Controversy brewed Thursday after a UR professor offered on a student-led event’s Facebook page to pay the bus fare to Canada for anyone who feels that this is not their America—if they promise to never come back.
“A bus ticket from Rochester to Canada is $16,” computer science professor Ted Pawlicki said in a post on the event page of “Not My America,” a student-organized, anti–Donald Trump protest planned for Friday afternoon. “If this is not your America, then I will pay for your ticket if you promise never to come back.”
The post immediately spawned outrage among students, including the filing of bias-related incident reports. It soon racked up nearly 150 comments before it was taken down around an hour after it was posted that evening.
Junior Caleb Krieg responded first, saying he had reported the post as a bias-related incident.
Other students—most of whom, but not all, were critical of the original post—replied in short order.
“This is why women and minorities don’t feel welcome in the computer science program,” junior Bethany Gardner said.
“This displays a shocking lack of sensitivity on your part, professor, and I am honestly ashamed to be part of the Computer Science department that is under your thumb right now,” junior Jien Ogawa wrote. “I and many others at this school (and in the department) are terrified.”
Ogawa and others’ comments about students in the Department of Computer Science—of which Pawlicki is the undergraduate program director—mirrored those that have been expressed to the Computer Science Undergraduate Council (CSUG).
CSUG President Anis Kallel noted in a Campus Times interview that students had complained about Pawlicki before, and that some students—specifically, minority students and women—had even dropped his classes in light of political comments the professor had made on Facebook, some on students’ posts.
He added that, because of those comments, some students said they feel unwelcome in the department.
The comments on the original post expanded to cover the marginalization some women and minority groups feel in the sciences as a whole.
“I’ll take your $16 and put it toward furthering woman and girls in the STEM field, as your support of Trump is part and parcel with the sexism that has become the norm in the sciences,” sophomore Gabrielle Henry said.
Pawlicki’s post was condemned by others as unprofessional and out of line.
“This is wholly unacceptable conduct on the part of a professor at this institution,” Speaker of the Students’ Association (SA) Senate and senior Lindsay Wrobel wrote, tagging several other student leaders in a follow-up comment.
After saying she disagrees with Pawlicki’s support of Trump—which is well-documented on Facebook—sophomore Saralinda Schell said, “What is unprofessional and uncalled is making students feel uncomfortable expressing their opinions. Shame on you. You are a teacher.”
Others argued that the post ran at odds with University President Joel Seligman’s Wednesday email to the student body in the wake of Trump’s surprise election Tuesday night, in which he said, “We welcome and support you as human beings. Regardless of what happens in an election, you will always be welcome here.”
UR’s Communal Principles were invoked several times as well.
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Jonathan Burdick, who was tagged on the post and on others by multiple students, said on a different post that he would “struggle based on the overall evidence of his behavior to think [Pawlicki] makes our campus or his classrooms unsafe.”
Burdick said he had forwarded news of Thursday’s incident to “University officials who know [Pawlicki] and have a responsibility for evaluating his behavior as a member of our community.”
He said as well that he and those officials have, so far, found Pawlicki’s political commentary on Facebook protected free speech.
He does not believe Thursday’s situation will change that conclusion.
A little over an hour after the first post, Pawlicki posted again, apologizing for his initial remarks. He wrote that his intent was “to assert as President Obama did, that we are all Americans and that we need to come together.”
“This America is, of course, for all of us,” he added. “You don’t see President Obama or Secretary Clinton rejecting America because they lost the election.”
Students promptly began posting screenshots of their original comments on Pawlicki’s latest post, criticizing him for avoiding the consequences of his first after it was deleted from the event page.
Not everyone took issue with the original post, however.
“Amazing a professor expressed a view in a light hearted manner and in response he gets incident reports filed against him, shamed, and told that he ostracizing people from a field of study,” junior Tommy Tranfo said.
“I disagree with what he is saying, but he should be allowed to post whatever he wants on and with his own personal facebook page,” sophomore Dan Cancelmo said. “There shouldn’t be a witch hunt for Trump supporting professors. Also, I’m in one of his classes right now and he makes jokes about both sides. Everyone knew he supported Trump just from other students talking, you really can’t tell from his lectures.”
Comments from accounts including “Killary Clinton” and “Ben NewJaw” (whose profile picture is a widely-known meme often associated with the alt-right) sharply disagreed with most students’ comments.
In an email to the Campus Times, Pawlicki said he wants to make clear that he is “absolutely dedicated to the equality of all people” and that his original post had been made in the spirit of levity, similar to comedians who had joked about people moving to Canada if Trump won.
“America stands for the proposition that all people are equal,” he said. “To reject America by saying that our country is ‘Not My America’ is to reject that truth. I find the statement ‘Not My America’ to be deeply offensive and profoundly inconsiderate to the people who have paid for our freedoms and participatory democracy with their lives.”
“Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg joked in an interview with The New York Times in July that it’d be time to move to New Zealand if Trump were to win,” he said. “She, like me, later apologized saying the statement was ill-advised.”
He added: “Also, my Facebook pages are entirely my own opinion and are in no way representative of the UR. I make no reference to or claim any affiliation with the UR on any of my facebook postings. As a citizen in a participatory government, I only speak for myself. I believe that the threats I have received on line are manifestations of an ugly neo-McCarthyism that is unfortunately prevalent among members of the extreme left.”
Pawlicki said in a later email that he has invited students from all sides of the political spectrum to speak with him, but none have taken him up on his offer.
“I worry that students are too fearful to question and discuss issues with authority figures, but I always try to encourage my students to do so,” he said.
He was adamant that he has never let political disagreement influence his grading or teaching, and said he is not aware of any students dropping out of his classes for political reasons.
A record of screenshots from the original post can be found here.
Editor-in-chief Aurek Ransom contributed reporting to this piece.
Clarification: The headline and introduction to this story were updated to indicate that Pawlicki’s original post was not specifically directed toward students, but toward all those—including students—who felt that this was not their America. The post was made on a student-run event’s Facebook page.
This story was last updated at 2:12 a.m. on Nov. 11, 2016. It will be updated further as new details arise.