UI professor upset by police visit to his classroom

UI professor upset by police visit to his classroom

URBANA — A hunt for a stolen cellphone at the University of Illinois has triggered a debate about when campus police can enter a classroom.

The Oct. 10 incident has been magnified by tensions over police treatment of minorities across the country as well as racial incidents reported during the presidential campaign and its aftermath.

On Oct. 10, two UI police officers went to an African-American studies class at Lincoln Hall to track down a stolen cellphone they had traced to the classroom.

After speaking with the professor, they talked to his students and found the phone, which had been bought by a student in the class from an individual thought to have stolen it about 10 days earlier. The student was not arrested.

But the professor, Erik McDuffie, was upset that police interrupted his class for a relatively minor incident, saying it created unnecessary fear for him and his students. Given high-profile deaths of black citizens at the hands of police, he said, "lots of people on campus, lots of people of color, are scared."

UI Police Chief Jeff Christensen said officers "very rarely" interrupt a class, but the department is reviewing its policies.

"Generally, we ask officers not to disrupt classrooms. I don't believe that was the officers' intent," Christensen said, noting that the professor allowed them into the room.

The cellphone, which belonged to a UI student and was valued at $850, had been stolen Sept. 29 from a locker room at the Activities and Recreation Center, according to UI police reports.

Police set up a tracker on the phone, and on Oct. 10, the UI's computer-security office informed police that it had been pinged inside Room 1090 at Lincoln Hall, 702 S. Wright St., U.

Officers Chuck Hoskins and Rodney Mitchell went to the class, which was still in session.

Hoskins, who is black, gave this account in his report:

"I made contact with the professor and I explained to him the reason(s) for our presence. He gave us permission and I briefly addressed the class. I introduced myself and explained why I was there.

"I asked aloud, 'Does anyone in here have a gray iPhone 6 Plus in this room?' Two black males (U of I students) in the rear of the classroom raised their hands. When asked, they both complied and stepped out into the hallway to speak with us."

Hoskins said he then compared the serial number on the phones and one matched the stolen phone.

The other UI student was released, but the owner of the stolen phone told police he had bought it for $125 from a man who had come to his fraternity house a week before with two other men.

The student told police, "I knew the cellphone was stolen. I knew it was wrong. I shouldn't have bought it," according to the report. He said he didn't know the full names of the suspects but said one attended Parkland College.

Police seized the stolen phone and later returned it to its owner but didn't arrest the UI student because he told the truth, according to the report.

"I made it clear ... that if I had not believed him, he would have been arrested and criminally charged," Hoskins said in the report.

McDuffie said his first thought when he noticed police outside his door was that something had happened to someone in his family. In 25 years of teaching, he said, police had never showed up at his door.

He said he went out in the hall to talk to them, where the officers introduced themselves and explained why they were there. They asked for permission to enter but also told him they didn't necessarily need permission, he said.

McDuffie said he was uneasy about the request and tried in vain to contact his department head. He decided it would be best to let them in rather than have the police hold everyone after class, which was the other option. He was concerned that students might be late for work or another class, and that having the officers wait outside for another 20 minutes would create even more anxiety.

The class, which has 37 students, covers the history of 20th-century black women's activism and deals with race, crime and justice. On that day, he was lecturing about black men who'd been framed for raping white women in the 1950s.

"The incident terrified me and it terrified my students," he said.

Some students told McDuffie they feared the police were coming for him because of his political activism on campus. Others, black and white, were also shocked that two police would come to a classroom just for a stolen cellphone, he said.

McDuffie said the two officers involved acted professionally, noting they didn't arrest or handcuff the students.

"What troubled me is that they didn't seem to understand why I was so uncomfortable about what happened. They did not seem to appreciate the kind of racial dynamics of the incident," he said.

He said he had an "intense" 10-minute discussion with the two officers afterward. Both were surprised and insisted they were simply answering a call and race had nothing to do with it, he said.

In a supplementary report, Hoskins said McDuffie was present while he spoke with the student, who told the officer he did not feel "disrespected or stereotyped as a criminal."

Hoskins said McDuffie never acknowledged that the student had done anything wrong, acting as though "the situation had no real victim." Hoskins said he told McDuffie that police "did not just randomly appear and systematically target (the student). This was not a conspiracy by THE MAN."

"This is not a philosophical or an academic debate. We live in the real world" and the student needed to learn to take personal responsibility, he said.

Hoskins said the class had students from many ethnic backgrounds and police had no way of knowing who had the stolen phone. He said McDuffie has "turned a minor situation into something more than it is."

As a black man, Hoskins said he is sensitive to stereotype that "all black males are criminals and dishonest. I know this is not true," he said, adding that he has also been called "sellout" and "Uncle Tom" because he is a police officer.

"My character is strong and I am committed to actionable, fair and just community policing," he wrote in the report. "I don't have a Ph.D., numerous academic accolades and I have never written a book, but I do have common sense and a strong sense of what is right."

McDuffie declined to say how he thought police should have handled the matter, but added, "I don't think police should come into the classroom for non-emergency reasons."

"If there's a hostage situation, a life-threatening situation," that's one thing, he said, but not for a minor crime.

“The question folks are asking is, ‘When, why and how do police enter classrooms?’” McDuffie said.

Christensen said the department already follows "best practices" but is examining what other Big Ten schools do to possibly fine-tune those policies and make sure "they continue to be the best."

"We give our officers pretty good guidelines. We don't interrupt classes. We don't want to be doing that," Christensen said.

Christensen has since met with McDuffie, and said he felt their talk was "productive."

"We will move forward," he said. "We'll sort this out."

Chancellor Robert Jones declined to comment on the incident, saying he hasn’t had a chance to review the police reports.

“All I know is, regardless of what the intention was, the perception based on what we heard is somewhat problematic,” Jones said.

But he said Christensen is “very open” to improving interactions between police and students and faculty. Jones said he talked with the chief when he first arrived on campus about reviewing best practices.

“He explained to me very clearly his commitment to community policing and being the best of the best in this regard,” he said. “We just have to utilize this as an opportunity to take a step back, look at our practices and see if there’s some things we could do differently."

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DoNotTread wrote on December 07, 2016 at 9:12 am
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You've shown both outward and subtle racism and bigotry with your anti-muslim, anti-LBGT, anti-black speech in the comments section of articles on someone comforting their muslim neighbor after an anti-muslim fascist was elected president, a federal employee being required to not discriminate based on sexual preference, lack of diversity in city governments and peaceful protests against ethno-nationalism. That's where I came to the conclusion that you think others are less human than you becaue of their color, sexual preference, heritage, etc. 

Tom Napier wrote on December 08, 2016 at 11:12 am

"Were you there?  Tell us about it."

Were you there?  If so, please tell us about it.

787 wrote on December 06, 2016 at 9:12 pm

Referring to this as "fake news" would be much too polite.

It must be miserable, to be so continually aggrieved.     Claim anything to get attention, and never let an opportunity (crisis?) go to waste.

BruckJr wrote on December 07, 2016 at 7:12 am

Hey, lots of folks make a very nice living out of being 'continually aggrieved'.  See, for instance, Pitts, Jackson and McDuffie.  If you want a good belly laugh go take a look at McDuffie's so-called research.  This university should be ashamed of itself for continuing his employment.

auntsonyas wrote on December 06, 2016 at 11:12 pm

If the department's policy is NOT to disrupt classes for non-life-threatening situations, then the professor is simply asking the police to follow their own policy. He's really not asking too much, since I'm sure the rest of that class after the disruption was a total waste. 

thinks wrote on December 07, 2016 at 9:12 am

The police supervisor is quoted as saying he does not believe the officers disrupted the class. They were given permission to enter, asked a question, and took two students who answered affirmatively out of the classroom to question them. The class continued in short order. The professor has no reasonable basis for complaint here.

DoNotTread wrote on December 07, 2016 at 10:12 am
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Of course the police supervisor is going to side with his officers. They protect each other no matter what, especially when one of them makes a mistake. Just because the police say something is right doesn't make it right. 

thinks wrote on December 07, 2016 at 9:12 am

The professor is reported to have said that on first seeing the campus police at the door of his classroom, he was concerned that they were there to inform him that there was a family emergency. After politicizing the visit, he seems to be suggesting he was afraid for his own safety. I find it hard to believe, given the context and his self-reported initial response.

Note that one of the officers is a man of color as well, one who has faced discrimination from other people of color for serving as a police officer (having been called an Uncle Tom etc., he has reported), and the professor has doubled down on that by lodging internal complaints with his department that have impugned this officer's character through questioning his conduct. Like others, I am very disappointed that this professor has exploited this situation rather than demonstrating to his students how to move forward in a diverse civil society.

This is particularly the case when police were drawn to the classroom not because of the nature of the course, the professor, or the students, not due to any racial profiling, but because they were tracking a ping from the cell phone. The idea that there was racial targetting embedded in these events is not a credible one. The only reasonable complaint is that there was cultural insensitivity on the part of officers, for not realizing how their presence might evoke a fear of police prevalent in communities of color. However...

Although fear of the police is understandable in communities of color, especially in certain contexts, it does not justify a lack of cooperation with law enforcement and does not itself constitute evidence of impropriety or misconduct on the part of police. Regardless, we must remain a society governed not by our feelings but by our principles, which include the rule of law and should include the same laws applied equally and fairly to all citizens. Black Lives Matter activists have argued this last point elsewhere when it helps to protect and empower black citizens, but the point carries universally, regardless of whether the citizen is guilty or innocent.

Mr Dreamy wrote on December 07, 2016 at 11:12 am

It is a minor offense. The iPhone is worth $125. It used to be worth $800 until it was stolen by the "Parkland" guy. He is the felon. The buyer is not a felon, and it is extremely rare for police to act this way, anywhere, for a minor (misdemeanor) offense by entering a classroom instead of waiting until class was over. 


Local Yocal wrote on December 07, 2016 at 11:12 am
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it's understandable police tracking a cellphone in presumably "full regalia" (including a firearm) would be seen as an intimidation tactic to this particular student body. It's questionable if officers could have waited to track the phone further down the line and not interrupt class. A stolen cellphone on campus is a non-emergency call. How many reports of stolen or missing cell phones are there in a year? Hundreds?

What makes this bust intriguing is the way the technology worked in tracking the phone down to a single room and the ways the laws were applied by the officers.

There are dozens upon dozens of cases where charges of possession of stolen property were leveled at "regular" citizens. There is a teachable moment here and it would be productive if this same class discussed how it is the student in possession of stolen property was excused by the officer. There are politics at play here and regardless of the drama created by the officers at the classroom, it is breathtaking how U of I Student Privileges occur in the criminal justice system. 

Rocco146 wrote on December 07, 2016 at 12:12 pm

Sadly, the pre-conceived, flawed, and self-destructive mindset voiced by McDuffiee adversely affects his interactions with other human beings he perceives to be different, or who serve in a career field he vehemently despises. Whether conscious or subconscious, McDuffee's mindset affects his decisions and his behavior, which has a direct influence over the outcomes of his human interactions; especially those with whom he dislikes. It's the very definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

McDuffee greatly dislikes and distrusts Law Enforcement Officers, and because of his preconceived mindset regarding the Profession, he interacts and behaves in such a way that will produce the negative interaction he was expecting and/or seeking.

The mindset of an individual can open doors, positively influence those around us, and cause someone to accomplish the unimaginable. Conversely, the mindset of an individual can also instill self-induced limitations, obstruct growth/progression, negatively influence those around us, and inhibit self-destructive behaviors. The mind is a powerful tool which shapes your life and creates your own realities. Maybe McDuffee should take a moment to re-examine his approach to these sensitive issues?

Mindset is a choice, and that's a great thing! You can choose to change your mind, and choose to change the informational input. Change your input, and you change the outcome. You want different results, you have to change the recipe!

This is not to say that racism, improprieties, and immortality doesn't exist in our culture. However, how we as a culture think and approach these sensitive issues can produce an entirely different experience and result. It's a choice! You can only control you! Imagine the change that could occur if everyone held themselves to a higher standard before demanding this of others.

The late great Zig Ziglar once said "I'm gonna lay it on the line folks; you're not gonna change anyone else until you change you. Everything reall does begin with you!"

Why blog wrote on December 07, 2016 at 1:12 pm

I forgot who made the last comment about my post, but to answer your question, It isn't apples and oranges if you recognize what's happening here. You have a Professor who is allegedly afraid of police and he is basing this off of the shootings that have taken place in other cities. Its a matter of common sense and realizing what is more of a threat to your life where you live and work. Its that simple. You say youre afraid of cops but they arent shooting black people in our community, young black men are...


It aint about apples and oranges. Its about fact vs fiction. Im certain there will be stupid replies and I bet none of those replies can answer the question.... Why arent you more afraid of whats happening than what hasnt happened here yet? You all keep backing from that question. 

Rocco146 wrote on December 07, 2016 at 2:12 pm

I find it intertesting that on 09-21-16, McDuffie posted on his Twitter page "biggest criminals out here are the police and U.S. State."  He's probably one who also feels oppressed with his $100,000 salary.

Cuthbert J. Twillie wrote on December 07, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Here is the copy of the report ( that the NG didnt want to publish)  tell me other than   They should nto have gone there, did the officers do wrong?



cwakefld wrote on December 07, 2016 at 5:12 pm

Local; I never thought that I would argee with you about much of anything. But I do agree with you about this.

Dogsrule732 wrote on December 08, 2016 at 9:12 am

This professor is just being silly. Does he do stand up comedy on his off days? I laughed so hard when I heard about this, so I appreciate it. Other than that.. what everybody else who has a iota of common sense in their bones said- I completely agree. This is offensive to those who find themselves in legitimately terrifying circumstances. As an educator, please choose your words carefully.


wykhb wrote on December 08, 2016 at 11:12 pm

I believe the Police SHOULD have arrested the student and conducted further investigation.   No Parkland student could be in the ARCE facility where the phone was stolen.  But by checking the computer record they could see if the UI student who had the phone was in the ARCE around the time of the theft.     
This is an epidemic on campus, when and how do you feel the Police should address it if not like this?    Despite what a Professor might think, Law Enforcement powers do overrule his feelings of guilt. 

Commonsenseman wrote on December 10, 2016 at 12:12 am

disgusting that this is the mentality of those who teach young people today