In another sign of increasing tensions on college campuses over the war in Iraq, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston was arrested yesterday and charged with assaulting a police officer after he exchanged heated words with a National Guard recruiter.
Eyewitnesses said the recruiter told adjunct professor Tony Van Der Meer and a student that they should be shot in the head for their antiwar views.
A Massachusetts National Guard spokesman, Captain Winfield Danielson, said the Guard is going to look into what happened yesterday at UMass and will take appropriate action.
The skirmish is the latest in a growing list of incidents in which simmering tensions about the war have boiled over on high school and college campuses.
On Wednesday at Wheaton College in Norton, students replaced an upside-down American flag with a sign citing the First Amendment after they received a death threat for their antiwar activism.
The day before, in California, administrators at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana canceled classes, citing concerns for student safety and warning of the potential for violence at an antiwar rally planned near the school.
At UMass-Boston, spokesman Ed Hayward said the university will review yesterday's incident and its policy toward recruiters on campus. He said he knew of no other clashes on campus between antiwar organizations and war supporters.
The confrontation, which began with activists handing out information on various causes, disintegrated into a shouting match, with students screaming at the guardsmen and campus police, eyewitnesses said.
UMass student Tony Naro said the recruiter sparked the dispute by heckling him as he passed out leaflets to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the fatal shooting of Martin Luther King Jr.
''He called me a [expletive] communist,'' said Naro, a senior, who was wearing a black T-shirt with the words ''Education Not Enlistment'' on the front and ''Military Recruiters off My Campus'' on the back.
The two argued, and campus police were called because someone was ''blocking the guardsmen from handing out informational pamphlets,'' according to the police report.
As the guardsmen packed up their literature and began to leave, Van Der Meer walked into the lobby. It's unclear what happened next, but a half-dozen students and Van Der Meer later said that one of the four guardsmen turned to Naro and the professor and said: ''You should be shot in the head.''
''No. You should be shot in the head,'' replied Van Der Meer, according to Shauntell Foster, a senior and a student of Van Der Meer's. Students Theresa Myrthil and Bethanie Petitfrere said they also watched the confrontation.
According to the police report, which did not record their words, the men were screaming at each other, nose-to-nose. An officer stepped between them.
The students said Van Der Meer never raised his hands or threatened the officer, and that the officer attacked Van Der Meer. In his report, the officer said Van Der Meer shoved him in the chest and told him to ''get out of my [expletive] face,'' and then elbowed him in the chest.
Three UMass-Boston police officers tackled Van Der Meer and wrestled him to the ground, several students said. Meanwhile, students started filing into the lobby and shouting ''Stop police brutality'' and ''Recruiters off our campus.''
After his arraignment and not-guilty plea yesterday Van Der Meer, still wearing the green corduroy jacket that was torn during his arrest, said he did resist arrest after police accosted him. ''I resisted,'' he said to the applause of about 30 students who had come to Dorchester District Court to support him. ''I don't see why I should be assaulted.''
''It's shameful,'' Van Der Meer said. ''It says something about academic freedom.''
Michael Rosenwald of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company