Lecturer in Twitter controversy: ‘They have not found me guilty of any of these things’

Fresno State history lecturer Lars Maischak in the Speech Arts building on Aug. 13, 2017. (Chueyee Yang/The Collegian)

“In hindsight, Twitter is rubbish in using it like I did as a scratchpad or as a journal,” admits history lecturer Lars Maischak after his graphic Twitter posts against President Donald Trump and Republicans made national headlines in the spring.

Maischak recently spoke out for the first time since April, when the public became aware of his social media posts.

Editors of The Collegian who met with the history lecturer pressed him on whether his Twitter posts were written with violent intentions. He continuously denied that.

“I don’t want that. It would be tragic,” he said. “It wouldn’t send the right signal to do that.”

Maischak said he got online threats after news broke of his posts. However, he said he did not deem any of them credible. And he forwarded the threats to authorities, he said.

Conservative websites like Breitbart and The Daily Caller first reported on Maischak’s tweets. Then, local and national media scrutiny followed. The political firestorm revolved mainly around the Twitter posts, which included language some interpreted as alluding to a political assassination. The posts also expressed views critical of capitalism and fascism.

“To save American democracy, Trump must hang. The sooner and the higher, the better,” one of Maischak’s tweets said. Another read: “Justice [equals] the execution of two Republicans for each deported immigrant.” The posts were branded with hashtags, like “the resistance.”

Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro in April was later forced to issue a statement about Maischak’s tweets. He promised full cooperation with federal investigators.

“Professor Maischak’s personal views and commentary, with its inclusion of violent and threatening language, is obviously inconsistent with the core values of our university,” read part of a statement from Castro.

Maischak was subsequently placed in a leave of absence from campus. The university and the California Faculty Association agreed that was the best option. This semester, Maischak is tasked with designing online versions of his History 11 and 12 courses, which had been left for other professors to teach in the spring.

In a one-on-one interview with the Collegian on Monday, Castro said Maischak has “unique experience” to perform his new role.

The Collegian reached out to the California Faculty Association. CFA Fresno State Chapter President and professor of communication at the university, Diane Blair, said in an email she is limited to what she can discuss about Maischak due to “confidentiality obligations.”

It was pointless, Maischak said, to post alarming posts online and then try to reason with people who did not see them the way he did.

Castro confirmed on Monday the university sought law enforcement in April for a review of the tweets. He said the administration would also conduct their own review of the posts. Maischak said the university did not conduct an internal review like it had stated, but The Collegian could not independently verify that claim.

“Fresno State wants to dodge controversy,” Maischak said. “In a political climate where controversy is the order of the day, if you want to keep it underwraps you’re empowering the people who are the loudest and the most violent.”

However, the Secret Service and FBI did investigate whether the Twitter posts many deemed threatening were something Maischak intended to carry out. Maischak did not reveal details of the investigation, only saying he felt safe to finally speak out.

“They probably know more about me now, than I do myself,” Maischak said of the investigators. “They have not found me guilty of any of these things. I would not be sitting here otherwise.”

Castro said he does not currently know the status of the investigations. “They have not shared that information with the university,” he said.

Maischak said he doesn’t believe the Secret Service publicly states who it’s investigating or what conclusions they may come to. But, he said, “You know that they found something if you suddenly disappear. So, here I am.”

Maischak had faced calls to be fired when his was caught in the political controversy. Fresno State students and faculty had just been let out for spring break when the news hit mainstream airwaves.

The week-long spring break vacation gave Maischak time to plan how to recover from the spotlight. But he knew his university employment – and his life – could be in jeopardy. He weathered the intense media attention as the university also worked to find a way to deal with the situation.

When Maischak reached out to the university’s administration wondering whether he would return to teach his history courses, the response surprised him, he said.

“In a conversation with the official of the university, what was said was, ‘We were hoping that you would address the concern of security by tendering your voluntary resignation,’” Maischak told The Collegian.

Castro did not comment on that accusation. He also denied any donor funds were withheld from the university as a result of Maischak’s actions.

Maischak argues that his arguments online are “legitimate in the framework of history,” regardless of how anyone may interpret them. In the classroom, he said, students are encouraged to have their own ideals and beliefs. His only challenge to them is to back up their arguments.

Having been raised in Germany, Maischak said, the parallels between his country’s history of “European fascism” and the United States’ “present government” concerned him. Considering the history, Maischak said he had a “dark train of thought.” Then the tweets were written.

A separate question arises from Maischak’s controversy. Is academic freedom on university campuses in jeopardy? The lecturer slammed Fresno State, accusing the the university of giving in to fear from conservative attacks.

“I’m speaking morally. They are standing in the history books at this point as the first school who didn’t just give in to right-wing pressure, but that actually did the bidding of the right-wing,” Maischak claimed.

In Monday’s interview, Castro painted a different picture of speech at Fresno State, saying “I believe strongly in the freedom of speech… I think it’s important for us to do that in a civil and respectful way.”

He said it is important the university model that idea for the community and beyond since universities are often the best places to have open discussion.

Maischak also said he welcomes constructive discussions with those who took offense at his tweets.

“I wouldn’t go and get another Twitter account,” Maischak said. He explained that 140 characters do not give enough space for thought and debate.

“It’s not productive. You really need to be able to make a longer argument,” Maischak said. “Or else you may be misunderstood and that can have consequences.”

Inside the classroom, Maischak said, he would not use that kind of rhetoric with students because it would cause a distraction. However, he added, he is always open to dialogue from any side of the political spectrum. His wish now is to return to lecturing.

Maischak said, “I want to be back in the classroom.”

Maischak’s contract expires in May. Attention may now turn to what the precedent may be for other faculty with similar situations in the future. Castro said the university will follow policies in place as well as honor the collective bargaining agreement in regards to Maischak.

“We will continue to communicate about what’s happening,” Castro said.

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