Questions, contradictions abound in controversy over UO professor James Olmsted and Students Against Imperialism

Posted by Samantha Matsumoto on Monday, Mar. 18 at 12:27 pm.

Students Against Imperialism co-founders Diana Salazar and Jaki Salgado were prepared for controversy when they organized their mock border patrol checkpoint this past Thursday. They were not, however, expecting an altercation with University of Oregon faculty member James Olmsted.

“We were prepared for having people who were not going to agree with us,” Salgado said. “We never expected anyone to come up to the group and be so blatantly racist.”

Olmsted, an adjunct instructor in the UO Law School, was detained by the University of Oregon Police, cited for second-degree theft, two counts of physical harassment and barred indefinitely from campus. Olmsted’s alleged actions took place during the student group’s mock border checkpoint, a political theater demonstration meant to bring awareness to human rights issues of immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border and of Palestinians in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

On Friday, the university announced that Olmsted’s teaching duties had been reassigned to Adell Amos, the law school’s associate dean for academic affairs. Olmsted’s name was also removed from the adjunct faculty website.

UO spokesperson Phil Weiler said the University cannot comment on personnel matters and that the law school is handling the issue.

“(The law school) is taking the appropriate steps,” Weiler said.

By that morning, videos of Olmsted cursing at and pushing students were spreading through campus after going viral Thursday night. UO law students and faculty received an email from Phillip H. Knight Dean of Law Michael Moffitt the next day addressing the issue.

“We are aware that Mr. Olmsted was involved in an incident with students on the afternoon of Thursday, March 14,” Moffitt wrote. “As dean, I expect all members of the University of Oregon School of Law community to conduct themselves with the highest degree of professionalism and respect for public discourse, especially with those with whom they may disagree.”

According to Salazar, Olmsted did not seem aggressive at first and the group engaged him in political discussion.

“At first he didn’t come off as aggressive … he was just trying to find out what we were (demonstrating),” Salazar said.

Students began recording when the situation escalated. According to Salazar, Olmsted began making radical racist statements, saying he wanted to nuke the Middle East and telling students to start a war if they wanted change.

“If you want this country back, start a fucking war and take it back,” Olmsted said in a seven-minute video Salgado posted to YouTube. “Instead of being pussies, do something.”

“This is what we’re doing,” a student protested.

Olmsted’s tone calmed.

“This is why I stopped,” he said. “I am proud of you for that.”

According to Olmsted’s attorney, Mike Arnold, there is information missing from the story despite recordings from multiple vantage points.

“Even with the ability to record parts of a situation with audio and video, you’re still going to have huge gaps in a story,” he said.

Additionally, the video recordings bring up legal matters of whether students had the right to record Olmsted, Arnold said. Under Oregon law, the subjects of audio recording one must be notified if he or she is being recorded. However, an exception has been made for recording with an unconcealed device in public places during an event. Arnold said that it is uncertain under Oregon law whether a cell phone qualifies as an unconcealed recording device.

“The recording of him that was seized is possibly an illegal recording,” Arnold said. “It could be argued as legal or illegal.”

However, UO communications law professor Kyu Ho Youm believes there was little ground to claim a specific violation of the law, especially since the use of the recordings is not commercial.

“Whatever he was doing at the EMU amphitheater was in a public place and everybody and anybody could see it,” Youm said.

Regardless of the recording’s legality, Arnold said that without Olmsted’s input, any account of it is one-sided.

“By virtue of this being taken into legal context, it makes it impossible for Mr. Olmsted or anyone involved with him to comment on the facts, which by virtue will make the reporting of the facts one-sided,” Arnold said. “It’s just the way it is.”

UO student Andrew Seng said he believed Olmsted was trying to play the devil’s advocate with the student group to engage its members in political debate.

“A lot of times when people are doing a demonstration … they don’t really know their facts, so a lot of people try to challenge them. I thought that’s what he was doing,” Seng said. “He was saying some pretty radical things so I don’t know why any normal person would say those things.”

Seng said he doesn’t know whether Olmsted believed what he was saying or trying to spark debate.

“In either case, he took it too far,” Seng said.

Despite Olmsted’s claim that he was part of the demonstration, Salazar said she was intimidated when he dropped the motorcycle helmet he was carrying to the ground, removed his jacket and came toward her.

“This is an aggressive tone,” Salazar said during the confrontation. “I am feeling pretty threatened right now.”

When an unidentified man, who Salazar and Salgado said was not part of Students Against Imperialism, stepped forward to intervene and placed his hand on Olmsted, the now-former law instructor pushed back.

Olmsted threw his glasses to the ground, and pushed Salazar out of the way when trying to reach for them. He then noticed Salgado recording the incident on her cell phone and seized it, claiming she had no right to record him. Shortly afterwards, two UOPD officers arrived on the scene and detained Olmsted.

Since the videos have been uploaded, Salazar said support has poured in from students, faculty and staff, as well as international news sources such as the Electronic Intifada, which covered the incident.

There has also been backlash. Salazar said students have been accused of provoking Olmsted.

Seng witnessed the incident and said that this is not the case.

“I was sort of waiting around for 3o minutes … and all the sudden this guy came out of nowhere,” Seng said. “A lot of people are wondering if he was provoked but he wasn’t provoked at all.”

  • Misanthrope

    Regardless of whether he was provoked, it’s never okay to lay your hands on another person without their consent.

    • CATE

      That is right. The students started it by putting their hands on Olmsted and he pushed the guy away who was standing right up in his face with his hands on him. The students started the fight and he had a right to defend himself.

      • Jose

        Go home CATE Your Drunk as Olmsted

      • john smith

        I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here for the reason that you may not have seen this specific video of the incident…

        As you can clearly see at the 1:00 mark,Olmsted gets right in the face of the smaller student and says “My country,f—ing move me.”He then,in a very threatening manner,takes off his jacket as though he’s preparing to fight them and repeats,”move me”.Only then does the male student(who’s not even part of the demonstration,incidentally)get in between Olmsted and the female student in an attempt to diffuse the situation.While it’s true that the male student then put his hand on Olmsted’s arm(something he should not have done),once Olmsted forcefully pushes the male student away neither he nor anyone else puts their hands on Olmsted again.Meanwhile,Olmsted then pushes another female student out of the way in order to get the glasses that he threw on the ground himself.The fact that the male student put his hand on Olmsted in no way gives Olmsted the right to push the female student,who had done nothing to him.Olmsted is the clear aggressor in this situation,if you can’t see that you’re blind.

      • Christopher Swing

        Olmsted was clearly the aggressor here. Someone touching him in an attempt to prevent him from assaulting someone else isn’t an excuse for him to commit theft.

  • CATE

    I just read an article in the Emerald where they were making crazy claims calling him a racist and so on. Seriously, he is a liberal environmental law professor. I was a student at the law school and knew Olmsted 20 years ago.

    From my viewing of the video, he was clearly playing devils advocate and trying to engage them in friendly but heated debate. They mistook his actions when he took off his jacket by exaggerating what he was doing because they did not understand he was trying to engage them…. I don’t get the impression those kids had the experience or background to be in a debate based on their mis-infomrtion in the school paper. They lose credibility when they make statements such as the US is planing to deport all illegal aliens. But I still don’t get why he bothered….except now I read they were having a mock border check, asking people for ID and that may mean they were not letting him pass. One student put his hands on him and got in his face, and Olmsted reacted by pushing him away from him. I would have done the same thing if someone was aggressive like that. He was within his rights to defend himself to move the guy out of an area where the guy could have done bodily harm. Also, he clearly did not mean to steal the cell phone…that is stupid and poor judgment of the police. I was under the impression it was against the law to tape someone without their permission…it is at least a gray area. When he asked them to stop filming, and they didn’t, then they went over the line. Maybe as a faculty member, he felt he was within his rights to take the phone.

    if these kids have any decency, they should fess up and ask the campus to drop the charges and Olmsted should get his job back. These kids would gain credibility and trust for their cause if they acted with integrity and not ruin a man’s life for sport. They have a message behind their cause that is worth hearing, but they deliver it with such exageration, and with such ill will toward someone like Olmsted, the message is lost.

    Olmsted didn’t use the best judgment, but then we still don’t have all the facts. What we do know is this group has a penchant for gross exaggerations and accusations based on the article they printed about their group in the school paper.

    Also, shame on the dean of the law school for over reacting, without giving Olmsted any due process or even talking to him. Considering this is a law school where the professor worked, it is shocking there was no due process. They seem to be quite afraid of these students and eager to please. That is just embarrassing for the law school. Where are the adults and the level heads in all of this?

    • Lightoening

      For someone who states that “we still don’t have all the facts” you sure do throw out your opinions as if they were facts. Is that you hiding behind an alias, Professor Olmsted?

    • Christopher Swing

      We have enough facts to know that he committed at least two crimes.

    • ehomer

      If you were, in fact, a “student at the law school”, which I doubt, you must not have gotten past L1.

  • CATE

    Per my comments below, if Olmsted was arrested on a charge of harassment, then the kid who put his hands on him and got in his face in a physically threatening stance should be too based on that line of reasoning. The kid should be at a minimum, kicked off the campus for the same number of months. Olmsted from what I could see was acting as a teacher the whole time, telling them not to film him, taking the camera away from a disobeying student, and dealing with an unruly crowd that (I don’t know this for sure other than the article says that there was a mock border crossing) had blocked him from passing. He also appeared to be playing devils advocate to show them how outrageous their comments were. I have seen plenty of male teachers in my day tussle with students who were trying to start a fight like that kid and none of them lost their job over it. If you view it from that perspective, the students should be in trouble not Olmsted.

    • Judge Judy

      ” I was a student at the law school and knew Olmsted 20 years ago.”

      Cate – “if Olmsted was arrested on a charge of harassment, then the kid who put
      his hands on him and got in his face in a physically threatening stance
      should be too…”

      Dude, with perceptual skills like that, how did you even get out of high school, let alone into Law School??

      Cate – “Olmsted from what I could see was acting as a teacher the whole time,”

      Oh, really?? The Teacher: “If you want this country back, start a fucking war and take it back, Instead
      of being pussies, do something.” And what class might this be, Fuckology 404??

      Cate — “taking the camera away from a disobeying student’

      Cate. You entirely miss the point that the student, nor any other citizen, was under any obligation to obey your “liberal’ professor. Thank you for once again proving the point that there is no correlation between higher academic credentials and common sense.

    • Christopher Swing

      These aren’t children in a classroom. They’re adults with rights. Olmsted had no business engaging in theft and harassment, and no special powers as a “teacher.”

      If you actually had any clue about the law, you’d understand how nonsensical a comment you’ve just written.

    • Nemo

      You mean the guy who was was speaking calmly and stepped between Olmsted and the girl whose cell phone he was arrested for stealing? The guy who we hear trying to diffuse the situation? He was the one who was “trying to start a fight”? You sound like a lawyer who’s used to defending guilty clients.

      Olmsted may be a perfectly nice guy. Whether he is or not, he had a right to say whatever he wanted. But that’s not what got him arrested.

  • shorelineliz

    It seems to me that Professor Olmsted was engaging the students in a disagreement and when this young man put his hand on his shoulder then it was the young man who started the physical stuff. And if Professor Olmsted doesn’t want to be recorded on a cell phone he has a right to tell Jackie Selgado to not record him. It seems to me Ms. Selgado was infringing on the Professors “privacy rights” when she recorded him. If Selgado and others want to demonstrate on campus they can but others can disagree. and vehemently. But once someone puts their hands on someone FIRST then it is a whole nuther ball of wax and once you start “recording” people you invade their “privacy.” Ms. Selgado needs a lesson in constitutional law. Who is the Law professor and who is the student? I thought so.

    • Christopher Swing

      He had a right to ask to not be recorded… and anyone recording has the right to ignore the request.

      You can’t infringe on someone’s “privacy rights” in a public place. They don’t exist there. That’s why it’s called a *public place.*

      You really need to get a clue as to how things really work.

  • Anon

    The spin on this comments section makes Fox News look like a bastion of Truth and Journalism.

    Sorry but it is Not against the law to film someone in public…especially not when they are screaming and being threatening…

    Throwing down his jacket was clearly as signal he was ready for a physical confrontation as also communicated by his vocal level and hostile yelling. The guy was being a jerk and deserves to be run out of town.

    Anyone who can look at the video and see anything different is suffering from denial…if it had been the student protestors acting like Mr. Olmsted…these same voices.. Cate/shorelineliz … would have been calling for their arrest and expulsion. Civil debate was not what Olmsted was trying to do. He was trying to start a fight.

  • Paid-for-hire Mouthpiece 101

    ““Even with the ability to record parts of a situation with audio and
    video, you’re still going to have huge gaps in a story,” said the attorney.”

    And that story will surely be told, even if it’s a work of semi-fiction.

  • Paid-for-hire Mouthpiece 101

    ” Arnold said that it is uncertain under Oregon law whether a cell phone qualifies as an unconcealed recording device.”

    What a totally, idiotic statement that is in this day and age.

  • NorthCascadian

    “Despite Olmsted’s claim that he was part of the demonstration,…” This frankly seems the most plausible. Why would he hang around, why didn’t the students walk away from him and start talking with others? A half an hour of put-ons seems forced. Taking off his jacket and throwing down his helmet seems dramatic. Now the Huffington post has picked it up. What about Rachael Corrie? What about justice for Palestine? Nothing to talk about there now that we have this bizarre event. I want more witness testimony.

  • Lewis Clements Sr.

    To me it looks like he is part of the group playing a part of outraged citizen.

  • Ashley

    I despise people who “play devil’s advocate.” All you’re doing is being an asshole, and treating issues that deeply affect the lives of others as a game. You’re not bring up any new information, any new ideas, any new opinions. Playing devil’s advocate is being able to spew the same shitty status-quo under the guise of philosophical discussion. If you don’t really believe it, don’t fucking say it. You are helping no one.

  • Ihaveseentherealterrorists

    The SAI forgot to dress some of their members as mock homicide bombers. Perhaps they could have been both homicide bombers and mentally and or physically disabled to add realism.

  • Ihaveseentherealterrorists

    The professor had no more nor no less rights to do what he did than the students. The students did not recognize the professors exercise of his rights. This is not a classroom. If you can’t handle the fire, get out of the kitchen.

    • Christopher Swing

      He had no right to commit theft.

  • Guest

    The SAI forgot to dress some of their members as mock homicide bombers. Perhaps they could have been both homicide bombers and mentally and or physically disabled to add realism.

  • Ihaveseentherealterrorists

    I saw someone labeled IDF in the video but I didn’t see anyone labeled Palestinian terrorist. The SAI did not want realism?

  • Arafat

    What about Islamic imperialism? Did Muslims really come to rule over lands spanning from Morocco to Indonesia and from the Cacus region down to The Maldives through the kindness of their heart?
    What are they doing in Mali today if not the most brutal form of imperialism?
    What did they do in Sudan if not the most brutal form of imperialism?
    What are they doing in Nigeria today if not overt war against the Christian Animists?

    What arethey doing today in Pakistan if not over war against the few remaining Hindus?

    What did they do in Afghanistan centuries ago if not genocide to rid that country of all its Buddhists?
    And, speaking of Buddhists, what are Muslims doing today in southern Thailand to rationalize the murder of 5,000 Buddhists over the last few years? Are the Muslims killing the Buddhists out of their innate loving kindness?

  • Arafat

    Olmsted is your typical liberal. Unhappy and unable to resolve his personal conflicts who resorts to causes they know little about because they project their own anger onto complex issues they are unable to truly understand.
    In the old days people like Olmsted would live their lives scurried away in institutions and arguably the world was better off for it.

  • Arafat

    I apologize for my previous comment. After doing a little homework it’s clear I could not have been more mistaken and if I hurt professor Olmsted, his family or friends I apologize. This has to be a very difficult time for all of them.

    After looking into this incidence a little bit it’s clear Olmsted is a rare man; one who is willing to stand up for principles that are important and who sees through the SJP’s wall of lies for what it really is, i.e., stealth jihad.

    Olmsted reminds me of other great contemporaries like Geert Wilders, Robert Spencer among others and he is to be admired for showing the courage to confront the fascists of our day.


    Here is another example of such a man:

  • Franczeska

    “Arafat” = Barry Sommer.