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UMSL officials report threats and 'vitriol' in wake of controversy over web video

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 9, 2011 - Thomas F. George, chancellor of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, says that university officials have been surprised by "the vitriol'' that has accompanied the continued controversy over what he called a "manipulated video'' of two faculty members teaching a course on labor studies.

George also contends that some staff have been receiving threats.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder has been among those condemning the professors' apparent comments in the video, produced by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. Breitbart has been at the center of several controversies over videos of government and political officials.

George said in a letter dated Thursday, and sent to the campus staff, that UMSL officials, and their counterparts at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, are continuing to view "the unedited tape recordings of the courses, which are delivered via interactive television. That review is still under way."

George wrote that the review so far indicates that Breitbart's video, which has become a hot commodity on the web, was "highly edited."

George's letter was forwarded by UMSL to the Beacon, with his permission. Also signing the letter was provost Glen Cope.

"Members of the UM System community have received many abusive, demeaning and threatening e-mails and phone calls," George and Cope said. "Students, faculty and administrators have expressed concern for their safety as well as for the safety of their families."

One instructor featured in the video, former local labor official Don Giljum, was involved last Saturday in an altercation with local conservative blogger Adam Sharp, who attempted to record Giljum's class.

According to Bob Samples, UMSL's associate vice chancellor for marketing and communications: "There was an incident in a UMSL academic building Saturday involving an adjunct faculty member and a non-campus individual who had set up a video flip camera and tripod near a classroom doorway where the adjunct was teaching.

"Both individuals have given conflicting statements. UMSL police are investigating. No charges have been filed," Samples said.

Neither Giljum nor Sharp have responded to the Beacon's requests for interviews or comment. Sharp has, however, posted some of Saturday's video on his blog site, Sharpelbows.

Samples said that the incident occurred as Giljum was completing his course load for the semester. Giljum earlier had submitted his resignation in response to Breitbart's video.

Breitbart's video portrays Giljum and UMKC instructor Judy Ancel as appearing to advocate violence in labor negotiations. In various published accounts, both have denied that was the case and contend that the video was altered to misrepresent their comments and views.

(Click here to view Media Matters'analysis of the original video.)

Even so, Samples said that Giljum's subsequent resignation "was offered voluntarily and was not coerced."

George said in his letter that he also was concerned that Breitbart's web use of the video also violated the rights of students in the class and other members of the faculty.

"UMSL continues to deal with a number of issues stemming from the posting of a highly-edited video [or videos] containing images and voices of faculty and students from UMSL and UMKC in a labor studies course," George and Cope wrote. "Neither UMSL nor UMKC gave permission for such usage -- meaning that the individuals responsible have at a minimum violated student privacy rights and university intellectual property rights.

"That being said, we have been dealing with the fallout," George and Cope continued. Breitbart's video "was made to appear that the faculty members advocated -- in varying degrees -- violence and intimidation in pursuit of union goals. The immediate negative public reaction therefore was understandable. The vitriol expressed was not."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.