Trinity professor who made controversial comments placed on leave

Johnny Williams

HARTFORD — The Trinity College sociology professor who made controversial comments in a social media post has been placed on leave according to the school’s president.

President Joanne Berger-Sweeney sent an email to the college community late Monday. In the email, she said, “I write to inform you that Professor Johnny Williams has been placed on leave, effectively immediately. We’ve determined that a leave is in the best interest of both Professor Williams and the college. The review by the Dean of the Faculty of the events concerning Professor Williams will continue.”

Berger-Sweeney went on to say, “I want to take care to note that the principles that underlie this particular set of events go far beyond the actions of any one person. These involve principles that concern how we think about academic freedom and freedom of speech, as well as the responsibilities that come with those fundamental values. It’s true, too, that as scholars and citizens, and as individuals and as a community of higher learning, our roles in and relationship to social media and the public sphere are complicated. We must be able to engage in conversations about these difficult and complex issues, and Trinity College and other places like it are precisely where such conversations should occur. I, for one, welcome them. ”

Last week, a  website called “Campus Reform” posted the Facebook comments in question, coming from Williams. That lead to numerous threats that were made to Trinity and to Williams. 

In one post on Monday he wrote:

I`m fed the EXPLETIVE up with self identified `white`s` daily violence directed at immigrants, Muslim, and sexual and racially oppressed people. The time is now to confront these inhuman EXPLETIVES and end this now.

In another post about white supremacists, he used the hashtag “Let them ________  die.”

Williams, who has been teaching at the college for more than 20 years, also posted a controversial article with the headline “Let them ______ die.”

State Representative Themis Klarides, a Trinity alum, called for his immediate termination.

Here is the school’s letter to the Trinity community.

June 26, 2017

To the Members of the Trinity Community,

As a follow-up to my note from last week, I write to inform you that Professor Johnny Williams has been placed on leave, effectively immediately. We’ve determined that a leave is in the best interest of both Professor Williams and the college. The review by the Dean of the Faculty of the events concerning Professor Williams will continue. 

Meanwhile, I want to take care to note that the principles that underlie this particular set of events go far beyond the actions of any one person. These involve principles that concern how we think about academic freedom and freedom of speech, as well as the responsibilities that come with those fundamental values. It’s true, too, that as scholars and citizens, and as individuals and as a community of higher learning, our roles in and relationship to social media and the public sphere are complicated. We must be able to engage in conversations about these difficult and complex issues, and Trinity College and other places like it are precisely where such conversations should occur. I, for one, welcome them. 

Sincerely,

Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience