UM prof expresses 'regret' for anti-Republican column

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — A University of Michigan professor expressed "regret" Thursday after writing a column that expressed hatred toward Republicans, as members of the Board of Regents criticized her sentiments.

"This article is over the top," said Regent Andrew Richner, a Republican. "The university must foster an environment of tolerance and respect and that should start with our faculty."

Regent Laurence Deitch, a Democrat, said everyone has a right to free speech but called the article "stupid and thoughtless."

Richner and Deitch commented at Thursday's monthly board meeting on an article penned by Susan J. Douglas, a UM department chairwoman and Catherine Neafie Kellogg professor of communication studies. Douglas has faced online death threats since the piece was published Monday on the website of In These Times, a magazine.

Douglas issued a statement Thursday saying the article's headline was changed without her knowledge "and suggests an advocacy position I do not hold."

"This article was originally titled 'We Can't All Just Get Along' in the print version of the magazine," an editor's note says atop the online version of the article. "The title was then changed, without the author's knowledge or approval, to 'It's Okay to Hate Republicans.' The author rejects the online title as not representative of the piece or its main points. Her preferred title has been restored. We have also removed from the 'Comments' section all threats to the author's life and personal safety."

Douglas wrote Thursday: "While I had nothing to do with it, I regret the implications this title has for my university and especially for our students."

In the article, Douglas began with the statement "I hate Republicans." She said the party was once fiscally conservative and socially progressive but in recent decades has become more dogmatic and intolerant.

She also wrote that research into the psychological makeup of Republicans shows a resistance to change and support for inequality, leading to the embrace of stereotypes.

"And, especially since the early 1990s, Republican politicians and pundits have been feeding these needs with a single-minded, uncomplicated, good-vs.-evil worldview that vilifies Democrats," Douglas wrote. "So now we hate them back."

In her statement Thursday, Douglas said she noted in the article how she used to work for a GOP politician "whom I adored."

"I used this rhetorical flourish, in fact, to hold myself up as an example of how really bad our political climate has gotten and how so many of us have gotten locked into fixed political positions," Douglas wrote. "The article's main point is to bemoan this situation."

She finished her statement with a hope that she has not alienated students.

"It is precisely my commitment as a teacher to welcome and encourage all points of view in my classrooms that I am so concerned about climates of intolerance," Douglas wrote. "Thus I especially regret any suggestion I may have conveyed that some students are not welcome or would find a hostile environment in my classrooms. I have been, and remain, dedicated to creating a classroom environment in which diverse opinions are welcomed, exchanged and discussed."

But Regent Andrea Fischer Newman, a Republican, said she didn't think Douglas' statement was an apology. She also said the article could have a chilling effect on students' ability to exchange ideas freely.

"If you are a student here and you are a Republican and you want to espouse a position that might not be in sync with what she believes, would you feel comfortable doing it?" Newman said. "You want students to feel they can argue. You want everybody to say what they believe, you want them to learn and you want them to discover and you want them to do it in environment where they feel accepted.

"What she did was basically say, 'I don't accept and I am not willing to listen.' And I think that's a problem."