James Olmsted, an adjunct professor of law at the University of Oregon, instigated a bizarre confrontation with UO student activists yesterday, in the course of which he shoved at least one student and snatched another’s cell phone. Videos of the incident — including one recorded on the stolen phone — have gone viral in recent hours.
The altercation took place on Thursday at a mock border checkpoint established by Students Against Imperialism, a newly-formed UO group concerned with “US imperial attitudes on the border with Mexico and in Israel/Palestine,” which it calls “examples of racial and imperial conflicts with gendered and class implications.”
In the video taken on the stolen phone, Olmsted is first seen aggressively lecturing a group of female activists about human rights in pre-Columbian America before urging them to “start a fucking war” if they “want the country back.” He then goes on to offer them disjointed and patronizing organizing advice before taking off his jacket and daring the students to “move” him. When a male student intervenes in an attempt to defuse the situation, Olmsted shoves him twice, calling him a “prick” and removing his own glasses before daring the student to “do something.”
Less than a minute later, he grabs a female student’s phone and places it, still recording, in his pocket.
Throughout the incident, the students are calm, reasonable, and cautious, while Olmsted — who appears as if he may be drunk — veers between instigation, sophistry, and defensiveness. The video taken on the stolen phone ends as Olmsted, having failed to negotiate an erasure of the recording, removes it from his pocket.
The only media coverage of this incident so far is a short piece from the UO student newspaper, and I haven’t seen a statement from the university yet.
Update | Olmsted used to be on the UO Law School’s adjunct faculty directory, but he’s not anymore.
Second Update | According to a statement from the university, Olmsted has been fired. The statement says that Olmsted’s “teaching responsibilities” have been “reassigned.” Though it goes on to say that the university is “unable to discuss details of this situation at this time,” it concludes that “we expect all members of the campus community to conduct themselves with the highest degree of respect for public discourse.”
Third Update | A UO blog has the text of a mass email sent out by the law school’s dean an hour and a half ago confirming Olmsted’s dismissal.
Fourth Update | The website Electronic Intifada reports that Olmsted will face criminal charges. No details were available from their source, though I have heard similar reports from eyewitnesses. More soon.
Fifth Update | Local news site KVAL reports that Olmsted was arrested at the scene of the altercation, and cited for theft and harassment. The stolen phone belonged to UO junior Jaki Salgado, who told KVAL that it was not returned to her until after police arrived. Reached by telephone on Friday afternoon, a “very upset” Olmsted declined to comment.
Sixth Update | Students Against Imperialism have released a press statement on the incident. In it, they refer to the demonstration as a “political theater piece,” and say that it was conducted in full compliance with university policies. UO police checked in with the activists before Professor Olmsted arrived, they say, and “left on good terms.”
Olmsted arrived approximately three o’clock in the afternoon, they say, some ninety minutes into the action. The describe him as “attempting to instigate a fight” with “younger female students of color” in the face of their attempts to de-escalate and mediate. In addition to shoving a male student who was not a part of the action, they say he pushed organizer Diana Salazar as he was retrieving his glasses — which he can be seen throwing to the ground in one video. They confirm that Jaki Salgado’s phone was only returned after police arrived, and say that Olmsted returned it at the insistence of another faculty member.
The statement, which was prepared earlier today, concludes by asking for “support from students, departments, the UO law school, administration and community members,” and calling on the university to fire him.
I have asked the organizers whether the statement will be posted in full online. If it is, I will link to it here.
Seventh Update | Olmsted has been reportedly barred from campus and charged with second degree theft and two counts of physical harassment. Second degree theft is a Class A misdemeanor in Oregon. Harassment is a Class B misdemeanor. The maximum possible combined penalty for these three charges is two years in jail, though the chances of a first-time offender serving significant jail time under these circumstances are low.