Sarah Huckabee Sanders (AP/Carolyn Kaster)

A college professor criticized Trump. Now the White House wants an investigation

Freedom of speech only goes so far on college campuses


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Charlie May
October 10, 2017 5:03PM (UTC)

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders wants the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) to investigate one of its professors after she strongly criticized President Donald Trump and the consequences of his election as the city reeled from the mass shooting.

Recordings of assistant professor Tessa Winkelmann showed her speaking to her class about the president's violent rhetoric and the power of his words.

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"Right when he got elected, I told my classes, three semesters ago, that some of us won’t be affected by this presidency, but others are going to die," Winkelmann said in the video, obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "Other people will die because of this."

One student was "dumbfounded" and said the professor's comments were "appalling," in the wake of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, the Review-Journal reported.

"He’s [Trump] threatened to declare violence against North Korea and other places," the professor added. "And words, especially if they’re coming from someone who is the president, have consequences. . . I don’t know that these events would have inevitably happened whether or not he got elected, but he has rhetorical powers every president has to encourage or to discourage (violence). So far all he’s done is to encourage violence."

The White House condemned the comments and said the school should "look into" the professor's actions.

"It is sad she is teaching students such divisive, inaccurate and irresponsible rhetoric," Sanders said. "She should be ashamed of herself, and the university should look into it. What a terrible example to set for students."

Winkelmann apologized in an emailed statement to the Review-Journal and said she wished she had been "more thoughtful in how I directed the conversation."

"This week has been very difficult for members of our community, and we have allowed students space in our classes to discuss how they have been affected and to openly convey their feelings," she wrote. "I regret that my comments caused more pain during this difficult time. Emotions were running high and I wish I would have been more thoughtful in how I directed the conversation."

UNLV issued a statement that said Winkelmann's comments were insensitive, but did not announce any potential disciplinary action against her.

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"While we respect academic freedom in the classroom and the right to free speech, we believe the comments were insensitive, especially given the series of events this week and the healing process that has begun in the community," university spokesman Tony Allen said, according to the Review-Journal.

Unfortunately this is not the first time the White House has commented on civilians who are outspoken in their criticism of the president. On Tuesday morning the president once again attacked the recently suspended ESPN anchor Jemele Hill as part of his long-running crusade against NFL players who have knelt during the national anthem in protest of social and racial injustice.

Press secretary Sanders also previously said Hill had committed a "fireable offense" when the anchor called the president a white supremacist on Twitter.

Conservatives have long advocated for free speech on college campuses, yet have remained quiet when the White House suggested disciplinary action be taken against a professor who was well within her free speech rights.


Charlie May

Charlie May is a news writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at @charliejmay

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