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Adjunct e-mail sparks conservative firestorm.

Washington, N.J. -- When Rebecca Beach checked her e-mail in mid-November, one of the messages in her inbox shocked her. It was from instructor at Warren County Community College in Washington, N.J., where the 19-year-old was a student.

The message was the lone response to an e-mail Beach had sent to the faculty, asking them to encourage their students to attend a speech by retired Army Lt. Col. Scott Rutter, an Iraq War veteran who now appears as a military analyst for Fox News. The speech was Sponsored by Young Americans for Freedom, a campus group Beach said she founded to bring conservative balance to the campus.

The e-mailed response from adjunct English instructor John Peter Daly would be one of his last as a member of the WCCC faculty. "I am asking my students to boycott your event. I am also going to ask others to boycott it," Daly wrote.

"I will continue to expose your right-wing, anti-people politics until groups like [yours] won't dare show their face on a college campus," Daly's e-mail continued. "Real freedom will come when soldiers in Iraq turn their guns on their superiors and fight for just causes and for people's needs--such freedom fighters can be counted throughout American history and they certainly will be counted again."

Beach forwarded Daly's response to campus officials and to the Young America's Foundation, a national conservative group. The e-mail touched off a firestorm of media coverage, leading to Daly's resignation days later. In response to the incident, WCCC has announced plans to review and draft tolerance policies as well as tolerance training for employees. Campus administrators initially defended Daly's right to express his opinion, while saying they disagreed with the content.

Conservatives say the incident highlights academia's liberal bias, while others say the school's handling of the situation could lead to a chilling of free speech.

Daly has said that he believed he was addressing an off-campus organizer for the conservative group. Had he known the e-mail came from a student, he said he might have altered the tone, if not the substance, of his message.

Beach, a freshman political science and pre-law student, said Daly's e-mail was inappropriate regardless of whom he believed he was addressing. She said she started Young Americans for Freedom after encountering "liberal" professors who, though open to all points of view, were focused on spreading their own views.

"I was shocked that a professor would say that to a student," Beach said. "His position as a professor is to educate, not harass, intimidate or scare off campus an opposing view."

Beach, who aspires to be a political activist and possibly a lawyer, said she forwarded Daly's e-mail to the conservative group because she wanted to expose what she feels is routine behavior on college campuses. Since the story broke, Beach has spoken with 10 conservative talk show hosts, appeared on conservative commentator Sean Hannity's radio show three times (and his talk show twice) and spoken with a variety of local and national media. She said she was raised as a conservative but was still surprised by the level of outrage Daly's comments have elicited.

"It was all very rewarding and made me realize that it is important to stand up for what I believe in and to represent the views of what I believe are average Americans," she said. "It's an amazing experience, probably once in a lifetime. I joked to my family that nothing exciting is ever going to happen to me again. I could live off this for the rest of my life."

According to WCCC President William Austin, the college enrolls approximately 1,700 students and employs 20 full-time professors and 60 adjuncts. He said it was a surreal experience watching the tiny, close-knit college be assailed on conservative television and Internet blogs, many of which he said presented inaccurate and distorted accounts of the story. Both Daly and Austin received threats, prompting Austin to move his family out of their house for a period.

The atmosphere on campus remained unchanged during the controversy, he said. The campus plans to hold its annual tolerance seminars on its regularly scheduled in-service training day. But this year's seminars will have an expanded focus, due in large part to the frenzy over the e-mail and its response.

"This was a very minor incident that received a lot of attention," Austin said. "It brought our faculty and administration together. Our focus is on creating a collegial environment."

While Beach is happy with the situation's outcome, some are concerned about the free speech implications of the situation. Robert L. Shibley, program manager for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said that the school's initial defense of Daly's right to free speech was appropriate. He argued that as long as Daly was not using class time to force his views on students, he should have been free to express them on his own time.

Although Shibley agreed with conservative assertions that right-wing messages are the most frequently censored on campus, he said Daly's e-mail is not an example of academic censorship or intimidation, but simply a man with a desire to win an argument.

Shibley also said mandatory tolerance seminars and diversity workshops can do more harm than good.

"Too often, these events become vehicles for intolerance of a different sort," he said. "For instance, Warren County Community College would be making a serious mistake if its tolerance seminars sent the message that Daly's e-mail was unacceptable, since he was merely exercising his First Amendment rights."

Although Beach believes tolerance seminars are often anticonservative forums, she said they are appropriate in this case.

"If they're going to have tolerance seminars for us, why not for them?" she said. "It's about being tolerant to all points of view, not just theirs."
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Title Annotation:around the nation
Author:Scott, Rion A.
Publication:Community College Week
Date:Jan 2, 2006
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