Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, June 15, 2019

Adjunct professor facing criticism for tweets joking about school shootings, abortion

University says it does "not condone" the tweets posted by communications instructor Doug Hecox

Adjunct professor facing criticism for tweets joking about school shootings, abortion

AU professor Doug Hecox performed at a comedy club in Berlin in August. 

Doug Hecox, an adjunct professor at in the School of Communication and spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration, is under fire for tweets joking about school shootings and abortion that were revealed in a March POLITICO article. 

"More Republicans would support abortion if they realized how many Democrats it prevents," Hecox wrote in a tweet in 2016. 

Hecox’s Twitter account is now private, according to the POLITICO article, but the story included screenshots of tweets Hecox posted about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Columbine High School and a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. 

Outside of his work as a professor and spokesman, Hecox has performed as a comedian around the world, including a recent trip to Germany last summer, The Eagle previously reported. Hecox did not respond to a request for comment. 

“Thanks to the Aurora shooter, hundreds of moviegoers were spared heart disease from heavily buttered movie popcorn. #silverlining,” Hecox tweeted in 2012.

Kelly Alexander, director of public relations at AU, said that the Twitter posts from Hecox dating back to 2012 were recently called to the University’s attention.

“We do not condone them [the tweets],” Alexander said. “They are terribly insensitive, especially for those who have been directly impacted by gun violence. The ideas expressed do not align with American University’s values of human dignity and respect. Yet we also value and protect free expression, and we know that this freedom comes with responsibility.”

Alexander said that in terms of Hecox’s employment at AU, the University “will not comment on what is an individual personnel matter.”

Sydney Wishnow, a sophomore in SOC, had Hecox as a professor for Writing for Communication and said that his class was the highlight of her semester, and his “energy and love for what he was teaching was contagious.”

However, while Wishnow expressed disappointment when learning about his tweets, she did not think that he meant to cause any harm.

“While I don't condone his words, I don't think they had malicious intent,” Wishnow said. “People cope in many ways, and for some, that's humor. Anyone who has had Professor Hecox will agree that he is a kind-hearted man who made a mistake. No one is perfect, and Hecox will be the first to tell you he is by no means perfect.”

Jeff Rutenbeck, the dean of SOC, said that Hecox’s tweets were “terribly insensitive and cruel.”

“As someone who was living just a few miles from Columbine High School when the shootings happened, I’ve seen first-hand how the horrors of that day continue to impact countless people,” Rutenbeck said. 

With regards to faculty conduct, Rutenbeck said that he is guided by the faculty manual, which details the following points:

  • Faculty are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution.
  • When faculty speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.
  • They should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. 
  • They should at all times be accurate and should respect the rights of others.

When asked if SOC plans on taking any measures to respond to Hecox’s tweets, Rutenbeck said that he could not comment on personnel matters.

“Professor Hecox has proven himself to be a well respected figure at this university,” Wishnow said. “I think it's up to him to figure out how he wants to apologize.”

asheffey@theeagleonline.com


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