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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Board: Miller tweet not research

Professor said “obese” tweet was part of an experiment

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By Courtesy Photo / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Geoffrey Miller

news@dailylobo.com

After weeks of investigation, UNM’s Institutional Review Board came to a decision regarding UNM professor Geoffrey Miller’s controversial tweet.

According to a June 26 memo released by the board, which regulates the type of research activities faculty and students may engage in, Miller’s actions “did not rise to the level of research,” which the psychology professor had said was the purpose of his tweet.

The board stated that Miller’s activity on Twitter provided no evidence to suggest his action was related to research.

“Specifically, the committee determined that there were no clear research questions or hypotheses, systematic methods for collecting quantitative and/or qualitative data were absent, and that criteria for selecting respondents were unclear, at best,” the memo stated.

Miller, a tenured UNM professor who is currently a visiting professor at New York University, gained worldwide attention on June 2 when he tweeted: “Dear obese Ph.D. applicants: if you don’t have the willpower to stop eating carbs, you won’t have the willpower to do a dissertation. #truth.” Miller then claimed the tweet was part of a psychology experiment that he was conducting.

Last week, NYU issued a similar ruling in Miller’s case, stating that research involving human subjects needed prior approval by universities.

But NYU ruled not to terminate Miller’s stay at the university because “tweets were not research with human subjects as defined by the federal government.”

Miller is slated to remain at NYU until Aug. 31.

Jane Ellen Smith, chair of the UNM psychology department, said she had already spoken to Miller about the tweet. She said Miller insists the message was part of a sociological experiment.

Both universities are currently deciding disciplinary action for Miller.

UNM communication representative Karen Wentworth said in a statement that UNM’s College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Psychology are in the process of reviewing Miller’s case.

“A disciplinary process inquiry has been started, but will likely take a couple of weeks to complete,” Wentworth said. “Whether Miller will continue at NYU or return to UNM is under discussion, but has not been determined.”

Miller eventually apologized for his remarks in a follow-up tweet.

“Obviously my previous tweet does not represent the selection policies of any university, or my own selection criteria,” he said in a tweet. “Sincere apologies to all for that idiotic, impulsive, and badly judged tweet.”

The Daily Lobo contacted Miller for comment but he did not return calls.

Estevan Velasco-Romero, a psychology student at UNM, said Miller’s tweet could have done harm to the University reputation and to the psychology department. He said he believes if Miller keeps his job at the University, it could send a wrong message to students.

“I don’t think discrimination is right,” Velasco-Romero said. “If he’s doing his job as a professor then fine, but he’s giving UNM a bad name by making comments like that and by discriminating against fat people. That could cause people to second-guess their own intellect if their weight is an issue.”

Velasco-Romero said if professors use social media, they should do so responsibly.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” he said. “Everybody should be able to do whatever they want. But if they’re going to make negative comments, then I don’t think it’s right, especially if students are following their social media.”

Bianca Brown, another psychology student at UNM, said the board made the right ruling regarding Miller. She said professors should be more careful with their social media accounts.

“It’s disappointing to know a professor tweeted something of that nature, especially someone who is connected to the department I’m in,” she said. “I agree that everyone should have equal access to social media but be ready to defend everything that’s made public. Miller tried to back his actions up with false claims and that can potentially hurt his career.”

Brown said she applauds UNM and NYU for responding appropriately to Miller’s actions.

“Both universities responded to the controversy really fast,” she said. “I doubt anybody believes Miller’s opinion reflects the academic principles of both schools.”