Police guarding professor after UMBC death threat

December 12, 1993|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Staff Writer

A professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County has been put under police guard after receiving a death threat apparently linked to his criticism of a student newspaper column that he considered racially offensive.

Acklyn Lynch, an associate professor in the African-American studies department, has been escorted on campus by a UMBC police officer, even while teaching, since receiving the phoned threat in his office 2 1/2 weeks ago, officials said. He also reported receiving several hang-up calls.

Dr. Lynch, who has taught at UMBC since 1977, declined to comment.

In a statement issued last week, UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III said that the threat against Dr. Lynch "diminishes us all." "I want to make it clear that threats of violence are illegal, deplorable and will not be tolerated," Dr. Hrabowski said.

Carol Hess-Vait, a dance professor, said the threat "seems especially abhorrent at a university, where we try and encourage open discussion of points of view that might be controversial." Campus officials said the brief threat did not mention Dr. Lynch's criticism of the newspaper column. But many on campus say the two were probably linked.

Written by junior Pete Fitzpatrick, the Nov. 9 column in the Retriever denounced the verdicts in the California trial of men accused of beating Reginald Denny, a white man who was pulled from his truck and beaten during the Los Angeles riots last year.

Mr. Fitzpatrick, 20, concluded that "Afrocentric education must be working in Los Angeles . . . the blacks there have learned to act like savages." Mr. Fitzpatrick, of Catonsville, also wrote that Mr. Denny's videotaped assailants "danced around like they had just successfully stalked a lion on the Serengeti plain."

Black student leaders and others lodged protests with the newspaper about the column, and editors agreed to participate in a forum to discuss it.

At the forum, attended by more than 100 people, Dr. Lynch called for more diversity on the newspaper's staff, as well as the removal of the Retriever's faculty adviser and the ouster of Mr. Fitzpatrick as advertising manager. Other speakers were also critical of the newspaper.

"To demean a whole race by making the general comments he made had no place in a campus newspaper," said Kenneth W. Wright, the president of the Black Student Union and a speaker at the forum.

A few days after the Nov. 16 forum, the threat was phoned to Dr. Lynch, who is considered a leader in the black community on campus.

The racial climate at UMBC, where minorities account for about 26 percent of the undergraduate enrollment of 8,068 students, is not overtly hostile, according to Mr. Wright and others. "Just like anywhere else, there is racism that exists," he said. "Right now, it's more covert. Every once in a while you have an example such as this article that brings it to the surface."

The Retriever is the third student newspaper in the state to be denounced by minority groups and others this semester.

At Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland at College Park, student newspapers were stolen amid complaints about their coverage of minorities on campus.

Kelley Slagle, executive editor of the Retriever, said last week that the column probably should not have appeared as written.

"As far as the statements that people found offensive, I very well could have made a mistake in not questioning them, and I might have," said Ms. Slagle, a senior English major from Elkton. "But I'm a student, and I'm learning."

Mr. Fitzpatrick said that he thinks critics of the column have taken his words out of context. He said he had intended to describe only the men who assaulted Mr. Denny, not blacks in general.

The reaction to the column has had little effect on the newspaper, he said, noting that there have been no personnel changes.

"The only thing it's really changed, we're afraid of what will happen the next time someone wants to write something controversial," Mr. Fitzpatrick said. "It will only make us more cautious about questioning things, which I think is regrettable."

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