'Politicizing Beyonce' lecturer remains under investigation by University, will not teach during Spring semester
Kevin Allred, the
Allred said he is also being investigated by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) at the request of local law enforcement.
The situation began in November when a student issued a complaint about Allred to the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD). The complaint was in regard to a series of tweets and comments that Allred had made in the classroom, The Daily Targum reported.
The RUPD subsequently notified the New York Police Department (NYPD), who visited Allred at his Brooklyn residence. They proceeded to escort him to Bellevue Hospital Center for a mandatory psychological evaluation.
According to a statement by the NYPD, the campus police had informed them that Allred had “made threats to kill white people.”
Allred said the first indication he had that anything was wrong was when the police arrived at his home on Nov. 15, 2016 around 9 p.m.
“They told me I had to go with them for a psychological evaluation. I tried to refuse a number of times and they threatened to take me by force and arrest me if I didn't comply,” Allred said. “So I ultimately went after asking if it would cost anything because I don't have health insurance. They said it wouldn't, but I did end up getting bills for $1,700 that I can't pay.”
Allred said the complaint likely arose from a lesson plan he had carried out the week before.
On Nov. 9, he said he brought an American flag to class as a way to start a discussion about American patriotism and the state of the country after Donald J. Trump’s presidential victory.
He said he proceeded to hold a hypothetical conversation about cutting or burning the flag as a form of protest.
“We never took the flag out of the bag,” Allred said. “Once the conversation started, I kept it going through facilitation, asking students how they were feeling about things, keeping the conversations going. We never burned or cut up a flag, it was just a jumping off point for the conversation that day.”
Burning the American flag has been a protected form of symbolic speech since the Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson. But regardless of the constitutionality of the act, Allred said none of this should be called into question because the flag was not touched or harmed in any way. It was simply used as the centerpiece for a discussion.
The class conversation then turned to Second Amendment rights, gun control and the role of violence in politics, he said.
“Off the cuff, I made a comment about how maybe more conservative white people would care about gun control if they were targeted in the ways other people of color have been, or if more people bought guns and shot at white people,” he said. “It was a joke, a rhetorical question posed to the class in a lighthearted way, definitely not a threat.”
Allred said he returned home that day and tweeted about some of what had happened and his thoughts on the election results. His account has over 7,000 followers and has an archive of nearly 30,000 tweets, many of which are statements on political matters.
The primary goal of his statements, he said, was to encourage his students to consider privilege differently.
“I've heard that certain people in the women's and gender studies department don't like the way I express myself on social media but they've never interfered in any lesson plans,” Allred said. “And social media is my personal expression and isn't supposed to be subject to University intervention in these ways as far as I understand it.”
Following the events of Nov. 15, Allred returned to Rutgers under the impression that the ordeal was over and that it had been made clear by the evaluation that he was not a threat, he said.
But the following Thursday, he received a letter from the School of Arts and Sciences Executive Dean Peter March, placing him on administrative leave while the University conducted an investigation against him. It is not an official termination, he said, but it creates a situation where he will be unable to fight to keep his job in the coming semester, given that he is not allowed on campus while the investigation is being conducted.
“I also got an email from the HR (Human Resources) office saying the University, as an entity, was complaining against and claiming I violated the Violence in the Workplace Act. The original complaint was received by RUPD from a parent of a student in my class (they say), but they never corroborated or verified that it was an actual parent,” he said.
Rutgers University’s Department of Human Resources defines workplace violence as “any actual or threatening behavior of a violent nature, as understood by a reasonable person,” according to the Office of Employment Equity Investigations site.
University Spokesperson Karen Smith said she would not comment on the specifics of an individual personnel matter.
“As a general rule, however, when the University is presented with allegations of threats to public safety, we take those allegations very seriously and have an obligation to investigate,” Smith said.
Allred said he hired outside legal counsel shortly after receiving the emails from the University.
“I definitely think it's indicative of a larger issue on campus — and an unfortunate one,” he said. “Especially with the election results and the specter of the new Trump America. It shows that free speech and expression only matter for certain groups and when you question power and privilege, regardless of who you are, you get punished.”
At the end of the interview, Allred noted a disparity between the University’s statements on free speech and the actions that they have taken against him.
“Rutgers touts the most diverse student body in the country, but they don't back that statistic up with protection, safety, or action,” Allred said. “Students are scared because they don't feel supported by Rutgers, and this is just one small case of that larger new emboldened mentality after Trump's illegitimate win.”
Kira Herzog is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @kiraherzog1 for more.