It’s impossible not to have heard about Lars Maischak, the Fresno State history professor now in hot water over a February tweet which many believe to suggest President Donald Trump should be hanged. As a result, Maischak’s Monday and Tuesday classes are cancelled and he has since offered an apology and deleted his Twitter account.
If there is any lesson to be learned, it is of the sensitive privilege and right that freedom of speech embodies. While Maischak had the right to exercise freedom of speech via his own personal social media account, tweeting something as brash as the possibility of lynching President Trump breeches a line that bleeds into his position of power at a university, and his job as an unbiased professor of history.
What place does social media hold when those with a position of power share their opinions?
If all professors at the university shared their true thoughts and feelings about those in government or even in other positions at the university, surely their social media presence would be different from those they are perpetuating now – Maischak’s tweet and subsequent ordeal depict an extreme example of this.
Social media outlets like Twitter make it so easy to say something offhanded that could explode into something greater.
We are a generation of social media consumers learning how to balance the sensitive nature of serious subjects while also maintaining a genuine presence on the internet.
While Maischak is entitled to his own opinion and has the right to share that opinion, it is his responsibility as a professor at a public university to uphold a persona that welcomes all students – not one that isolates those who support the president.
What’s unfortunate about Maischak’s situation is that no one seems to have learned from it. While his tweet is thought of as crude and tasteless, he is receiving equally crude and tasteless death threats and hate mail from those who disagree.
Demanding he be fired is one thing, but demanding he also hang is very much another. Fighting with fire doesn’t get us anywhere, especially on the internet.
When it comes to the internet, there seems to be no gray area. There are two extreme examples, each with their own soapbox to stand upon and scream their opinions. There seems to be no moderate voice of reason, only threats met with even more threats.
While social media is blossoming with its own etiquette, there is no set standard of what to share and what not to share.
While this was a personal tweet, there is a responsibility on the part of the university and President Joseph I. Castro. In terms of Fresno State’s possible response, the situation feels like a loss on both ends.
In one scenario, the administration could fire the professor over comments on his personal account not at all affiliated with Fresno State and comes off as muffling his freedom of speech. On the other hand, Maischak could continue teaching at a university with students who have been exposed to his tweet and know that some of their beliefs could be condemned by someone who is supposed to teach an unbiased history course.
In a situation like Maischak’s, there seems to be no happy ending. There is no possible solution that would remedy what he put out into the world via Twitter.
Going forward, people in positions of leadership need to be consider the power their words wield. By no means should they censor every thought or feeling, but there is more power and solidarity in actions that move yourself and others forward than violence or hate speech that contributes to the troubled political climate we’re all experiencing.