After her twitter post was criticized by Fox News, Sirry Alang, associate sociology professor, was supported by Lehigh. The Faculty Senate sent out an email to the Lehigh community on Oct. 23 in public support of Alang. (Annalise Kelloff/B&W Staff)

Lehigh faculty respond to threats made to Sirry Alang, associate sociology professor

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A recent Fox News article criticizing views expressed by college professors during the Oct. 7 vice presidential debate featured a Twitter post from Lehigh sociology associate professor Sirry Alang that was critical of Vice President Mike Pence.

Faculty Senate sent out an email to the Lehigh community on Oct. 23 in response to the story. In the email, it condemned the “racist, threatening and hateful” attacks against Alang.

The email said public support of Alang is important because of administrative  commitments to making Lehigh an actively anti-racist instituition.

Alang did not return a request for comment. 

According to Lehigh’s “Mission, Vision and Values,” Lehigh affirms academic freedom within the community and upholds its commitment to the highest standards of respect, civility, courtesy and sensitivity toward every individual. 

Lehigh professors have standard academic freedoms of free inquiry and dialogue. Jeremy Littau, associate professor of journalism and communication, said there needs to be a distinction in the policy between faculty and staff because the two groups have different protections as it stands now. 

Faculty are protected under academic freedom, which means there’s a tradition of free inquiry, uninhibited by institutional pressures, Littau said. 

“The university as an administration might not like something that somebody says, but they affirm the right because a culture of free inquiry and academic freedom encourages dialogue like that,” Littau said. 

The crux of the issue occurs when people assume professors are speaking for the university instead of speaking as an individual. Professors’ posts on social media channels can sometimes be misconstrued even if it is clear the individual is speaking for themselves. 

Littau said the university affirms the right of academic freedom, but urges staff and faculty to avoid speaking for the university.

“I avoid making statements for the university because it’s always the standard I’ve applied to whatever I do,” Littau said. “It’s a gray area because you can’t control what people interpret.”

Littau said he doesn’t feel limited by the university to express his first amendment rights on his social media channels. However, he said he is aware of the factors that allow him to feel comfortable. Littau said professors who are tenured don’t have to worry as much.

Littau said he does watch what he says, but he recognizes his privilege as a white male to speak up for those who don’t feel as comfortable. 

He said it is important, especially in the current political climate, to share one’s opinions and beliefs.

Jennifer Midberry, assistant professor of journalism and communication, said the distinction Lehigh does make is that professors should be posting as individuals and not claiming to speak for Lehigh. 

“As with anything with social media, whatever you post is out there for anybody to see and interpret,” Midberry said. “It’s not limited to professors, so, generally speaking, people should be comfortable with what they’re posting.”. 

Haiyan Jia, assistant professor of journalism and communication, said it’s important for professors to share their knowledge and stand up for what they believe in as an educator and as a researcher, not only to students, but also to society.

“People can take your 140 words in very different directions, so there’s a risk of being misjudged or misinterpreted with anything you put out on the Internet,” Jia said. 

Along with Faculty Senate, the Journalism Department issued a statement in support of Alang and in defense of her right to freedom of speech. 

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2 Comments

  1. Robert F. Davenport Jr on

    “Faculty Senate sent out an email to the Lehigh community on Oct. 23 in response to the story. In the email, it condemned the “racist, threatening and hateful” attacks against Alang.” I read the story and fail to see the “attack” against Professor Alang but did sense an attack against our Vice President in her comments. Of course he is a public figure so it’s open season all the time. I didn’t see that he himself complained.

    “Haiyan Jia, assistant professor of journalism and communication, said it’s important for professors to share their knowledge and stand up for what they believe in as an educator and as a researcher, not only to students, but also to society.” (More later) The “knowledge” Professor Alang shared seemed to be common knowledge on the blog she posted to. It is important for anyone to” stand up for what they believe in”. I would think educators/researchers would be more prone to deal in argumentation. I think Professor Alang’s comments are related more to political theater, meant to elicit an emotional response independent of their truth value. As such she was successful. Those who are incensed by such comments are more than willing to become players in the political theater.

    “People can take your 140 words in very different directions, so there’s a risk of being misjudged or misinterpreted with anything you put out on the Internet,” Jia said” I agree but I think Professor Alang was fairly clear in what she wrote. There is no risk of thinking that Professor Alang was praising VP Pence.

    Professor Alang did not identify as a Lehigh professor, she was identified as such. She was obviously speaking for herself. I’m not sure why the Faculty Senate should be involved. They must feel as abused as Professor Alang.

    “As with anything with social media, whatever you post is out there for anybody to see and interpret,” Midberry, assistant professor of journalism and communication, said. “It’s not limited to professors, so, generally speaking, people should be comfortable with what they’re posting.” Yes, and with the responses they get after doing so. Hundreds agreed with Professor Alang but not Fox News.

    Campus Reform apparently also “attacks” Professor Alang by reprinting what she wrote.

    Campus Reform states on their site (this is the later More): “Conservative students on college campuses are marginalized, threatened, and silenced by threatening students who oppose their views, or radicalized liberal professors (Lehigh, yes?) or administrators (Lehigh, are you serious?). Campus Reform—and readers like you—are pushing back. Progressives would rather threaten you with violence, silence your conservative views, or call for you to be “canceled” from our society if you oppose them. They say your views are dangerous, hateful, fearful, or racist.
    They have it all wrong. What we stand for defines us—it always has.
    We can no longer remain silent. It is time for conservatives young and old to unite as a single voice to boldly proclaim what we stand for and oppose the mob.
    Will you join with us, select the principles you stand for, and sign your name below?
    I stand for the preservation of free speech all across our country—where I’m allowed to express my beliefs without fear of condemnation if my opinion differs from yours.

    I stand for protections for conservative students who are illegally being threatened or silenced on college campuses all across our country.

    I stand for the federal funding to be pulled from colleges and universities when they silence conservative views or students.”

    Comments on the Campus Reform post contain similar but opposite bile to those posted by the hundreds that agreed with Professor Alang. Why is it evidently clear that half of US citizens are wrong but not clear that half of our citizens being disgusted with the other half is a not a good thing?

    “The (Faculty Senate) email said public support of Alang is important because of administrative commitments to making Lehigh an actively anti-racist instituition (sic).” I think it would be wise to treat people, with whom you disagree, respectfully before you attempt to become anti-racists. Unfortunately that may not make anyone happy, even if it is the right thing to do.

  2. Robert F. Davenport Jr on

    Read this article, the Fox News piece and Campus Reform information. Jennifer Midberry, assistant professor of journalism and communication, said “As with anything with social media, whatever you post is out there for anybody to see and interpret,” “It’s not limited to professors, so, generally speaking, people should be comfortable with what they’re posting.” and the response to it. So why did the Faculty Senate send out an email to the Lehigh community on Oct. 23 in response to the story. condemning the “racist, threatening and hateful” attacks against Alang? Campus reform may have an answer.

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