Seton Hall’s campus was embroiled in scandal last week following the posting of flyers around campus from the student activist organization The Concerned 44. The posters, which were appeared on the front doors of Fahy Hall and out on the University Green last Thursday morning, featured the face of Seton Hall History Professor Williamjames Hoffer with the words “white supremacist” over his eyes. The flyers, which were removed from Fahy Hall around 8:00 a.m., were put up in violation of University policy, according to a statement from interim Provost Karen Boroff.
The Concerned 44 said that the flyers were prompted by an October 2018 blog post that was discovered on Hoffer’s Game of Thrones-themed personal website, ASOIAFHistorian.wordpress.com, which was titled “The Concerned 44: The Entitled, Ignorant Student Protesters at Seton Hall University, or The Real History.” In the post, which has now been deleted but was preserved by The Setonian via the Internet Archive, Hoffer compared the group to the Ku Klux Klan, saying, “As usual, replace ‘black and brown’ with white and vice versa, and you cannot tell the difference between the Concerned 44 and the Ku Klux Klan. These ideas are a fundamental rejection of everything that Seton Hall University stands for and is attempting to do.”
In response, the Concerned 44 demanded action from the University Administration and the History Department, accusing them of “coddling” white supremacy in the flyers and calling Hoffer’s words “inexcusably hate driven” and warning that his rhetoric could be a danger to students. Additionally, the posters demanded accountability for Hoffer, a position which was articulated further by Concerned 44 organizer Chris Duran at a public meeting later that evening demanding Hoffer be either terminated or forced to resign.
Hoffer defended the post in a statement claiming that the meaning of his comparison between the Ku Klux Klan and the Concerned 44 is being misconstrued. “If you read the blog post correctly, you will note my condemnation of the Klan via the transitive property of the direct analogy to the methods, reckless disregard for the truth, and inherent racialism of the Concerned 44,” he wrote. “In my scholarship, teaching, and public and private statements, I have always and will continue to condemn bigotry, harassment, and poorly constructed arguments whether it is from white supremacists like the Klan or from groups like the Concerned 44. If history has taught us anything, groups that poison the public conversation with that material contribute nothing of value to that conversation, and we all lose as a result.”
Hoffer’s blog post and the posters put up by the Concerned 44 prompted the University to open an investigation into the situation, which is to be conducted by an outside firm. According to Dr. Thomas Rzeznik, chair of the history department, the University has also placed Hoffer on administrative leave for the remainder the of the semester “to ensure a safe environment is maintained on campus.”
In addition to the blog post, a year-old Facebook comment which was allegedly made by Hoffer has also resurfaced in which he compares the Southern Poverty Law Center to a hate group and claims that the “Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis are not a threat compared to the race war Black Lives Matter and Muslim Terrorists want to sponsor in this country.”
Hoffer declined The Setonian’s request to comment on the Facebook post on the advice of legal counsel.
In response to the controversy, the SGA Executive Committee — comprised of the executive board and the senate speaker — put out a statement last Friday evening condemning Hoffer’s “vitriolic rhetoric” in the blog post and alleged Facebook comment, but stopped short of calling for his termination or resignation.
“As citizens of a university, where intellectualism and free dialogue are tenets of the institution, we are all called to respect and preserve the First Amendment rights of every individual,” the statement read. “There is a point when our opinions do much more than express our beliefs, however. They may begin to invoke fear in others. They may begin to compromise the feeling of safety of others. They may begin to decay the professional integrity of our academic community. The words and actions of Dr. Williamjames Hoffer have reached this point.”
The statement prompted a reaction from Hoffer who, in an email to the executive committee Sunday morning, accused it of being defamatory in nature and was in violation of both the University code and state law. Hoffer gave the Executive Board until Monday evening to publicly retract the statement with an explanation or face possible legal action.
Rather than remove the statement, the SGA Executive Committee opted to instead put the statement up for a vote of affirmation by the SGA Senate Monday night, though it appears the Senate had not been formally notified committee of the correspondence from Hoffer prior to the vote.
When asked to respond, SGA Senate Speaker Arthur Adriano said “we stand by our statement and we will not be responding to anything related to Dr. Hoffer’s email.”
SGA At-Large Senator Stefan Ferreira said that though he was not made aware of the email prior to the vote, it wouldn’t have changed his vote. “I would’ve appreciated reading it before the senate voted to affirm the statement. Regardless, it doesn’t change my support of it,” he said. “What I do prepose beyond releasing a statement, however, is that students avoid dividing themselves through rumor, speculation, and emotion. It’s really time to talk to one another.”
During her advisor’s report at the meeting, Dean of Students and SGA advisor Karen Van Norman praised the executive committee for their statement, reiterating that its formulation was not a “knee-jerk reaction” and took great thought, contemplation, and research. “I am proud of the letter that they wrote, I am proud of the conviction they have shown, and I hope you will join me in being proud of them,” Van Norman said to the senate.
The senate overwhelmingly voted to affirm the statement, thereby symbolically affixing the official signature of SGA to the statement as well, though some such as At-Large Senator Taylor Newkirk expressed concern that the statement seemed to be missing something.
“We should have something saying there should be some sort of follow up to this situation,” said Newkirk during a question and answer session prior to the vote with SGA President Rishi Shah and Vice President Frank Mabalatan. “I know that a lot of the Concerned 44 specifically wants him to be fired. I don’t know if there are other options because I understand he’s tenured. But there should be something saying that we’re doing something beyond just condemning actions,” Newkirk added.
In response, Adriano made clear that because the vote was to affirm the Executive Committee’s already released statement the Senate could not amend it, but any senators interested in introducing a new resolution saying something outside of the committee’s statement were free to go through the proper process to do so.
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