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April 24, 2019

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UNLV investigating after ‘no safe spaces’ immigration comment stirs uproar

UNLV says it is looking into online comments about illegal immigration attributed to a part-time instructor quoted as saying there are “no safe spaces” in his class and seeming to suggest he would turn in undocumented students to immigration officials.

In a Facebook exchange Wednesday night that appears to be primarily between math instructor George Buch and Javier Aget-Torres, a Cuban immigrant and UNLV student, a post attributed to Buch says, “No safe spaces in my classes :).”

Before that, a post under Buch’s name says, “And then I would have to turn you into ICE :),” although it is not clear from partial screen shots of the conversation what the statement is in response to. The context of the exchange also was not clear.

Neither Buch nor Aget-Torres responded to requests for comment this afternoon.

In a statement released today, UNLV said it was “aware of the information shared on social media today and we’re looking into it.”

The exchange was screencapped and shared on Facebook by Sammy Burtch, a UNLV student and co-president of the UNLV Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance.

“Posting this so professors and students know to keep away from him,” Burtch wrote. “You can also report him to the office of compliance at UNLV.”

Burtch’s post, shared more than 170 times, attracted the attention of faculty and local immigration activists such as Astrid Silva, who said on Twitter that the exchange amounted to “more fear spread into the #undocumented community.”

Professor Georgiann Davis, who teaches in the sociology department, wrote an email to Zhijian Wu, chair of the math department.

“I sincerely hope something is done, as I’m also hearing from many students (and colleagues) around campus how disturbed they are by his comments on social media,” Davis wrote.

The campus student government released a statement condemning the comments, which were also criticized by national groups, including the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

Others, meanwhile, defended the comments, arguing people are entitled to views that may be unpopular with some people.

“He doesn’t agree with your views so he should be fired, right? I may not agree with the man but he has every right to believe what he does,” one user wrote on Burtch’s post. “Instead of going out of your way to try and silence the opposition, try making a better argument and offer solutions.”

The controversy comes a week after UNLV President Len Jessup joined a number of university presidents in declaring support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA, an Obama administration policy that makes it easier for children brought into the country illegally to stay and work in the United States without fear of being deported.

“Inclusiveness is at the core of a different, daring, and diverse UNLV,” Jessup wrote in a letter. “While we are strongly committed to the First Amendment and the right to free speech, UNLV will continue to protect its students, faculty, and staff against racism, discrimination, bullying, or other intimidation that threatens the civility and diversity that makes us strong and proud. Nothing will change that stance.”

Buch is among the highest-rated instructors in the UNLV math department, as ranked by RateMyProfessors.com.

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