Labor Education In Missouri Under Attack


Judy Ancel, Director of the Institute for Labor Studies at UMKC,
is coming under attack by far-right sleaze

Andrew Breitbart, a tea-party darling, runs a well-funded nest of websites that has gained notoriety in the past for promoting doctored scurrilous video that is often picked up by Fox News and their ilk. Among past victims was Shirley Sherrod, fired from a low level job in the Agriculture Department after spliced film of a speech to an NAACP meeting made her appear to be prejudiced against whites she dealt with in her job. After the slander was exposed, an embarrassed White House apologized and offered her a different job. She is suing Breitbart for character defamation.

In line with the current reactionary crusade to stamp out unions, Breitbart is now peddling some spliced and diced purloined tapes of classroom discussions in a course offered by Labor Education in the University of Missouri system. The Big Lie this time is that labor educators are teaching union violence.

A University statement posted elsewhere on our news page acknowledges the dubious character of the Breitbart production but also says a targeted  St Louis instructor has "resigned," and that they continue an ongoing evaluation of the program.

The labor movement, and all who support democratic rights, need to mobilize in support of threatened labor education and ILS director Judy Ancel currently under fire. We'll keep readers informed of new developments and suggestions for how to defend academic freedom and labor education.

Below is:

 a summary of this scandal by a student in the course under attack.

followed by a statement issued by Judy Ancel

4/29/2011--kclabor.org webmaster.

***

People have posted videos of this semester's UMKC/UMSL labor studies classes all over the internet. They were initially posted on a site called biggovernment.com by someone named Breitbart. These videos are heavily edited and do not reflect the context in which certain things were said. UMSL has announced that they will not rehire Don Giljum to teach labor studies next semester. There are rumors that the Labor Studies Program will be shut down and Judy may be let go as well. The videos are being used to fuel an argument that educational funding should be cut and that unions are violent and Missouri should be a right to work state.

In addition, the sanctity of the classroom has been violated. The classroom is supposed to be a safe environment where students can ask questions and try to understand complex issues. Not only is it reprehensible that the learning experience has been violated in general, the video clips do not reflect the months of classes that led to the development of a rapport and the feeling that students and instructors could talk about theories, take up various roles, and champion different arguments to see how they play out, without any fear that anyone would misunderstand their motives or assault their character. Outside of this context, these conversations are viewed by many people as an actual endorsement of and possible plan for violence.

Students need a safe learning environment where they can talk without having to worry about ending up on the nightly news or being otherwise attacked and Don's firing, based on poorly edited videos, was entirely unjust.

The videos are here and I expect they will be posting more of them after they do some more editing...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4oTooyabyA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckWDQbvkjE0

A KC Star rebuttal is here...

http://www.kansascity.com/2011/04/26/2829379/from-breitbart-another-lesson.html

Guess which side is getting more attention.

Don, Judy, and the students at both UMKC and UMSL need your help. Please call and write to anyone who you think may be able to assist. Help us demand that students be provided a safe environment in which to learn and that Don Gilgum be reinstated. The university is not helping. They will be sending security to our class this Saturday, otherwise none of us have received any assistance or offers to remove the videos (which are university property) from any web sites and thereby protect its students from intimidation. Calls and letters to any sympathetic organizations, especially those dealing with academic freedom, calls to the university demanding that we be protected, notes of support on the various web sites hosting these videos, calls and letters to newspapers, and any other offers of support are greatly appreciated.

UMKC 816-235-1000

UMSL 314-516-5000

Governor Jay Nixon's office 573-751-3222 (I think the tea party did a call-in campaign to his office today over this)

If you are not feeling brave enough to call and pressure someone to help, just call and ask if they have any information about what is going on. Just ask whatever questions naturally arise for you. Any amount of support is appreciated.

Those of you who are not directly at risk by being involved in this situation, please feel free to post requests for support on the internet, make call-in events or whatever on Facebook, whatever you can think of to help put a stop to this. We have discussed this and decided that trying to avoid drawing attention to the videos is a lost cause, it is spreading by the minute. Those who would like to see us hang already know about the videos. Please do not name any students that you may recognize in the videos and please do not mention my name as a source of information. Make this your own fight, because it is.

I expect support from unions (because this is being tied in with the right to work campaign), educators (because it is being tied in with education funding), and everyone who believes that students should be able to fearlessly and respectfully talk about everything under the sun, because that is how we learn from each other.

***

Andrew Breitbart’s Affront to Democracy and Attack on Students’ Right to an Education
Statement by Judy Ancel

I am Judy Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. While my university prepares its response, I feel compelled to answer the attacks by Andrew Breitbart on my character. I am speaking as an individual and certainly not for UMKC. I am speaking out of my strong lifelong commitment to educating working people to better understand the world they live in. Labor education is a vital part of anyone’s education. All Americans, especially our youth, need to understand the contributions working people have made and make in building our communities and nation. Labor education gives them the skills and vision to make a better world.

My students and I are outraged at Mr. Breitbart’s invasion of our classroom and his attempts to intimidate us and my colleagues at the university. Mr. Breitbart’s chop shop manufactured videos from 30 hours of classroom recordings that were posted for the course, "Labor, Politics, and Society," on the university's Blackboard system. Presumably these were delivered to him by a student, in possible violation of the University Standards of Conduct and the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. These videos were recorded for the use of students enrolled in this course, and for them only. Breitbart disassembled the material, and reassembled it; arranging them to give the appearance that instructors of the class advocate violence. This is in fact the opposite of the position both instructors took in class. Any examination of labor’s past would be incomplete without discussion of violence, (which for the most part was directed at workers) and analysis of its roots. At no time did my co-instructor, Don Giljum, nor I advocate violence.

There’s no doubt that Breitbart’s attacks are politically motivated, part of a broad agenda to weaken unions and the public sector as well as public education. His fabrications have been exposed numerous times in the mainstream media. Yet he and his echo chamber at Fox News continue to cause great harm to educators and other public servants.

On April 18th Breitbart announced his intentions on Fox News Sean Hannity show: “We’re going to take on education next, go after the teachers and the union organizers.” It is possible that his attack on the University of Missouri and labor education is his first assault.

Breitbart is a master of taking quotes out of context, deletion of what doesn’t serve his purpose, and remixing to achieve totally different meaning. For example he has me saying:

Thus Mr. Breitbart’s editing has literally put words in my mouth that were not mine, and they never were mine.

Breitbart leaves out a crucial statement by Don Giljum in order to make it appear that he advocates violence. Giljum said,

There are a number of other instances of very creative editing including:

These videos are no idle prank. They do real harm. Both Don and I are receiving threats and ugly and scary messages. There are death threats against us on Breitbart’s blog.

These videos are an attack on higher education and its mission to working adults, putting labor education programs at risk. They create fear and have an enormously chilling effect on freedom of thought and expression. They seek to undermine the academic freedom that is required to study, better understand, and hopefully improve our conditions of life. Sadly, they have already shattered the very positive atmosphere of trust and openness that we worked so hard to create in this class. One of my students told me, with some discomfort, “My boss watches Fox News.” Our students’ identities have been compromised. Their right to privacy has been breached, and none of us gave permission for these videos or our images to be placed on the internet. Another student wrote me, “The classroom provides a safe place, or a ‘free speech zone’, where it's natural that, at times, those of us not used to discussing these topics make inflammatory statements, radical sounding claims etc. that are a part of thinking through the issues and emotions surrounding them. It seems to me that a classroom can be a healthy place to do so, because of the ground rules that are set: everyone gets a chance to speak, respect for opposing views is expected and so on.”

And of course these posted videos are an attack on the rights of working people and on anything that is public, including public universities. The right of workers to have a voice in their workplaces and in their economic lives is a human right recognized by freedom-loving people around the world. Education about how to best make those rights a reality should be part of every school’s curriculum, certainly in our universities. Yet this attempt to marginalize it and make teachers and students afraid to discuss it is the antithesis of all we stand for.

These attacks on me, my colleague, and the students in my course are an affront to democracy and must be challenged by citizens, workers and students, or else they will continue.

Ancel can be reached at 816-835-4745

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