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Eastern Washington University professor questions university’s move to block him after critical tweets

Students walk through Eastern Washington University’s campus between classes on April 12, 2019, in Cheney.  (TYLER TJOMSLAND)

An Eastern Washington University professor was blocked by his employer on social media for nearly a year after making critical statements about the school.

History professor Larry Cebula said he believes he was blocked by the official EWU Twitter account for criticizing the school’s Athletics Department spending, which he says comes at the cost of academic programs.

University officials say Cebula was blocked last spring after making statements the school considered defamatory. As an example, David Meany, director of Communications and Media Relations, pointed to a May tweet.

“For those following along at home, #EWU is still a dumpster fire, caused by the admin gutting every campus office to find even more money for the football team,” Cebula wrote. “Campus offices at half-staff, impossible to order equipment or hire student workers or get support for essential tasks.”

The “dumpster fire” descriptor, as well as an image accompanying the tweet of a dumpster on fire being carried away by a flood, had raised red flags for the school’s social media team, Meany wrote.

“A tweet like that is disparaging to Eastern, especially since future students can easily search what’s happening at Eastern by using the #EWU hashtag,” Meany said.

While professors are allowed to criticize the university, Meany said the tweet was inaccurate and could harm EWU’s reputation and enrollment.

Cebula, who graduated from EWU in 1990 and has taught there since 2008, referred to the incident as “a tempest in a teapot” that pointed to wider tension between faculty and administrators over the athletics budget.

“Athletics has a powerful stranglehold over the administration at Eastern Washington University,” he said.

Cebula pointed to a 2020 report presented by EWU physics professor David Syphers, which suggested the university rein in spending by eliminating football or moving the school to a lower NCAA division, and instead prioritizing funding for academic programs.

Meany insisted Cebula had been targeted, not because of what he said, but how he had said it. The social media team recalled another tweet, in which Cebula allegedly referred to football players as idiots because of the risk of brain injury, he said.

“Again, it was the language used, not what he was tweeting about that led us to block him,” Meany wrote.

When Cebula last week asked why he was blocked, the social media team was unable to locate a tweet disparaging football players, Meany added. As a result, he was unblocked.

However, Meany said the school stands behind its decision.

“EWU will continue to follow its social media policy moving forward,” he wrote.