A dispute over what a University of North Carolina at Wilmington professor said at a Sept. 23 forum has led to a suit threatened against the student newspaper and also a student accused of libel.
The forum, “America in Iraq: What Next?” was sponsored by UNCW’s History and Political Science Departments. A forum attendee, Michael Pomarico, who is the chair of the UNCW College Republicans, wrote long letter about it in the campus newspaper, The Seahawk. Pomarico wrote that he was “overwhelmingly struck by” what he termed “the unprofessional manner that one of the panelists, Dr. Pollard, displayed.”
Pomarico wrote that Pollard used profanity, said the war was about oil and that the U.S. should “just get the oil and get the —— out, asked if the war on terror meant the U.S. should “go around and smash the —— out of Muslims,” interrupted students in the audience, and criticized a fellow panelist on her pronunciation of Saddam Hussein’s name. Pomarico also wrote that Pollard “frankly and without reservation claimed she has friends in terrorist networks, as if to defend their point of view.”
The print edition contained only the first half of Pomarico’s letter, but the online edition originally published the full piece. Within hours of its posting, however, Pomarico’s letter was pulled from the online edition.
UNCW criminal justice professor Mike Adams, a well-known conservative with whom Pomarico had shared his editorial, called the Seahawk to ascertain the reason for removing Pomarico’s editorial. Adams learned the Pollard had threatened to sue the newspaper for libel. Because Pollard “immediately decided to steer the controversy towards a court of law and away from the court of public opinion,” Adams, who is a regular columnist for TownHall.com, wrote about it in that national forum.
Adams’ column included the following excerpt from the e-mail Pollard sent to the Seahawk and the Dean Jo Ann M. Seiple of the College of Arts and Sciences:
“I have consulted with a lawyer this weekend. This is what I have been advised to do. First, I want the Seahawk to print an apology in the next edition of the paper for having printed the letter without vetting it and without consulting with me about the veracity of the statements made about me. At the same time, I insist that Mr. Pomarico print — in the same edition of the paper — a recantment of his allegations about my “connections to terrorist networks” and an apology for libeling me. I want to read these statements before they go to press. It is important to me that these statements go in the next edition, because of the approaching fall break.”
As Adams pointed out in his column, as she suggests that Pomarico misquoted her, Pollard actually misquoted Pomarico.
Pomarico’s letter was not the only one the Seahawk removed. Also pulled was a letter from another student, Allen Zebulon Wright Jr., who had written “to thank the participants in the ‘America in Iraq’ forum sponsored by the History Department.” Wright never mentioned Pollard or her comments; the closest his letter came to doing so was this sentence: “For those panelist and audience members that only offered emotionally based cynical criticism, the validity of your argument is only delegitimized because it fails to objectively see the reality and totality of the United States’ current position.” Nevertheless, Wright’s letter disappeared from the online publication shortly after it was posted.
Wright did receive an explanation from Katie Trapp, Seahawk editor-in-chief, for pulling his letter. “There was another letter to the editor, written ‘against’ the panel discussion in which a student accused a panel member of saying certain things,” Trapp wrote. “The panel member said she did not say such things, and threatened to sue our newspaper for libel. The student stands by what he wrote, despite her claim.”
Trapp continued. “As a result, we are in the middle of a huge legal mess, and as the Editor-in-Chief I chose to pull both letters. The student claimed that the paper had taken the panelist’s side,” Trapp concluded, but “Since we are student media, run entirely by students and are completely self-sufficient, we have little resource when it comes to legal matters.”
That last part was the crux of the matter to Pomarico and Adams. Pomarico asked if “students are entitled to free speech at UNC-Wilmington only with the consent of a faculty member.”
In his TownHall.com column Adams wrote, “In my opinion, Pollard has shown no interest in adding to the marketplace of ideas but instead seeks total control of the student newspaper. Otherwise, she will sue.” Adams said the proper resolution of the problem would be the student newspaper reprinting Pomarico’s entire letter along with Pollard’s rebuttal and letting other campus members submit letters to the editor in support of either.
Adams’ column brought the issue back to public discourse, nationally as well as locally. Local television news became involved, including WWAY Channel 3 in Wilmington, which interviewed the forum moderator, UNCW history professor Robert Toplin. Toplin told WWAY viewers that anyone who took from Pollard’s presentation that she advocated terrorism was confused.
Toplin’s televised comments prompted an email from Wright. To Toplin, Wright said his comments “attempted to sway viewers into thinking that Dr. Pollard never made remarks concerning personal relationships that she had had with terrorists. Your comments are simply not true.” Wright continued, “Apparently everyone except you and Lisa Pollard heard her tell the story about her acquaintance in Egypt that was a terrorist. I have spoken with numerous UNCW faculty members as well as students that heard her story and are equally as outraged at her story and unprofessional demeanor throughout the forum.”
Toplin responded that the thrust of Pollard’s speech was “certainly not” about advocating terrorism, and he asked, “What are you claiming is the meaning or the purpose of the anecdote?” Toplin wrote, “All this talk about an anecdote regarding terrorism suggests an eagerness to jump on a word rather than to deal with the real issues.” He also instructed Wright to “Feel free to share this response with your friends.”
Pomarico also wrote Toplin after his television interview. “Dr. Pollard may very well hate terrorism, and I hope that she does, but that does not negate the remarks she made at the forum,” he wrote. “By making the remarks you did to the media, you lead the viewers of the news programs to believe that we asserted things we did not. By claiming we are ‘confused,’ you baselessly attempt to undermine our credibility — and that is inappropriate.”
Pomarico told Carolina Journal that he has a list of 40 students and faculty members who corroborate what he heard at the forum. He said that “about 10” of those students were willing to do so publicly. “Most of them are very hesitant about coming forward publicly,” he said, “which, in itself, basically backs up one of the points of my editorial.”
Text of the Oct. 2 letters pulled by the Seahawk under the lawsuit threat
Michael Pomarico’s letter:
On Tuesday night, September 23rd, I had the opportunity to attend a public program at UNCW entitled, “America in Iraq: What’s Next?” Going into the seminar, I had a somewhat skeptical outlook on the forum. Being a conservative Republican, and having been subjected to liberal academia, I went in without the grand illusion of expecting an objective presentation. Rather, I prepared myself for the imminent bias in terms of panelists selected and viewpoints, as well as the typical and tired condescending tone towards the current Republican administration. What I got was more than what even I had bargained for.
The History and Political Science Departments sponsored this public program. The panelists selected included the Chancellor Emeritus, Dr. James Leutze, Dr. Remonde Kleinberg, a professor of political science, and Dr. Lisa Pollard and Dr. Robert Toplin, both professors of history. Not surprisingly, none of the aforementioned are Republicans. In a forum or a healthy “debate” of the issues, a logical individual would expect to see a balanced presentation and all viewpoints presented, including an evenly balanced panel. But as are many of the courses, presentations, and forums in the university communities of liberal thought and academia we find ourselves in today, this forum was clearly not balanced. It would be safe to say that only one of the distinguished panelists, Dr. Remonde Kleinberg, offered an objective presentation and assessment of the situation in Iraq, void of any harsh criticism of the Bush administration.
A fair-minded individual would also expect a rational, professional presentation and assessment of the facts in an academic panel. What I was overwhelmingly struck by was the unprofessional manner that one of the panelists, Dr. Pollard, displayed, as well as the radical views she espoused. Dr. Pollard opened her diatribe with a statement that she was a “radical from Berkeley” and that she “never met an out Republican” until she moved to North Carolina. I am still currently searching for the appropriateness or relevance of those comments within the context of the discussion on Iraq. She frankly and without reservation claimed she has friends in terrorist networks, as if to defend their point of view. Furthermore, she said she positively knows that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This is despite the fact that searches and investigations are still currently under way. Additionally, Dr. Pollard claimed that in her opinion, the basis of the war was oil, and suggested that we should “just get the oil, and get the [expletive] out.” In addition, she stated that the war on terror should be stopped and asked, “What are we going to do, go around and smash the [expletive] out of Muslims” around the world? This was to naively suggest that the war on terror has yielded no progress, and the United States is aimlessly targeting anyone that is Muslim. She also attacked Dr. Kleinberg mid-presentation because she was tired of her pronouncing Saddam the wrong way, and she interrupted at least two of the students in the audience who had the temerity to pose questions that negated her beliefs, despite the fact that she ultimately spoke more than any other panelist or attendee in the auditorium.
Sadly, these unprofessional remarks and actions, as well as these radical and extremist views, are representative of many professors around the country in academia today. The problem is that these attitudes and views are not in the mainstream, yet college students today are indoctrinated with these ideas. Some students come to college having not fully shaped their views, and they are subjected to this discourse from professors, many of whom students ultimately look up to. To these students, if these professors, many with numerous doctorates and degrees, are saying it and teaching it, there must be some truth to it — because students take a course expecting to learn from their teacher. Students, whether in class or academic forums, should not be subjected to a professor or faculty’s political agenda. They should learn about the facts — objectively, with both sides of a debatable issue presented. Also, another element comes into play. As a result of the radical beliefs and actions expressed by professors like Dr. Pollard, conservative and Republican students may be intimidated to express their conservative views, or to negate a professor’s views or actions, for fear of retribution in terms of one’s grade.
Academic forums, as well as the university classroom, have no room for a lack of professionalism, a lack of fairness, or ideological bias — plain and simple.
Allen Zebulon Wright, Jr.’s letter:
I want to take a moment to thank the participants in the “America in Iraq” forum sponsored by the History Department. This type engagement is the cornerstone of the University’s function for both students and the community. America’s role in the reconstruction of post-Saddam Iraq is indeed a divisive issue for our society. Both Dr. Leuze and Dr. Kleinberg made arguments that took into account the issues and context for entering Iraq and the shift in US foreign policy in the post-September 11th era.
The understanding of these aspects is critical in being able to form an opinion that truly accounts for all variables. To make an argument based solely on the historical perspective of this region is the equivalent of looking at this issue through a straw; with no account made for the policies that drive these decisions. For those panelist and audience members that only offered emotionally based cynical criticism, the validity of your argument is only delegitimized and because it fails to objectively see the reality and totality of the United States’ current position. Before such an argument is made, one should attempt to remove personal emotion and biases and take a look at what is in the long term best interest of the United States. Thank you again to the History Department for sponsoring this forum. I hope to see more events like this one in the future devoted to the discussion of current international events.