UBC instructor faces backlash, threat for Tweet criticizing online publication

UBC English instructor Katja Thieme has faced online harassment and threats after questioning the legitimacy of an online publication, Quillette, and the academics who publish in it.

Thieme wrote a Tweet on March 16 implying academics who publish in Quillette, which has been called part of the 'intellectual dark web,' are not credible.

The reaction to her tweet was swift.

Many people identifying themselves as Quillette writers ridiculed the statement, expressing sentiments that were variations of this tweet: “Go ahead and add me to your list of "academics who publish in @Quillette" then.”

There were personal attacks, one of which referenced Thieme’s Eastern European background as a source of “these evil methods”.

Quillette’s Canadian editor Jonathan Kay attacked her tweet as an “absurd caricature.”

The Ubyssey reached out to Kay to ask why he believed the tweet was offensive and whether he felt the backlash Thieme has received was appropriate, but he did not provide comment on the matter. Instead, he sent a paragraph-long response attacking an article previously published in this paper, and insisted the entire response be used if we intended to quote him.

Thieme said she sent out the tweet while staying with a friend from New Zealand when the news of the Christchurch terror attack broke.

She said the tweet was spurred by the emotion of the moment, especially in light of questionable — and sometimes already debunked — concepts relating to race that she says have been published in Quillette.

“When you choose to publish in a magazine that takes this attitude, you should be aware about that and you should have a position in relationship to that,” she said. “It is about holding scholars to account for where they publish.”

Beyond the internet

Beyond these tweets, Thieme also received a formal complaint that was sent to her through email, with the President’s office copied on it.

She added that she also received threatening voice message left for the UBC English Department. University RCMP confirmed that they received a report relating to the threat, and have since closed the file.

The university has not made any official response to the attacks on Thieme, unlike the cases of UBC professors Mary Bryson and Tom Davidoff. Both were defended by UBC after aggressive backlash in response to their defenses of gender-neutral pronouns and a provincial tax increase, respectively.

UBC Media Relations referred The Ubyssey to the Vancouver Senate’s statement on academic freedom, but declined to comment specifically on this case.

“That’s not always good for your mental health, but I felt I needed to see, I couldn’t just close my eyes to it,” said Thieme. “It’s kind of an emotional rollercoaster."