Ethics Zugswang And The Vicissitudes Of Moral Luck: The Rutgers Prof’s Scary Tweet

Careless tweets matter...

Careless tweets matter…

Rutgers University lecturer Kevin Allred tweeted,

“Will the 2nd amendment be as cool when i buy a gun and start shooting at random white people or no…?”

The University had him arrested and sent to Bellevue mental hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.

His defenders, and of course Allred, say that his tweet was just a rhetorical question to make a point. The University says that he left them no choice, or no good ones, anyway.

They both are right. This is what comes of being in Ethics Zugswang, when one is thrust into  a position where no course of action is fully responsible, fair, and ethical.

The university decided that it could not responsibly assume that the tweet was benign and not a threat. What if the school did nothing, and Allred then  took high ground and became Charles Whitman 2016? Having him arrested, however, looks unfair and like a punitive reaction to free speech. There was literally no course the university could take that was completely ethical. Rutgers sacrificed its  teacher’s dignity for the safety of the students and to protect the institution’s liability.

The other alternatives—talking to him, shrugging it off as a poorly considered social media gaffe—placed the fate of the school and perhaps many students at the mercy of moral luck. These would seem like reasonable  decisions only if the moral luck dice did not come up snake eyes. Allred didn’t say “if” I buy a gun, he said when. He added race to the equation, and there are a lot of people who seem to be losing their grip in the wake of the election. What were the odds that he meant what he wrote? 100 to 1? 1000 to 1? 5000 to 1? Is it worth the remote chance that this was a warning of an impending catastrophe not to take the safe route, and have him arrested and examined? Is it worth gambling with students’ lives?

Wait a minute, though. Doesn’t a teacher deserve the benefit of the doubt? This is a college campus. Hypotheticals and rhetorical questions vital features of the culture. Supposedly, so is free expression, common sense, and academic freedom, though too many institutions disagree. If the tweeter has no record of violence or metal illness, shouldn’t that dictate a less draconian first response, or no response at all other than “You really need to be a bit more careful on social media, Kevin”? The more I considered the episode, the more I was reminded of Justin Carter, the teen who was dragged through a Kafka-esque legal hell because he commented to a friend on Facebook while they were playing a game, “Oh yeah, I’m real messed up in the head, I’m going to go shoot up a school full of kids and eat their still, beating hearts. lol. jk.”

In this case, the party who created the ethics zugswang was Allred, who as an employee, an adult and an instructor, should know better than to broadcast his provocative  musings in 140 characters or less to the world at large, rather than confining them to class. He should know that campus shootings aren’t a joking matter after the Virginia Tech attack. If he had said “someone” rather than “I,”  avoided “when” to make it clear this was a hypothetical, the situation would probably have not arisen.

Then  Rutgers would only be risking outraged parents demanding to know why a prestigious school thinks it’s responsible to have their students going into debt to pay for courses like the one Allred teaches.


“Politicizing Beyoncé,”which

“attempts to think through contemporary U.S. society and its current gender, race, class, and sexual politics by analyzing the music and career of Beyoncé Giselle Knowles Carter.”


Pointer and Facts: Res Ipsa Loquitur

18 thoughts on “Ethics Zugswang And The Vicissitudes Of Moral Luck: The Rutgers Prof’s Scary Tweet

  1. A psych assessment was appropriate. An involuntary one, not so much. Only if there is a greater perceived threat. A quiet word with one of the many counsellors at the institution would have been adequate for such an initial, coarse assessment.

    • Agreed, the fact that he could even be subject to an involuntary psych exam for this is beyond troubling.

      What were the odds that he meant what he wrote? 100 to 1? 1000 to 1? 5000 to 1? Is it worth the remote chance that this was a warning of an impending catastrophe not to take the safe route, and have him arrested and examined?


      If you want a yes then remove the and examined part.

      • Zzzzzzt, wrong. In NJ not only are the police empowered to send you for a mental evaluation if you appear to be a danger to yourself or others, they are shielded from liability for so doing. I know this because I successfully defended a policeman who did just that to a half-delusional lawyer who was rampaging about with a rifle in hand, claiming he had just stopped a break in. He actually told him (after relieving him of the rifle) to “get in the ambulance before I fucking throw you in.” This was too close to a potential danger to others and, pass or fail the evaluation, this idiot needs to be fired immediately.

  2. When I retired from teaching social media was not what it was today, but if I had posted that comment I would have been fired. If the administration didn’t do it the school board would. If they didn’t do it the parents would have demanded it.

    It was a bonehead post and the prof is falling back on a lame excuse to justify it. If it is part of the “education” process do it in the classroom and not a public forum.

  3. Maybe Rutgers can hire Melissa Click, the associate professor of “Media” the University of Missouri fired (she of “I need a little muscle here.” fame). Click’s dissertation for her Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Amherst was about the “commodification of femininity, affluence and whiteness in the Martha Stewart phenomenon,” according to her CV. She and Prof. Allred can start a department of Post Modern Communication and Linguistics. They could share the Noam Chomsky chair. Maybe they could hire the noose costume guys from the University of Wisconsin as their graduate assistants.

  4. Allred? any connection to Gloria would explain a lot!

    Anywho, c’mon, it’s not like he committed a Capital Offense, is it?

    Like showing up at a pre-Halloween 7th ranked U.W. Badger/Camp Randall FB game in a decidedly tasteless costume and sending dutifully horrified special-snowflake-hothouse-flower college students into slobbering, spittle-flecked fits of extreme, free-falling ButtHurt.

      • ”And wouldn’t it be great to have your kids going to college on your nickle and having a tat covered professor?”

        Oy Gevalt! Were it only that.

        ”Pitt’s School of Social Work encouraged students to attend an anti-Trump rally, and ENCOURAGED PROFESSORS TO OFFER EXTRA CREDIT FOR STUDENTS WHO ATTEND.” (bolds mine)

        “A People’s Agenda for Change: National Day of Action” (a truly endorphin surging/whimper-inducing name if there ever was one), has a “Do” scheduled for 11/29/2016.

        Expect any exam, or other originally scheduled/required class work, to be waived with an all-knowing “I’m Dialed In” wink-n-nod.

        Information on free transportation is also available.

        In or out…?

  5. Progressives require, nay, demand exactly this sort of treatment for those who are not sufficiently liberal. In Canada a man faced jail time for arguing on Twitter with some feminists. And here they are learning, to their shock, that leveraging the power of the States to punish those guilty of mean tweets might actually apply to THEM. “No, no, that was only supposed to be used against our enemies! We did not foresee this turning out to be a bad idea for everyone!”

    It’s cute watching them learn how the world works. Reminds me of when Naomi Wolf researched the world of porn, expecting some sort of liberated utopia of sexual freedom, and had her entire world rocked when she discovered that, gasp, pornography is actually not empowering for women. It’s like a bunch of 40-year-olds figuring out that there’s no Santa.

  6. “What were the odds that he meant what he wrote? 100 to 1? 1000 to 1? 5000 to 1?”
    Given how unhinged the left has become since the 8th, that he’s a college professor and presumably knows how to craft a sentence, and, further, that he’s a gender studies professor that teaches a class called “Politicizing Beyonce”, maybe more like 5 to 1.

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