CEDAR RAPIDS — In the wake of an uproar over a politically outspoken professor and the decision last month to remove him from the classroom, Kirkwood Community College continues to field “messages regarding this matter” and pass them to police.
The community college gained national attention after an Aug. 22 report on Cedar Rapids ABC affiliate KCRG-TV focusing on adjunct professor Jeff Klinzman and his prolific online posts.
The TV story reported that Klinzman had said, “I am antifa,” which it characterized as a militant leftist group behind several violent protests.
National media including Fox News picked up on the story, shining a spotlight on Kirkwood just days before fall classes began.
When Kirkwood began getting threats, President Lori Sundberg decided to remove Klinzman from the class he was set to teach and announce his resignation.
Klinzman told The Gazette he believes his free speech rights were violated but that he quit because Kirkwood administrators made it clear: “resign or we’ll terminate you.”
Kirkwood officials rebuffed that assertion.
“Our decision to remove Mr. Klinzman from the classroom has nothing to do with the substance of his views or his right to express them,” Sunberg said. “Rather, our decision is based solely on our commitment to fostering a safe learning environment for our students, faculty and staff.”
Yet Klinzman’s Aug. 23 ouster has not ended the controversy.
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A significant police presence appeared Wednesday evening outside the downtown studio of KCRG-TV in case an antifa protest being organized over social media materialized. But no protesters were seen.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — or FIRE, a nonprofit group that says it protects free speech on campus — has written to Kirkwood accusing it of retaliation and imploring it to reinstate Klinzman “post haste.”
“We are concerned for the state of freedom of expression at Kirkwood Community College in light of the college’s constructive termination of adjunct professor Jeff Klinzman due to public anger at his remarks on his personal Facebook page and his affirmation that he is an ‘anti-fascist,’” the letter said. “Klinzman spoke as a private citizen on matters of public concern … By constructively terminating Klinzman, Kirkwood impermissibly subordinated his First Amendment rights to the approval of a hostile audience.”
Taking the opposite view, state Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, took to Facebook to criticize the notion that Klinzman believes his free speech rights were violated.
“The right of free speech does not absolve one of consequences,” according to Holt, among the lawmakers who reached out to Kirkwood amid the media attention. “His employer has every right to take action to ensure safety on the campus. The professor was held accountable for inflammatory speech that threatened others.”
As online debate about the situation has ensued, some commenters have highlighted other Kirkwood professors they say espouse political views over social media and who affiliate with controversial groups.
In response to questions from The Gazette about whether it has received complaints about other professors or engaged in similar conversations to those it had with Klinzman, Kirkwood spokesman Justin Hoehn said the administration has made its position clear.
“All Kirkwood faculty, and all Americans for that matter, enjoy the right of free expression and association,” he said. “Kirkwood will continue to honor, respect and celebrate the freedom of expression and association that is a fundamental right of all Americans.”
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Pressed about whether Kirkwood has continued to receive threats about Klinzman or other professors, Hoehn declined to offer any specifics. Instead, he said diversity of perspectives and opinions among Kirkwood faculty “enriches the educational experience.”
“So to begin talking about who complains about which instructor and about which personal believe he or she has is counterproductive to the climate we’re trying to foster here at Kirkwood and it’s not a discussion we’re going to engage in at this time,” he said.
Although Cedar Rapids police initially provided additional security at Kirkwood, city public safety spokesman Greg Buelow said the department now is conducting “regular” patrols of the campus, where a college resource officer is assigned. That position is funded by Kirkwood. The college has reported incurring no additional costs as a result of the enhanced security.
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Grace King of The Gazette contributed to this report.