Missouri Campus Officials Absolve Labor Instructor in Video Controversy

May 10, 2011

Top officials at the University of Missouri at St. Louis say that a labor-studies instructor who had been videotaped purportedly advocating union violence actually was the victim of selective and misleading video editing and that he can continue working there.

In a letter sent out to faculty and students at the campus on Monday, Thomas F. George, the campus's chancellor, and Glen H. Cope, its provost, denounced the highly edited videos of the instructor's labor-studies class posted online by the conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. They said the instructor, Don Giljum, "remains eligible to teach" there.

The two administrators' declaration that Mr. Giljum can continue working at the campus represents a departure from their previous position. Last Thursday, Mr. George and Ms. Cope had issued a statement saying that Mr. Giljum had voluntarily resigned—an account disputed by Mr. Giljum, who said he had verbally agreed to administrators' request that he resign but then retracted that offer and refused to submit a formal resignation letter.

In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Giljum said he has been told he might be hired to teach classes again in the coming academic year. "I was certainly hoping this would happen, based on what I know I did in the class," he said.

Both Mr. Giljum and the instructor who co-taught the labors-studies class with him—Judith Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri at Kansas City—found themselves barraged with angry phone calls and letters after videos of them appeared on Mr. Breitbart's Web site last month. Officials of the two campuses and the University of Missouri system were similarly besieged. In the statement they issued last week, Mr. George and Ms. Cope said, "Students, faculty, and administrators have expressed concern for their safety as well as for the safety of their families."

The St. Louis campus officials' declaration that Mr. Giljum remains eligible to work there came after New Faculty Majority, which represents adjunct faculty members, had launched a petition drive urging system and campus officials to keep him in the job. The United Association for Labor Education had mounted a separate petition drive urging university administrators to stand by both Ms. Ancel and Mr. Giljum.

In an interview on Tuesday, Ms. Ancel said, "What happened here has exposed the vulnerability of labor education and the need to put it on a safer footing."

The two videos on Mr. Breitbart's Web site, which ran roughly seven minutes each, were derived from about 30 hours of lecture footage that had been taped as part of a distance-education course and uploaded onto the university's Blackboard course-management system. The two videos appear to depict the two instructors advocating violence by union members, but clearly are pieced together from unrelated snippets of classroom footage.

In the letter they sent Monday, Mr. George and Ms. Cope said their review of the original classroom footage determined that the excerpts posted on Mr. Breitbart's Web site "were definitely taken out of context, with their meaning highly distorted through splicing and editing from different times within a class period and across multiple class periods." The letter said the two administrators "sincerely regret the distress" to Mr. Giljum and others "caused by the unauthorized copying, editing, and distribution of the course videos."

"We shall explore ways to improve security in the use of electronic media for instruction, research, and other activities," the letter said.

Mr. Breitbart's Web site has stood by the videos as accurately characterizing what went on in the class. In an article posted on the Web site on Monday, Philip Christofanelli, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis who had come to the University of Missouri campus in that city to take Mr. Giljum's class, admitted passing along to others the footage used to make the videos on Mr. Breitbart's Web site. Mr. Christofanelli, the founder of Washington University's chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian group, said he downloaded the footage and passed it on to friends, and he denied any association with Insurgent Visuals, the organization that produced the videos which appeared on Mr. Breitbart's Web site.

Officials at the university have said the footage technically could not have been downloaded—it had to have been copied—and have accused those involved with the videos of violating intellectual-property rights and the privacy rights of the students depicted.

Despite retaining the ability to teach at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, Mr. Giljum is not completely out of the woods. Although no formal charges have been filed, he remains under investigation for an incident last month in which, he admits, he knocked to the floor the camera of a conservative blogger who tried to tape him and his students without permission. Mr. Giljum was arrested for destruction of property in connection with the incident. The blogger, Adam Sharp, was arrested for trespassing.