Lars Maischak is an adjunct professor of American history at California State University, Fresno. In February 2017, he posted a number of tweets criticizing President Trump on his personal Twitter account, including one that said Trump “must hang.” After the tweets drew national attention, the professor agreed to take a leave of absence for the rest of the Spring semester; he would return later that year as a lecturer for online courses.
Lars Maischak first began lecturing in the history department at Fresno State in 2006. He was in the middle of a three-year contract when he tweeted a series of incendiary comments to his 28 Twitter followers in February 2017. Three of his tweets were particularly notable. Posted on February 17, 19, and 22, respectively, they read:
“To save American democracy, Trump must hang. The sooner and higher the better. #TheResistance #DeathtoFascism.”
“#TheResistance Has anyone started soliciting money and design drafts for a monument honoring the Trump assassin, yet?”
“#TheResistance #ethniccleansing Justice = The execution of two Republicans for each deported immigrant.”
On April 6, 2017, The Daily Caller, a conservative news agency in Washington, D.C., received an anonymous tip about Maischak’s anti-Trump tweets. The reporter who found the tip, Rob Shimshock, attempted to contact Maischak and Fresno State. The professor did not respond, but a spokesperson from the university assured Shimshock that the sentiments expressed in the tweets did not reflect the university’s opinion.
The next day, the Caller published its first story about Maischak and his tweets, and Breitbart and other conservative media quickly followed suit. Before long, the mainstream media, including “Fox and Friends,” The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, picked up the story as well. The tweets went viral. Five days after the first story ran, Maischak deleted his Twitter account and publicly apologized, saying the tweets were taken out of context, that he never expected them to be viewed by so many people, and that he had not intended to incite violence. He told Politico that he had received multiple death threats online.
When the story blew up, the university cancelled Maischak’s classes for two days before suspending him from classroom teaching. He was put on paid leave for the remainder of the spring semester, and then assigned to a non-teaching position for the the remainder of his contract, which expires in May 2018.
Fresno State President Joseph Castro commented on the decision, saying, “Dr. Maischak reiterated that it was not his intent to incite violence or harm others, however, Fresno State has a responsibility to continue a review of the situation.” Denying that the university was taking a political stand, Castro said, “This particular matter—along with others around the country—very much places universities in a position where we can educate our community about what is and what is not free speech… In general, our students are not fully aware of what the First Amendment includes.”
Maischak told Politico that he thinks his tweets should be protected by academic freedom. He said he does not regret posting them, though he wishes he had known he could make his Twitter account private. “You can’t honestly regret saying something that was true just because of the consequences,” he said.
Maischak’s situation sparks a conversation about academic free speech
The firestorm around Maischak’s tweets and Fresno State’s decision to remove him from the classroom have featured prominently in debates about academic freedom, especially for adjuncts. There is intense speculation about whether the university will renew Maischak’s contract after it ends in May 2018.
Federal agencies investigate
According to President Castro, in April 2017 Fresno State was cooperating with the Secret Service, Homeland Security, and the FBI as they investigated Maischak and his tweets. Maischak told Politico in September 2017 that he had heard nothing regarding the federal investigation’s progress and assumed it had come to a halt.
Prepared by Bridget McElroy ‘18
February 23, 2018