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Trinity College professor cleared of wrongdoing following controversial Facebook posts

Kathleen Megan, The Hartford Courant on

Published in News & Features

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The social media statements by Trinity College Professor Johnny Williams, who made national headlines last month because of two controversial Facebook posts, were protected by academic freedom and did not violate college policies, according to a report released Friday by the college.

In a letter to the Trinity Community Friday, Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney said a review of Williams' posts reached those conclusions and has been affirmed by the college's Board of Trustees.

"Let me be clear: While I support Professor Williams's right to express his opinions, as I have previously stated, I do not condone the hashtag he chose to use," Berger-Sweeney said in her note to the community. "This was interpreted by some to be a call to let people die, though Professor Williams stated publicly that was not his intent. Nevertheless, the words used in that hashtag not only offend me personally, they also contradict our fundamental institutional values and run counter to our efforts to bridge divides and to promote understanding, both among members of our College community and between us and members of communities beyond our own."

The statement said "by mutual agreement," Williams will be on leave through the fall semester "to provide some time and distance from this recent controversy and to allow him to continue his scholarship on race, racism, and academic freedom."

Berger-Sweeney had placed Williams on leave when the college began its review of the postings -- a move Williams said he did not consent to. A spokeswoman for the college said that with the review completed, Williams "may resume his duties as a faculty member immediately," but she said he has mutually agreed not to return to campus until January.

Williams has deferred comments to his lawyer who is expected to release a comment later today.

A statement from Cornelia Parson, the chairwoman of the college's Board of Trustees said, the community has faced "a complex situation" associated with Williams social media posts and commends the college's leadership for undertaking a "thoughtful, thorough, and balanced review."

"While not all of our community members will agree with the outcome of the review, we do support the tenets of academic freedom that are critical to an institution of learning."

Williams, a longtime Trinity sociology professor, was in the news after a conservative online publication called Campus Reform picked up two of his Facebook posts, which included an obscene hashtag. Williams says the online publication misconstrued the posts as saying things he never intended: that he condoned violence against white people and that he endorsed the idea that nothing should have been done to save white victims in the recent shooting at a congressional baseball game.

Williams tried to clarify his position -- saying that he wants to see an end to white supremacist ideology -- but the Facebook posts and Campus Reform's interpretation of them went viral, resulting in death threats to Williams, threats to the Trinity campus, and calls for Williams to be fired.

Berger-Sweeney shut down the campus for a day and launched the review into whether Williams violated college policies, while Williams left the state and hid with his family hundreds of miles away.

In the aftermath, supporters of Williams said the conservative publications twisted Williams' words as part of an effort to undermine minority professors and professors with left-leaning ideas.

(c)2017 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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