You are hereThe Chronicle of Higher Education: Videos 'Ripped' From Online-Course Footage Bring Threats to Instructors

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Videos 'Ripped' From Online-Course Footage Bring Threats to Instructors

By FZ - Posted on 26 May 2011

-By Peter Schmidt

April 28, 2011- The University of Missouri system has been besieged with angry letters and phone calls, and top officials at its St. Louis campus have asked an adjunct faculty member to resign, as a result of the conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart's posting videos this week that appear to show two labor-studies instructors advocating union violence.

A contributor to Mr. Breitbart's Web site produced the two videos, which run roughly seven minutes each, from about 30 hours of lecture footage taped as part of a distance-education course and uploaded onto the university's Blackboard course-management system.

Because the footage includes depictions of students in the classroom and was supposed to be accessible only to faculty members, students enrolled in the course, and university technical-support personnel, its wide-scale online distribution has raised concerns about students' privacy rights and the unauthorized use of online course footage to put colleges' faculty members under political pressure.

Mr. Breitbart declined Thursday to comment or respond to allegations that the videos were selectively edited to look incriminating.

After Mr. Breitbart's Web site posted the videos on Monday, the university system initially responded with a statement distancing itself from the comments that the lecturers are depicted making. "Obviously, the comments on the video do not reflect the position of the University of Missouri," said the statement from Jennifer Hollingshead, a system spokeswoman. Officials at the St. Louis and Kansas City campuses, where the lectures were delivered, "are looking into the situation," her statement said.

On Thursday, however, Gail Hackett, provost of the University of Missouri at Kansas City, issued a statement denouncing how the videos are presented on Mr. Breitbart's Web site, based on the campus's continuing review of the raw classroom footage used to make them.

"From the review completed to date," her statement said, "it is clear that edited videos posted on the Internet depict statements from the instructors in an inaccurate and distorted manner by taking their statements out of context and reordering the sequence in which those statements were actually made so as to change their meaning. Such selective editing is disturbing, and the release of students' images without their permission is a violation of their privacy rights."

'A Hatchet Job'

The statement from Provost Hackett nonetheless said the St. Louis campus "has accepted the resignation of its lecturer."

But on Thursday, Don Giljum, the adjunct instructor at the St. Louis campus who is depicted in the videotapes, went from saying he planned to resign that day to saying he had not tendered his resignation and was reconsidering his decision to do so.

Mr. Giljum said he had been told by his immediate supervisor at the St. Louis campus, Deborah Baldini, associate dean for continuing education, that both the campus's chancellor and provost had called for him to resign, even though he had never been given a chance to discuss with them the allegations made in the video. Mr. Giljum said the only opportunity he has been given to defend himself was a brief conversation with Ms. Baldini in which, he said, he told her the statements he is shown making in the video "were taken totally out of context and completely edited. It is nothing but a hatchet job by this person who wants to destroy unions and destroy labor education."

The administrators' request for his resignation "is a huge mistake on their part," Mr. Giljum said, arguing that, based on the videos, "they are going to sacrifice academic freedom and the open and free-flowing exchange of thoughts and ideas between teachers and students."

Regardless of what happens at St. Louis, Mr. Giljum, who politically identifies himself as a communist, has already lost one source of income because of the controversy over the videotapes. The St. Louis-based Local 148 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, for which he had worked as business manager, demanded his resignation on Wednesday. Mr. Giljum said he is worried that Southwestern Illinois College, where he teaches a class on labor relations, will ask for his resignation as well.

The other instructor depicted in the videos is Judith Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. The footage used for the videos show her and Mr. Giljum team-teaching a course titled "Labor, Politics, and Society" through video conferencing. In a statement issued on Thursday, she said neither she nor Mr. Giljum ever advocated violence in their classroom lectures, but they felt compelled to discuss it given the violent history of the labor movement.

In the statement, Ms. Ancel said she is "outraged at Mr. Breitbart's invasion of our classroom and his attempts to intimidate us and my colleagues at the university." She called Mr. Breitbart "a master of taking quotes out of context, deletion of what doesn't serve his purpose, and remixing to achieve totally different meaning," and cited several points in the video where she believes statements by her and Mr. Giljum were taken out of context or otherwise distorted.


Mark Crispin Miller
Progressive Democrats of America