Professor at Santa Rosa Junior College
Michael Ballou has been an adjunct political science instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) in Petaluma, California since 1990. He views the United States as an inherently aggressive, warlike nation. "[W]e've been at war with someone someplace for the better part of a century," he says. "Our institutions are built around it. It's going to take some time to change the face of those institutions and what informed people call their 'raison d'etre.'"
In July 2003 Ballou created controversy when he gave his students an assignment that required them to compose an e-mail message using the words "Kill the President." When one student sent it to a local member of Congress, notification was sent to the Secret Service, which opened an investigation.
Ballou said his purpose in giving the assignment was to help his students understand the fear and paranoia the government inspires in some people. "People need to actually feel the kind of baggage they're carrying around with them," he said. "We're all carrying around a great deal of fear, we are just not aware of it." Asked how an assignment involving "Kill the President" taught his students, Ballou replied, "Well, I suppose it's like a 12 step program where you have someone stand up and say, 'Hi, my name is Shirley, and I'm an alcoholic.' It's actually important that a person say the words in order to get the feeling."
On July 13, 2003, Ballou elaborated: "The exercise was [designed] … to bring out … not fear of Al Qaida or Saddam. It's fear of our own government and each other. … My class assignment brings out the fear each of us is already carrying around and then discusses how people or institutions capitalize on that baggage. … Do you think it's because we're whipping ourselves up into a state of frenzy? But you know, quite frankly, just try the experiment. Type in the words on a computer. Maybe even get you finger near the 'send' button and you will feel a near tangible wave of fear come over you."
Ballou said that he was "not going to take any flak from the American people" for his exercise because "at least 60% of [them] … don't vote anyway. For them the President and the Presidency are already dead." "Nor am I going to take any flak from the Bush administration who already threatens violence against heads of state (which by the way is also technically illegal)," he added. "If I go to jail over this, George W. should be my cell mate. … [M]aybe while he's busy scapegoating the intelligence services and other secret services for his own blunders in the Middle East, he should reflect back on the hair-trigger performance of those same forces covering his back in such dangerous locations as bucolic Sonoma County [where Petaluma is located]. No Osama, no Saddam, no WMDs, but we can certainly find and scare the bejesus out some political science students in northern California."
On July 17, 2003, SRJC President Robert Agrella stated that Ballou's class assignment "by any reasonable standard jeopardizes students and is ridiculous." "I am ashamed and embarrassed," Agrella added, "that a member of the Santa Rosa Junior College faculty has exposed his students and the college to such ridicule, and express my profound regrets to everyone who shares this shame and disappointment." Agrella made reference to "a general outcry to fire the instructor" but explained that college attorneys had ruled that out as an option. "This instructor may be protected by the shield of free speech," said Agrella, "but he certainly cannot hide from the disdain he has brought upon himself by his own actions in the eyes of the public we serve, and in the view of many of his own colleagues."