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University of Rhode Island defends a fiery tweet

Professor riled NRA supporters

SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — The president of the University of Rhode Island has issued a statement supporting the right of a professor to express his views after he called for the National Rifle Association chief executive’s ‘‘head on a stick.’’

President David Dooley’s comments, issued Sunday, came after a statement last week in which Dooley distanced the university from a posting on Twitter by history professor Erik Loomis. Loomis wrote the post Dec. 14, the day 20 children and six adults were killed by a gunman using a semi-automatic weapon inside a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

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‘‘I was heartbroken in the first 20 mass murders. Now I want Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick,’’ Loomis wrote. LaPierre is chief executive of the NRA, the nation’s largest gun-rights lobby.

Loomis has since written in a blog post that his comment was meant to be a metaphor for holding LaPierre responsible for his actions and was not meant as a threat. He has said he received death threats himself as a result of the comments.

On Dec. 18, Dooley released a written statement saying the school does not condone acts or threats of violence and said Loomis’s remarks do not reflect those of the university.

Dooley’s statement drew criticism from URI’s faculty union and from professors around the country, who called on him to stand up for academic freedom and freedom of speech.

In his statement, Dooley wrote that the university had been contacted by many people who ‘‘forcefully expressed serious concern about [Loomis's] statements,’’ and others who strongly supported Loomis.

‘Professor Loomis’s personal remarks, however intemperate and inflammatory they may be, are protected . . . ’

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Dooley said his initial statement was meant to make clear that Loomis was speaking solely as an individual.

‘‘It is our conviction that Professor Loomis’s personal remarks, however intemperate and inflammatory they may be, are protected by the First Amendment, as are the views of those who have contacted us in recent days,’’ Dooley wrote.

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