An Open Letter to Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Congressman Jeff Fortenberry

Let US congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and his staff know that threatening and harassing faculty members is unacceptable. After University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Ari Kohen “liked” a social media post that poked fun at the congressman, Fortenberry’s chief of staff Reyn Archer called him and, over the course of a 53-minute call, tried to intimidate the professor. As Kohen noted in a series of Twitter posts, “Because I liked a silly photo on Facebook, Archer—who is politically powerful and very well-connected—contacted my employer and then threatened to use his office to make public that I like vandalism, which is clearly untrue.“ Kohen continued, “The implication was that he would work to create a right-wing troll storm, using his platform and his connections within right-wing media outlets.”

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P.S. Want some background on this? Here's an excerpt from the call, which Kohen recorded. The threatening statements come in the last minute. You can read Kohen’s full set of Tweets here. A news report about the incident can be found here.

To: Congressman Jeff Fortenberry
From: [Your Name]

It should go without saying that a legislator and his staff should not harass and threaten a faculty member based on his or her social media activity, and that it is absurd to equate “liking” a Facebook joke with support for vandalism. However, it’s clear that, in the current political climate, this DOES need to be said. I call on you to publicly repudiate your chief of staff’s actions to threaten and harass Ari Kohen, and to stand unequivocally for academic freedom and free speech for all faculty.