Adjunct sociology professor fired after tweeting Hurricane Harvey was “karma” for Trump supporters
On August 27, 2017, Kenneth Storey, then an adjunct professor at the University of Tampa, shared on Twitter that although he was not a believer in karma, he felt the people of Texas deserved Hurricane Harvey for voting President Donald Trump into office. His tweets were met with outrage, and two days later Storey was fired.
Kenneth Storey is a native Floridian who publicly identifies as a liberal. He was a part-time, adjunct faculty member in the Sociology department at the University of Tampa (UT), a private university located in Tampa, Florida, from 2011 to 2017. Before this incident occurred, he was — and continues to be — a vocal and active individual on Twitter.
Storey’s initial tweet on August 27 read: “I dont believe in karma but this kinda feels like it for Texas. Hopefully this will help them realize the GOP doesnt care about them.” He posted this in reference to Hurricane Harvey, which had just hit Houston and other areas of Texas and Louisiana. The Texas Tribune estimated that a minimum of 88 people died in the hurricane, and CNN reported that roughly 30,000 people were displaced after Harvey dumped 27 trillion gallons of water—in a record-breaking rainfall of 51 inches—on the state of Texas.
After his first tweet, Storey continued to elaborate. In response to someone who tweeted at him saying he should “rethink,” he tweeted, “Well, the good people there need to do more to stop the evil their state pushes. I’m only blaming those who support the GOP there.” When asked if he thought the same about Trump supporters in Florida, he responded, “Yep, those who voted for him here deserve it as well.”
Conservative websites Campus Reform and Turning Point USA picked up Storey’s tweets, and the professor was added to the “Professor Watchlist,” a website used to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom,” reported the Tampa Bay Times. Storey ultimately deleted the entire Twitter thread, as well as his profile picture.
He apologized a day later, writing: “I deeply regret a statement I posted yesterday. I never meant to wish ill will upon any group. I hope all affected by Harvey recover quickly.” In a statement to ABC News, Storey explained that he “was referring to the GOP denial of climate change science and push to decrease funds from agencies that can help in a time like this. . . . I also hope this helps the GOP realize the need to support climate change research and put in place better funding for agencies like NOAA and FEMA.”
University fires adjunct professor for tweets
UT’s faculty handbook follows guidelines from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which state that “[professors] should be free from institutional censorship or discipline” when speaking in their capacities as independent individuals. A school should only discipline a professor, AAUP says, “if [there are] grave doubts concerning the teacher’s fitness” to teach.
The university asserted in a separate statement to ABC News that Storey’s comments were not representative of its views, since he did not make them in his capacity as a faculty member. Yet on August 29, 2017, UT announced it had fired the adjunct professor, writing, “We condemn the comments and the sentiment behind them, and understand the pain this irresponsible act has caused. Storey has been relieved of his duties at UT.”
Ari Cohn, an attorney at The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told the Tampa Bay Times the university had “caved” to pressure from online “outrage mobs.”
Faculty member forced to leave home due to threats
Storey spoke with reporters on the day his firing was announced and told them he was in hiding because he feared for his life. He said, “I’ve received numerous death threats. Right now, I am not at home because of threats, that do look credible, of people that identify as white supremacists who stated they are ‘coming down from Georgia to kill me.’”
Prepared by Emma Vahey ‘20
Uploaded April 30, 2017