, with the caption, "Warning: Fascism. Fascism can cause blunt head trauma and/or violent death. Keep fascism away from children and pets." A few days later, that poster was gone too and Miller received another email from the chief, saying it was taken down because it "depicts violence and mentions violence and death."

And this time around, the university's "threat assessment team" was called in and concluded, in consultation with the University General Counsel's office, that the poster could be reasonably expected to "cause a material and/or substantial disruption of school activities and/or be constituted as a threat," and should therefore be removed. Raymond Hayes, the interim Dean of the University's College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, has arranged a meeting with Miller on September 30 to address "the concerns raised by the campus threat assessment team."

The day after his second poster was removed, Miller took the matter to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education [http://thefire.mobify.me/article/13595.html], which contacted University of Wisconsin Chancellor Charles W. Sorenson with a request that the university stop censoring Miller, apologize for threatening him with criminal charges and cancel the threat assessment meeting.

"Colleges and universities are supposed to foster brave and bold environments of freewheeling intellectual inquiry and expression. If a quote from a network science fiction show is a bridge too far, something has gone seriously wrong," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "As both president of FIRE and a huge Firefly fan, I call on the chancellor of UW-Stout to rein in his overreaching administration and to restore both free speech and basic common sense."

As of press time, Sorensen had not responded to the request.


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Sparrow

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Feb 22, 2009
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You can insult me. You can insult my country. Hell, you can insult my family. But, when you insult the Captain... you've just stepped over the line, buddy.

On a lighter note, what in the hell is a "threat assessment team" and why would any university need one?
 

Corporal Yakob

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Nov 28, 2009
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I love how the second poster put was basically a more covert way of getting a picture of the chief saying "I'm a big stupid weiner head whose stupid!".
 

cerebus23

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May 16, 2010
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I love eggheads and lawyers they think they know everything, but they have not an ounce of common sense among them.

Bring back firefly!
 

theultimateend

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Nov 1, 2007
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I'm not big on suing...but he should drill them.

Screw anyone that is so stupid they'd be alarmed by that poster.

Good lord...does no college trust Google yet?
 

RobCoxxy

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Feb 22, 2009
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Can he take a photo of the local police and/or the "Threat assessment team" and add caption

"Warning: May contain stupid" and put that on his door instead?
 

Thaluikhain

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Jan 16, 2010
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Eh, if there are rules against that sort of thing, the guy knew what he was getting into.

Now, if he wants to challenge the rule, sure, but do that beforehand, not as a reaction. If it's a stupid rule, it was stupid rule before your poster got banned.

If there aren't actual rules, and someone just decided it on the spot...sucks.
 
Feb 13, 2008
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Ah Universities, so dedicated to protecting the rights and priviledges of others. As long as they're the RIGHT priviledges.

Let's make sure there's never any mention of Genocide, Wars, Apartheid, or all that horrible history/future - let's just make sure that it's nice happy utopian future, sponsored by a benevolent corporation.

Here's a clue, Chancellor Charles W. Sorenson, the reason you HAVE that University is because somewhere in the past - one of your relatives killed someone elses.

It'd be a real shame to censor that. Especially in a place of learning.
 

Redlin5_v1legacy

Better Red than Dead
Aug 5, 2009
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This seems like a waste of government money. It was clearly a quote and not an actual message to students, threatening them...

[sub]Never seen Firefly.[/sub]
 

Braedan

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Sep 14, 2010
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I suggest a police officer giving a ticket to a kid on a Big Wheel for his next poster.
 

OmniscientOstrich

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Jan 6, 2011
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I like this profressor, he has a good sense of humor. Really though, we're not talking about kids here. This is a university, a place wherein full grown adults have come to further their education, I hardly think that these posters can be considered genuinally pernicious, especially given the jocular nature of the latter one.
 

Gigano

Whose Eyes Are Those Eyes?
Oct 15, 2009
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That's just patently absurd and utterly hysterical.

Absolutely nobody with half a brain would ever perceive a TV series poster as a threat of violence, and you'd kind of hope people did have a minimum standard of intelligence and rationality at a university.

The fact that they call in a "threat assessment team" on a theatre professor who like a TV series really goes to show that rationality and perspective isn't always found where you'd hope to find it the most. This better not be a publicly run university, or there are some serious concerns over Freedom of Expression at play here as well.
 

evilneko

Fall in line!
Jun 16, 2011
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The university could've saved themselves a lot of trouble by calling it unprofessional and inappropriate instead of claiming it promoted violence.
 

VoidWanderer

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Sep 17, 2011
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That's like getting rid of Jack and the Beanstalk because a Giant gets killed because he chased the thief that stole from him!

And the lines never depict violence, per se. He just says if I was going to confront you, we would be on equal footing.

The 'Threat Assessment Team' which obviously has WAY too much time on its hands is probably because of the whole 9/11 thing and given how often schools get shot up in America... /sigh
 

John the Gamer

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May 2, 2010
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Yep. I'm pretty sure he was correct with the whole fascism thing there. Interpreting a poster as a substantional threat is only applicable to currupt and easily paranoid government officials.
They should have the students fill the campus with as many posters as the walls can support. That'll show 'em!