The Daily Beacon reported last month that Rep. Stacey Campfield recently introduced a very unpopular bill in the State House of Representatives designed to limit the expression of opinion in the university setting.
Honestly, I wasn’t all that concerned about it. It’s a political move, nothing more, and very unlikely to pass. But since it was introduced by a Knoxville representative and I disagreed with it, I wrote Campfield a lengthy, inoffensive letter expressing my concerns.
I expected to get a reply that took a moderate tone with ambiguous wording that “justified” the bill’s necessity while respectfully disagreeing with my opinion, as is the norm. However, what I received was quite the opposite: an emotional, condescending tirade which implied complete contempt for my position.
And I smiled. Because what politician would unabashedly insult a citizen for doing his civic duty by communicating his ideas to an elected official?
So for the next two days, I communicated with Campfield via e-mail, remaining polite while sternly challenging his position. As I had hoped, he was quick to reply and his arguments only devolved further. And I smiled again.
I didn’t receive any presents this good for Christmas.
I have posted the correspondences between Campfield and myself on my Web site at http://web.utk.edu/~jfish/campfield and encourage you to see the whole thing for yourself (because it’s so funny that I can’t possibly encompass everything here), but I’ll discuss what I can.
First, Campfield said that his bill is in no way “designed to stop liberals.” This might be considered a reasonable, logical response ... were it not a complete lie. Campfield told The Daily Beacon earlier that same week that “the university is one of the last bastions of liberal thought,” and told the Associated Press two weeks prior that “Most campuses are very liberal, and professors are ashamedly not very open-minded toward our point of view.” I think it’s pretty clear that Campfield’s motives are something other than the altruistic pursuit of fair education.
But Campfield speaks as if he personally experienced such discrimination. The man has an associate’s and a bachelor’s degree from two different colleges, after all. He might have a very poignant position having faced the “liberal bias” first hand ... had he earned either of these degrees at a state institution. But I wouldn’t plan on asking him about his trials of resisting indoctrination from closed-minded professors, because Excelsior College and Regents College, Campfield’s alma maters, are actually the same distance education school, providing entire degree programs via CD-ROM and the Internet (http://www.excelsior.edu).
Is it just me, or is there a problem with someone that has never graduated from a state college or had any experience with our campus’ “liberal bias” trying to legislate how higher education systems provide their programs? Heaven forbid Campfield listen to someone that actually has a legitimate view of the university system like UT President John Petersen, who said that he didn’t believe the bill was necessary and that “having the ability to be exposed to diverse opinions so you can formulate arguments and understand really helps you in your life ... One of the things we should stand by at all universities is the opportunity to express your viewpoints and (for) nobody to be persecuted for their viewpoints.”
One of my favorite lines from Campfield’s letters is “Obviously you don’t pay much attention to the facts or politics ... also your argument is weak , weak, weak.” I guess being a political columnist and a political economy sociologist isn’t good enough for the Excelsior alumnus. And I guess the three-page letter with citations just doesn’t do it for him. Still, while declaring my logical arguments inadequate, he responds with nothing but personal attacks when I ask no less than three times for some defense of the bill. The only time he even tries is by saying “the bill defends itself.” Man, I’m sold.
I also love the parts where Campfield resorts to the desperately immature schoolyard tactic of personally insulting someone he has never met: “Tragic that with all your education you still cant read ... It is tragic when a young mind is turned to mush from excessive drugs next time just say no!” I guess this would be funny if it weren’t so completely off the wall (well, the word “cant” and the sentence about my illiteracy is still pretty funny). When I informed Campfield that I’ve never even smoked a cigarette, he responded simply “If you don’t do drugs ... good for you neither do I, of course your brain is still mush.”
But the best part truly is when Campfield goes so far as to compare what he is doing with the Civil Rights movement. No, I’m not kidding. Quote: “Finally to the argument that it is covered already and not needed as a law. Would you say the same of the 1964 civil rights laws?”
... what?
How does a bill designed to repress academic freedom even remotely compare to the fight for equality for minorities and women?
Campfield’s venomous responses shouldn’t be a surprise, though. His past is not just limited to verbal violence. Two years ago he was thrown out of a party held by U.S. Rep. John Duncan after holding up a bumper sticker reading “Tax and Spend Governor” behind Phil Bredesen’s back. Someone took the sticker from Campfield, and he and the other man got into an “altercation” and both had to be “escorted” from the party by security. As least he’s as consistent with his actions as he is his words.
So if you believe that Representative Campfield is an ignorant, lying, reactionary, narcissistic, immature, vitriolic man who has no right to dictate the methods of your education, having never graduated from a state college, make sure you tell him how poorly represented you feel by e-mailing him at rep.stacey.campfield@legislature.
state.tn.us.
At the very least, it’ll be good for a laugh.

— Jon Fish is a junior in sociology and religious studies and can be reached at jfish@utk.edu.