I haven’t been following the story, but the absurdity of this should be manifest:
Videos posted by the conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart appear to have ended the teaching career of an adjunct at the University of Missouri — even as university officials issued a statement backing the contention of the two instructors of the labor studies course that their comments in the class had been edited to present an “inaccurate and distorted” picture of what was said.
Breitbart posted the videos (here and here) on his Big Government blog and, based on the recordings, called the course “advanced thuggery.” In the video, the two instructors can be heard making numerous seemingly positive statements about the use of violence or threatened violence in labor-management relations. The course is taught by one instructor at the university’s Kansas City campus, Judy Ancel, and another at the St. Louis campus, Don Giljum. With a video link, the professors and students at the two campuses interact in class — and the recordings have been available to students through the learning management system used in the course. The videos posted by Breitbart are clearly from different class sessions, as the professors appear in different clothing.
In interviews Thursday, both Ancel and Giljum said that their statements in the videos were a mixture of different teaching techniques, including describing how labor leaders felt during certain periods of time, directly quoting specific individuals (whose views they did not necessarily share), and intentionally taking an extreme position to prompt class discussion.
They said that the full recordings would make this clear, and that they would like the complete class sessions released. The problem, they said, was that the recordings show identifiable students as well as the instructors (which is the case in the excerpts posted by Breitbart, too), so the university can’t just post the recordings without violating student privacy rights.
I suspect that anyone who’s ever taught any class associated in any way with the history of the Second World War has had, at some point, to work through the motivations of the German and Japanese governments and armed forces. Out of context, such descriptions could easily be distorted into affirmations of sympathy for Nazi or Imperial Japanese war aims. If universities are unwilling to back faculty (including adjunct faculty) in such contexts, then we effectively have mutual assured destruction; Breitbart and his ilk can destroy the careers of any faculty member they so desire, just as an enterprising student with a camera phone and Windows Movie Maker could make life difficult for Donald Douglas or Glenn Reynolds. Because the privacy concerns for students are genuine, fighting allegations with the full recordings can be very hard.