The Witchfinder responds to serious allegations by former University of Minnesota Rochester, physics teaching specialist Marian Aanerud (@MAMelby), made in a bizarre online Twitter rant today connected with the loss of her job. Note that Aanerud states she is not anonymous and is open about her former employer and real name so this is not ‘doxing’. Please see her public, written, consent here (archive here). She also makes clear her (former) employer is not anonymous here (archive here). In accordance with her public requests on Twitter I have omitted her middle names.
Your author wishes to clarify that he has had no contact with Aanerud or her employer since May 2015. However, I am entitled to respond to her allegations. Also, there is a public interest in raising concern about her use of homophobic language online, her inappropriate comments about paedophilia and previous student criticism of the standard of her teaching and conduct.
So last year, I wrote many articles about the Atheism+ Block Bot. As a brief recap, the Block Bot is a blocking tool like many others, which at the time had the added feature of a searchable database. The database contained many very serious and unpleasant allegations, as well as comments about protected characteristics like race or transgender status.
As a result, a number of celebrities supported the campaign, in particular this article which Richard Dawkins shared with his million + followers.
In response, the Block Bot team repeatedly accused me of stalking. Cambridge police found that this was not the case. This much, I have already shared. What I had not shared publicly until now was that afterwards the Block Bot team reported me to police again. This time the complaint was to Hampshire police.
At the same time, knowing that they had accused me of stalking by unwanted contact, and knowing that I had blocked her, Block Bot admin @MAMelby relentlessly contacted me. On one occasion she tweeted me on 8 separate occasions in a single day. Eventually, I complained to Melby’s employer and I copied her in. I also complained to the police. The unwanted @ tweets stopped. A police officer told me that even one of the other Block Bot team members said that he thought she had gone too far. No formal action was taken against her, however.
For bonus points @MAMelby also tweeted obliquely about police bias (archive here) and linked to a set of articles about police racism. Myself, and all parties involved in the dispute and the investigating officer shared the same ethnicity (that is, white).
Hampshire police were very careful and professional. They decided to take no further action in respect of the allegations against me. Specifically a police officer, having spoken to her superiors, emailed me stating, “It was decided that there was no realistic prospect of you being found in guilty in court and that it is not in the public interest to pursue the matter”.
In short by this time two separate police investigations had thoroughly considered the complaints by the Block Bot team and found that I had not committed any crime. I did say that the matter had become heated and I gave it a rest. I resisted the urge to write a further article about this late last year. The police were also anxious that the feuding come to an end.
The adverse publicity that the Block Bot had received, as well as the investigation by the ICO, clearly had an effect. They have changed some of their functionality and are currently ‘re-writing’ the Block Bot. I left it alone. Blocking is legal. Calling people rape apologists and threatening to contact their employers on may well be libel, malicious communications or harassment. If they just had a Block Bot without the allegations it would not be worth complaining about.
Afterwards I received an email from the University of Minnesota. It said, “We have reviewed your email and determined that given the circumstances, no further action by the University is warranted at this time”. It was a little cryptic and I took it to mean that they had investigated but as she was laid off and working her notice anyway there was very little point in any action being taken.
Today, Melby has been ranting once again, accusing me of stalking, being a ‘douche nozzle’ and a variety of other matters. In reality I have not contacted her or written about her since 2015. I have repeatedly been found innocent of stalking.
Of course, this is not the first time Aanerud has had difficulty in her employment. Until May 2011 Aanerud was a lecturer at the University of Michegan in Flint. There are 20 teachers reviewed on RateMyProfessors.com for that institution, including Aanerud (archive here) and Aanerud is the second lowest. The most recent vote is from 25/10/2012, which obviously predates GamerGate by 2 years. /r/KotakuInAction could not have brigaded Aanerud’s votes as it is only a year or so old. I had not heard of Aanerud in 2012 and neither had Breitbart.
Aanerud has a rating of 2.3 / 5. This is just under 50%. She is easily found in the list on the left – one of the only two faculty members with red frowny faces.
When she lost her job at the University of Minnesota, Aanerud had a faculty position. That means that when she was laid off the normal procedure would have been to establish a ‘pool’ of persons of a given skill set and then to decide who would stay and go from that pool. Many criteria are used in such cases, from first-in-first-out to careful assessments of appraisals and performance. Whatever criteria were used, Aanerud was clearly not at the top of the ‘keepers’ list.
There are many reasons prospective academic employers might be wary of Marian Aanerud. She has used discriminatory language in remarks about political opponents like Milo Yiannopoulos (archive here) –
For the hate speech alone I would not hire her, if I was an educational institution. In the United Kingdom she might fall under the new extremism strategy, in which case she would effectively be barred from working in education.
If I were the administrator of a teaching institution and I discovered these things, I would be forced to consider dismissing Aanerud. Aside from reputational issues, UK policy takes homophobic language and inappropriate attitudes to paedophilia very seriously.
So to be clear, I am not the author of Aanerud’s being ‘laid off’ as far as I know. I have not sought to find her new employer or contact them (a role Aanerud describes as ‘tenuous’). This is actually quite moderate of me because under the new UK extremism policy the press probably should contact her employer.
However, if some aggrieved soul does track down Marian Aanerud’s new employer and contact them, if someone forwards them this article or they find it online when searching on her name, she has only herself to blame if they consider her too great a risk.
I notified the police of this article prior to publication, explaining that I am only responding to Aanerud’s abusive tweets, and received no objections.
[EDIT 14-01-2016] Ordinarily this website contacts article subjects prior to publication. In this case, for obvious reasons, I have not contacted Aanerud.