In a since-deleted tweet written by history associate professor Mary Gayne, she expressed her displeasure with the Republican Party. After publicly accusing Republicans of displaying a “lack of loyalty” to the U.S. Constitution, she went on to say “The Republican Party can die for all I care.” She then ended the tweet with “Fuck ‘em all.”
Gayne explained her reasoning for deleting the tweet over email. She said she was unable to find the logic in leaving a tweet on her account that was the cause of “angst” and “disruption.”
“I did choose to delete yesterday's tweet. It became clear that the sensibilities of twitterites & robots, that publicly identify themselves as MAGA adherents, were upset by my dropping of the ‘F-bomb’ in a political tweet on my personal twitter feed,” Gayne wrote. “Rather than a hill to die on, the tweet was a spontaneous social media reaction to the morning news, while I was finishing my morning coffee and preparing yesterday's ‘to do’ list.”
Caitlyn Read, director of communications and university spokesperson, said that the university has “limited ability” to regulate the speech or expression of its employees, citing the First Amendment.
Gayne’s criticism of the right has received backlash on social media from members of the JMU community, including JMU alumnus (’79) and Republican member of the Virginia House of Delegates Kirk Cox. He took to Instagram to express his disappointment with his alma mater for not condemning the statement.
“This kind of language is meant to do one thing: intimidate, shame, and silence conservatives,” Cox wrote on Instagram. “And it has no place on our college campuses or anywhere else in a representative democracy.”
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Take a look at this tweet below from a professor at my alma mater, James Madison University. This is completely inappropriate and should be condemned by the University. No one should talk about anyone like this, and especially not just because someone holds different political opinions. This kind of language is meant to do one thing: intimidate, shame, and silence conservatives. And it has no place on our college campuses or anywhere else in a representative democracy. A college professor at a public university can and should have their own political beliefs. They should be allowed to discuss politics in the classroom, particularly in political and social science courses where it plays such a large role. Frankly, students expect political debate. But when our professors—the ones whom many students look up to—decide that those who think differently than they do are not worthy of even voicing their own opinion or in this case even drawing breath, then a line is crossed Public statements like the one made by Dr. Gayne do not encourage the free flow of ideas and diminish JMU’s standing among her sister institutions in the Commonwealth. Our colleges and universities need to eliminate biases like this in all aspects of university life and encourage an open and honest debate.
Cox’s criticism of Gayne acknowledged that she “can and should” have her own political beliefs and said that professors should be allowed to discuss politics in the classroom — but urged the disagreement and conversation to remain civil.
“Frankly, students expect a political debate,” Cox wrote. “But when our professors — the ones whom many students look up to — decide that those who think differently than they do are not worthy of even voicing their own opinion or in this case even drawing breath, then a line is crossed.”
Twitter user @JMUDukes4Life posted a screenshot of the since-deleted tweet and added his two cents.
“I don’t care what your political affiliation may be, but could you Imagine being a JMU student and having a differing opinion from your history professor and you see her tweet,” the user wrote.
The incident also prompted the JMU College Republicans Executive Board to release a statement on social media Tuesday evening. The board explained that a goal of the organization includes representing all conservative students — whether or not they’re a member of College Republicans.
“A professor that says ‘F*ck them all’ in reference to conservatives DOES create an uncomfortable and HOSTILE environment for students,” the board wrote. “Conservative students CANNOT feel welcome inside a class with a professor who so clearly views them as a danger to our republic.”
The board members wrote that they’re not calling for Gayne’s firing or resignation, but hopes that this instance can serve as an opportunity to foster civil debate between parties.
“Political diversity is what makes this country and campus great,” the board wrote. “It is critical that professors at any university go into their work with the understanding that all students should feel welcome, not only those students that share similar political viewpoints to the professor.”
Despite Read’s reference to the First Amendment, JMU’s Policy 1121 outlines the university’s guidelines regarding civil discourse. The policy explains that its support of individual expression isn’t an endorsement to disturb “safe and orderly” campus operations. It’s unclear as to whether the university considers Gayne’s tweet to be in violation of this policy.
“The university’s encouragement of civil discourse is not an invitation to disrupt the safe and orderly operation of the campus, threaten members of the university community, or incite violence, and the university reserves the right to sanction those who fail or refuse to abide by the institution’s reasonable and content-neutral time, place and manner regulations,” the policy says.
Read said over email that the tweet put out by Gayne is “in no way” supported by the university.
“While the University encourages individuals to exercise their rights, the manner of this individual’s expression in this instance is in no way condoned by the university and does not reflect the university’s values,” Read said. “JMU strives to be an inclusive community that values the richness of all individuals and perspectives, and that fosters civil discourse.”
Read said that the university won’t comment on the situation further and didn’t acknowledge The Breeze’s inquiry for an over-the-phone interview.
Despite the backlash from members of the community, Gayne said she’s not too concerned about what her conservative students and other members of the community would think upon discovering the tweet.
“I am no more worried about my students seeing my personal twitter feed and discovering that I am a person who has dogs and political opinions, than I am about stumbling across their social media posts and discovering that they are people who play sports and have political opinions,” Gayne said. “Not everyone/every robot has had the privilege of discovering this, but the university is one of the existing spaces in US society that strives to maintain traditions of civil debate and disagreement.”
Additionally, Gayne further explained the context in which she claims the word “die” was used.
“US political parties do die. For examples, we can look to Ross Perot's Reform Party, to the Whigs, or further back to the Federalist Party,” Gayne said. “I suppose there would be some unknowns, but if today's Republican Party withered away, this is not something I would mourn.”
The tweet comes at a time when political tensions seem to be on the rise. According to the Pew Research Center, 91% of U.S. adults surveyed between the dates of Jan. 8-13 believe there’s either “strong” or “very strong” conflict between Democrats and Republicans. This number comfortably overshadowed tensions between “rich & poor people,” “Black & white people,” “Young & older people” and “People in cities & people in rural areas,” which clocked in at 59%, 53%, 41% and 40% respectively.
“Public statements like the one made by Dr. Gayne do not encourage the free flow of ideas and diminish JMU’s standing among her sister institutions in the Commonwealth,” Cox wrote on Instagram. “Our colleges and universities need to eliminate biases like this in all aspects of university life and encourage an open and honest debate.”
Carley Welch contributed to this report.
Contact Connor Murphy at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.