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Newtown

Via Lisa Barron of Newsmax:

Florida Atlantic University President Mary Jane Saunders has resigned in the wake of students being asked to stomp on Jesus’ name.

The school announced that she resigned late Tuesday and that FAU Board of Trustees Chairman Anthony Barbar had accepted the resignation. Saunders will remain at FAU to take a faculty position, where she will be assigned a special research project to assess the feasibility of developing a physician’s assistant program at the university.

During the course of the past year, Saunders defended a professor who asked students to stomp on a paper after writing the name “Jesus” on it and a failed attempt to name the football stadium after jail contractor Geo Group. Another FAU professor made news when he suggested the Newtown, Conn., shooting in which 20 schoolchildren were killed never took place.

“There is no doubt the recent controversies have been significant and distracting to all members of the university community,” Saunders wrote in her resignation letter, according to an excerpt posted on the school’s website.

“The issues and the fiercely negative media coverage have forced me to reassess my position as the president of FAU. I must make choices that are the best for the university, me and my family,” she said.

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A Florida Atlantic University communications professor known for conspiracy theories who argued the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre “did not happen as reported — or may not have happened at all” called the Boston Marathon bombings a “mass casualty drill.”

On his personal blog, Professor James Tracy questioned government and police accounts of the Boston Marathon bombings, saying the amount of damage shown on the videos and what authorities say caused that damage don’t coincide.

He stated in his post, dated April 23 and titled “Witnessing Boston’s Mass Casualty Event,” that “photographic evidence of the event suggests the possibility of play actors getting into position after the detonation of what may in fact have been a smoke bomb or similarly benign explosive.”

“What exactly took place on April 15 at the Boston Marathon is unclear, yet what is now evident is a stark divergence between the narrative description of excessive carnage meted out as a result of the explosive devices and at least a portion of the video and photographic documentation of the bombing itself,” Tracy stated on his blog post.

“The event closely resembles a mass-casualty drill, which for training purposes are designed to be as lifelike as possible,” he continued. “Since it is mediated, however, and primarily experienced from afar through the careful assemblage of words, images, and the official pronouncements and commentary of celebrity journalists, it has the semblance of being for all practical purposes ‘real.’ ”

“Reports arising in the Boston bombing’s aftermath suggest how local authorities in possible coordination with the Department of Homeland Security were in the process of carrying out such drills, complete with the announcement of bombs being detonated and bomb-sniffing dogs present at the start and finish lines.”

Tracy’s current line of thought follows a similar one he promulgated after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in mid-December in Newtown, Conn.

At that time, he claimed in radio interviews and on his blog that “trained ‘crisis actors’ may have been employed by the Obama administration in an effort to shape public opinion in favor of the event’s true purpose: gun control.”

Tracy’s blog is not affiliated with Florida Atlantic University. His comments about the Newtown massacre prompted outrage across the nation.

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IMAGE: James Tracy blog screen shot

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In the “People’s Republic of Boulder,” by City Council decree, residents are known as “pet guardians,” and now they’ve stretched their roles to guardians of wild life as well.

On Sunday, about 50 people gathered at Pearl Street Mall for a candlelight vigil to demand justice for an adult, male elk shot by a police officer in a suburban Boulder neighborhood on New Year’s Day.

To honor the elk, participants played recordings of elk bugling from their cell phones. They passed out flyers to passersby. They vowed to mount pressure on police as the investigation continues. In addition to the vigil, a silent march took place recently as well.

Since the shooting, town meetings have been held. The chief of police has made statements. An announcement from the district attorney on whether charges will be filed against the police officer, who reportedly failed to handle the situation by the book, is expected today.

Meanwhile, in interviews with The College Fix, some CU Boulder students offered a different perspective, calling the reactions a bit much, even insulting.

Junior Taylor Lane, 20, said she thought the vigil was “extreme.”

“So many people in Boulder are concerned with our ecological, or ethical, facade and this is a perfect example,” she said. “One animal was shot out of season. I’m certain more than that are hit by traffic on a daily basis.”

What’s more, the Boulder community did not hold a vigil for the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., in mid-December, in which a classroom of young students were gunned down by a mentally unstable gunman.

Senior Mitchell Whitus, 20, said he feels the Boulder community reacted “to the wrong thing.”

“I saw a report on Channel 4 about the vigil, and a lady who was there compared the shooting of the elk to the Sandy Hook shooting,” he said. “I’m appalled that they would compare the shooting to the massacre of children. Why not hold a vigil for the Sandy Hook shooting, instead? It is crazy.”

Nearly half of Boulder’s residents are registered Democrats, and the city is widely understood as the home of “pet guardians” and environmentalists.

Nevertheless, their reaction to the elk shooting also runs in stark contrast to the lack of any uproar over a bear that was tranquilized on the CU Boulder campus last year, then found dead after being hit by a car.

Meanwhile, other students felt the Boulder community used the elk as a symbol to gather around, but failed to hit on the bigger question of the police officer’s conduct in shooting the beloved creature.

Senior Elizabeth Coombs, 22, said the elk is the wrong target.

“I think we should focus on the potential abuse of power by the officer if he was, indeed, on duty when he shot the elk,” she said.

Fix contributor Aslinn Scott is a student at CU Boulder.

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IMAGE: Odolaigh/Flickr

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If another Ambrose Bierce comes along to update The Devil’s Dictionary, “national conversation” ought to have an entry.

We are constantly receiving invitations to the “national conversation”—about abortion, the death penalty, same-sex marriage, trans fats. It sounds nice: Every red, white, and blue-blooded American tucks in at the table for a calm, measured discussion in which everyone’s views are heard, and at the end we come to a conclusive plan of action that makes everyone happy. Or at least dissatisfies everyone equally.

It is an agreeably democratic canard, giving the hoi polloi the impression that it has some input in what happens, and giving those who say it the all-important sheen of open-mindedness.

Neither is true, of course, but the phrase coats predetermined positions in a sparkling patina of reasonableness. It’s no surprise, then, that House minority leader Nancy Pelosi’s recently called for a “national conversation” on gun control in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown.

But of course, America can’t have “national conversations.” We’re too many, too scattered. That is why the Founders created a republic. Our representatives have the conversation for us, in a venue where every voice can, in fact, be heard.

And tragedies make especially bad occasions for a “national conversation.” An entire country’s blood is up, clamoring for justice and answers, suddenly willing to go to every extreme to prevent future bloodshed. It’s a pity—but not a surprise—that days after the events in Newtown acclaimed novelist Joyce Carol Oates tweeted, “If sizable numbers of NRA members become gun-victims themselves, maybe hope for legislation of firearms?” She was only one of many whose responses ranged from foolish to downright vicious. But we expect some emotional instability in the aftermath of such an event. Which is precisely why it’s a bad time to make policy.

Moreover, a month after the tragedy in Newtown, the news cycle has moved on—to the fiscal cliff, the debt crisis, the president’s Cabinet nominations—and whatever conversation remains is happening among Joe Biden and a small committee of Congressmen behind closed doors somewhere on Capitol Hill. If it is happening at all. With political careers, massive amounts of money, and influence at stake, Capitol Hill is all too often where genuine debate goes to die.

Is there any alternative? The attempt to mask political objectives—in Pelosi’s case, strong national gun control legislation—in openness to bipartisan conversation ought to serve as a reminder that our most difficult, impassioned conversations can only happen with any true intellectual seriousness in a place that takes intellectual seriousness seriously. For a great deal of Western history, that was the university.

Unfortunately, that is rarely the case anymore. Four days after the shooting in Newtown, 160 college and university presidents signed an “open letter to our nation’s policy leaders” calling for “rational gun safety measures” and opposing any legislation that would permit gun possession on college campuses.

Too often the denizens of the modern academy forget the advice of French essayist Joseph Joubert, that “it is better to raise a question without deciding it than to decide a question without raising it.”

And the tragedy at Newtown—and our reactions—raises large and important questions. But intellectual flippancy leads to conclusions like Vice President Biden’s, who recently declared, “If your actions result in only saving one life, they’re worth taking.” That sort of tortured logic makes for sentimental appeal but for absurd policy. Gun control legislation is not just a matter of saving lives (if it will do even that is a point of contention); it requires a careful evaluation of the meaning of the Second Amendment and of the relationship of the federal government to the individual. Questions about mental health require the same cautious thought: At what point does a person’s individual freedom need to become subject to the state’s regulation?

Grappling honestly and seriously with such questions has, historically, been the province of the university, where a dedication to truth and clarity has been more important than political advocacy. That is much more difficult on campuses where political agenda and classroom curriculum have become indistinguishable.

In modern America, the moments that call for long, careful attention to large questions are those in which the intellectual poverty of a great portion of the cloistered policymaking class becomes most acutely apparent. But wise policymaking demands such studied reflection.

The university, in its classic, pre-politicized incarnation, can serve as the place for that task—for the deep and thoughtful consideration of complex and challenging questions. And if the resulting judicious university culture can maintain its integrity, it can become a check on overhasty action and an alternative to our empty rhetorical niceties. It can be—again—the place of real conversation.

Fix contributor Ian Tuttle is a student at St. John’s College.

IMAGE: Valley Indy/Flickr

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Ryan Cortes, a student at Florida Atlantic University and editor with its campus magazine, wrote a column Wednesday that came to the defense of professor James Tracy, who made headlines this week after claiming the Newtown, Conn., school massacre either didn’t take place or was part of some sort of government conspiracy.

In a column titled “reaction to FAU professor’s Newtown conspiracy is misguided and misinformed,” Cortes writes in the University Press student magazine that: “I’ve taken three of Tracy’s classes in my time at FAU, including one called Culture of Conspiracy. Hell, I’ve seen more 9/11 documentaries than Tarantino flicks, and damn do I love those. But I also love people who think differently and cause you to see perspectives you wouldn’t ponder.”

Cortes goes on to state:

… This is someone who has changed my opinion many times before. His theories usually center around a failed national media that didn’t dig deep and ask more questions. It led him to believe Osama bin Laden’s alleged killing was a conspiracy, that the Oklahoma City Bombings were another, and that 9/11 had so many unanswered questions that if you weren’t asking on your own, well, you never were going to ask about anything anyway.

So I come into this discussion having spent a good deal of time with the man. I know how he thinks and I know when he starts asking questions, this many questions, he’s informed on the subject and he’ll cause me to at least think twice. I didn’t agree with everything he wrote, but I knew what was coming Tracy’s way. Vitriol. Hate. Anger.

All of it.

But none of these people knew the real Tracy. It was a blog post turned into a headline turned into a tweet turned into thousands of angry readers, but it didn’t tell the whole story. I remembered classmates of mine while taking Tracy’s classes who would stand outside during breaks, mesmerized, over what the professor’s opinions forced you think long and hard about before believing.

The column also quotes the school’s faculty union president:

 “The reaction is weird,” said (Chris Robé, FAU’s faculty union president). “I mean, part of it I get. This isn’t being sensitive to the victims, and I get that, it’s OK. But there was one person commenting that said they believe in free speech but they don’t want their tax payer dollars to go to this. Well then, you don’t really believe in free speech, right?”

“The point is, the guy has the right to say what he’s saying. When people start saying he’s crazy or demand that he gets fired because they’re offended by something he says, well, shit, all of us could be fired for something offensive we’ve said.”

Cortes ends his column by saying of Tracy: “At least he was thinking something.”

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Daniel Strunk, a Duke University student and regular columnist for The Chronicle, recently weighed in on the Newtown, Conn., massacre in a heartfelt column. Here are portions of that piece:

Beyond the uncomforting fact that “evil exists in this world,” I have found no encompassing consolation or calming rationalization for the needless deaths of those … individuals—or for that matter those who were killed in Wisconsin, Oregon, and Kansas. I am not sure I ever will.

Upon reading the first story of the Newtown, Connecticut shooting that came up on my Facebook newsfeed today, I said a prayer to God in heaven asking comfort for the families, Americans, and all those who grieved. Continuing on, however, I was thrown from my usual formality when engaging in such conversation with my Lord. Carried away in very ineloquent but passionate utterances, I proceeded to interject cries of disbelief about humanity. I lamented—and quite irately so. I decried that this evil might still exist in a society that could surely prevent it. That humanity could let such a tragedy occur. That our world, as we know it, could somehow turn the heart of that gunmen black as coal.

I continued reading the news story. I read that a young boy was carried out of his classroom by a police officer, bleeding from gunshot wounds. I read that Kindergartners, busy learning in their reading groups, had to run and hide in bathrooms from the “hammering” that their teachers told them was occurring—realizing (or maybe not realizing) that the “hammering” was really discharged bullets and the “hammer” was really a gun, wielded by yet another psycho who managed to get his finger around a trigger. I am not someone usually prone to displays of physical sentiment, but I found myself crying loudly at the end of that article. Picturing in my mind, as I couldn’t help but do, the vicious murder of eighteen young children in such a sacred space as a school building—I found it overwhelming. “I don’t want to die. I just want Christmas,” were the words of one girl lucky enough to survive with the help of a heroine teacher. Surely there are no words that could give voice to the senselessness of such a cruel wickedness, and thus impede the flow of tears dropping from the eyes of citizens across this world. …

And as someone who wrote columns routinely in high school and does so now in college, I like to think that I know, at least a little, how to give life to emotions and pain via words. I feel it is my job to do so—to discover how I might represent the emotions of my readership and myself. To give meaning to what we might have previously felt but never expressed. To say something of value or to clarify where murkiness exists. This is my job, and I oftentimes take pride in doing it.

Yet I worry I must fail in my job now. There are no words I could type or ideas I could express that could cut through the bloody murkiness brought upon the people of Newtown. There is no grand solace to be found in this event. Nothing that can erase the ache felt in the hearts of the fallen children’s parents, and the hearts of Americans across the country.

At times like these, all I can do is pray and hope. Pray that peace might be granted to those harmed. Hope that one day we might find meaning in this tragedy that has been so heinously exacted upon the people of Newtown. It’s not much I know. But it’s all I can offer. Today, let’s endeavor to pray and hope together. Tomorrow, let us dream our prayers and hopes come true.

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