(NEW YORK)— PEN America today called the suspension of Wayne State University Professor Steven Shaviro and the college’s reporting of him to police for a social media post a “blatant overreaction.”

Shaviro, who teaches English at the Michigan school, was suspended and reported to the police last week for statements he made on his personal Facebook account. The now-deleted post read: “Although I do not advocate violating federal and state criminal codes, I think it is far more admirable to kill a racist, homophobic or transphobic speaker than it is to shout them down.” He went on to say: “In short, every time protestors shout down a racist or transphobic speaker, they are indulging their own moral sense of validity at the expense of actually strengthening the very bigots against whom they are protesting.”

In response, Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education at PEN America, released the following statement:

“The choice to suspend Shaviro and report his social media post to police is a blatant overreaction to the facts at hand. When understood in context, Shaviro’s comments are satirical, extramural speech, a form of political commentary regarding the shouting down of speakers on university campuses. Shaviro’s choice of words may reflect poor judgment, but abstract reflection on these topics clearly does not rise to the very high standard of true threats or incitement, even if provocative or even shocking in nature; no one should be prosecuted for making bad jokes on the internet. This is also an extramural utterance, not made on campus or in the context of teaching, and for the university to react by reporting it to law enforcement is a dangerous precedent. After all, academic freedom extends beyond the classroom for good reason: a university cannot fulfill its mission if faculty can be fired or jailed based on satire, political commentary or unfortunate senses of humor.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057