The Trinity College professor whose online comments about racial issues and the police drew national attention, including threats that led the Connecticut institution to shut down briefly, has been placed on paid leave, the college announced late Monday.
Trinity’s president, Joanne Berger-Sweeney, wrote that “a leave is in the best interest” of both the college and the faculty member, Johnny Eric Williams, an associate professor of sociology. Ms. Berger-Sweeney added that the dean of the faculty would continue a review of the train of events that led to the controversy.
In the aftermath of the threats, Mr. Williams apologized for the trouble his comments had caused for the campus, and he said he and his family had fled to another state for safety, the Hartford Courant reported.
The controversy arose, like several others in recent months, over something he was reported to have said -- but never in fact said. The professor had posted comments on Facebook about the fatal shooting of a black woman by police officers in Seattle. But Campus Reform, a website that seeks to highlight what it calls examples of liberal bias in academe, reported that the Facebook comments concerned a recent shooting at Republican practice for a congressional baseball game. The report spread rapidly to other conservative websites, and not surprisingly, the internet outrage machine swung into gear.
Mr. Williams, who said that his comments had been mischaracterized and that he had received death threats, told the Courant last week that he was “calling for the death of a system, white supremacy, not the death of white people.”
In remarks to the Courant on Monday night, after he was placed on leave, Mr. Williams said that taking that step was not his idea and that he considered it more in the college’s interest than his. “I think they had pressure to do something. They want this to die down and go away.”
Leaders of Trinity’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors also issued a statement on Monday saying they were “not convinced that this decision is in the best interest of the campus community.”
They expressed concern that the college’s decision would “lend credence to a politically motivated attack specifically designed to stifle critical engagement with issues of race.”
“The other choice,” they added, “would have been to strongly support Professor Williams in the face of such attacks.”