To the Editors,
Last week, an article was printed about me in The Daily Pennsylvanian claiming that “Controversial Religion Professor Anthea Butler” was under the protection of the Penn Police because I was not at my posted classroom for a graduate course for several weeks in a row. The article insinuated that because of a poorly sourced article from Campus Reform last semester that seemingly insulted presidential candidate Ben Carson, I was receiving threats because I am hated, and the reporter asked the question “Where in the world is Anthea Butler?”
For the record, I did not call Ben Carson what people have said I did. I made a reference to a friend’s tweet, and that was distorted by right wing press sites.
The facts that are not included in last week’s DP article are simple. I’m at Penn, on campus, every week. I am not being protected by the Penn Police, and I am not meeting in my assigned classroom because I am accommodating one of my graduate students who had a scheduling conflict and needs this course for his doctoral exams. As a favor to him, I agreed along with his classmates to met earlier in the day, and we had to move locations. It is a small seminar, and because we don’t need a classroom, we meet in another location on campus. Very simple.
Let me assure you all, I’ve been on campus every week since the spring semester began, doing my job as a professor. I’ve been teaching and mentoring my graduate students, participating in a departmental search, and walking around campus like everyone else. In short, I’m doing my job. Whether or not The Daily Pennsylvanian is, that’s another matter altogether.
I have declined numerous times to be interviewed by the DP, in part because of previous reporting on events concerning me that have happened that have been misinterpreted by conservative media sites such as Campus Reform, NewsMax and Fox News.
Unfortunately, reporters at the DP have used these sites to source “news” articles about me. The reporter in question has demanded to know where I am meeting from our administrative assistant and chair in the hopes of ambushing me, even after I refused interview requests politely via email. That is not acceptable. Additionally, the DP did not give Penn police time to adequately respond to a query about me, and proceeded to print the article in question at 3 a.m. in the morning, four hours after sending an email at 11 p.m. AT NIGHT.
In the past, I have received numerous hate mails, twitter threats, and our department and other departments around campus have been harassed, all because I am seen as a racist because I teach and speak about the deleterious effects of racism. While I am a very strong person, and can stand the attacks of the media, having students I hope to teach and inspire in the classroom write untruths about me is very disappointing and it hurts. I had to spend a considerable time speaking with my graduate students about the danger of what can happen if you are an untenured professor who has untruths written about them. It can destroy a promising academic career.
Tenure at the University of Pennsylvania is a tough process. I came to Penn in 2009 having been tenured at four other institutions because of a bidding war for my expertise and intellectual abilities. I chose to come to Penn. Having my commitment to my teaching and scholarship, as well as my job impinged by someone eager to get clicks for the DP is untenable. Hence this letter. I will not have my professional life on campus impinged by someone who has other axes to grind and does not know me. I am a committed Associate Professor in the fields of Religion and Africana Studies. I am well respected in my fields. I give extraordinary amounts of time to my students and colleagues. I am not an invisible punching bag. I hold a Ph.D. from the Vanderbilt University. I am not faceless, nor nameless. Nor do I punch a clock. Academic Freedom is important, and it is why many of you tried and succeeded to get into Penn. We have excellent professors and researchers.
I do not relish writing this letter. I’d rather be working on an article, or hanging with my students, or reading. Because of the times that we live in today, when bullying is the norm, both on the playground and in presidential campaigns, and discourse is disjointed, it is important to get the story right. We all need remind ourselves that the University is the place where we should be able to have conversations that are not filled with half truths and innuendos, but facts and analytical thinking.
To close, let me use this article to say if you want to find out who I really am, come take my course on Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Black Lives Matter Fall 2016. I can’t think of a better way to get to know me through my scholarship and teaching, instead of a poorly sourced, clickbait article in The Daily Pennsylvanian.
ANTHEA BUTLER is the associate professor of Religious Studies and Graduate Chair in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.
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