Rob Hiaasen and four other journalists lost their lives because they worked for an organization dedicated to seeking truth and disseminating it.
Even in an age of mass shootings that can inure us to slaughter, last month’s killing spree in an Annapolis newsroom hit particularly close to home.
Rob graduated from UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. My former brother-in-law knew him well from having worked with him in Florida journalism. And I have read a number of Florida-themed books by Rob’s brother Carl.
The strongest connection is that we, too, work for an organization dedicated to seeking truth and sharing it. We, too, receive threats. I say “we” because I consider a threat against one of us to be a threat to all of us.
Scientists and journalists share a history of truth tellers as targets. Galileo was convicted of heresy for the belief that the earth revolves around the sun. In 2001, activists firebombed a University of Washington lab because of suspicions that a faculty member was trying to produce a genetically modified tree.
I’ve taken a call from an FBI counterterrorism investigator inquiring about a death threat made to one of our faculty members. A death threat to another faculty member arrived via Twitter, and we were able to handle that with local authorities. We take these seriously.
Three months ago, in a newly renovated seminar room directly beneath my office in McCarty Hall, UF police offered active shooter training for IFAS employees. It was well attended, and there’s enough demand across campus that Captain Jeffrey Holcomb gets booked well in advance.
I hate that we have to do this. I hate having to delist a professor’s phone number and lab location when the published contact information becomes a vehicle for harassment. I hate having to fence off experiments from would-be vandal activists.
But I’m proud of how UF/IFAS continues to seek truth. We have a community of academics who support evidence as the basis for discovery and knowledge.
The bullets flying in the offices of the Capital Gazette and Charlie Hebdo don’t lessen our resolve to be truth seekers. I hope we can honor the memory of our fellow Gator Rob Hiaasen by continuing to be truth tellers.