How To Destroy Your Career In 140 Characters Or Less

Geoffrey Miller, an Evolutionary Psychology Professor at New York University and the University of New Mexico, got himself into hot water on Sunday when he tweeted this:

Offensive tweet, Geoffrey Miller offensive tweet

Sure, that’s offensive — and it’s also aggressive, since the tweet is addressed directly to obese people. But worse for his employers, it’s also possibly litigious, since Professor Miller sat on an Admissions Committee at the University of New Mexico.

After Mr. Miller received blowback for his comment, he tweeted out these two apologies later on Sunday night:

Geoffrey Miller Apology


Geoffrey Miller Apology 1

It seems that Mr. Miller realized he had made a big, career-threatening mistake. Unfortunately for Miller, the hashtag in his original tweet—“#Truth”—made it abundantly clear that he believes what he said, despite his protestations otherwise. Nor are his denials as “obvious” as he claims.

But Mr. Miller didn’t stop there. First, he deleted his original tweet and locked his Twitter account. Next, and somewhat incredulously, he claimed that his offensive tweet was sent as part of a research project.

Here’s the statement from the University of New Mexico, which doesn’t exactly stand behind their man:

The Uni­ver­sity of New Mex­ico admin­is­tra­tion and fac­ulty were sur­prised by Dr. Geof­frey Miller’s tweet. We are deeply con­cerned about the impact of the state­ment, which in no way reflects the poli­cies or admis­sion stan­dards of UNM. We are inves­ti­gat­ing every aspect of this inci­dent and will take appro­pri­ate action.

When UNM’s Depart­ment chair learned of the tweet, she con­tacted Pro­fes­sor Miller, who is cur­rently on unpaid leave from UNM while at NYU.  He told her that his com­ment on Twit­ter was part of a research project. We are look­ing into the valid­ity of this asser­tion, and will take appro­pri­ate mea­sures. As mem­bers of the UNM com­mu­nity, we are all respon­si­ble for demon­strat­ing good judg­ment when using social media or other com­mu­ni­ca­tions vehicles.

Here are a couple of questions:

  1. 1. What type of research project makes you send out a fat-shaming and possibly litigious tweet from your personal account?
  2. 2. If it was a research project, why did he apologize for his comments instead of explaining them right away?

The University of New Mexico’s statement appears to suggest that this tenured professor’s days may be numbered. As for NYU, their stance is less admirable, if not downright shameful, telling The New York Observer:

“What Geoffrey Miller, a University of New Mexico professor who is a visiting professor at NYU, said on Sunday on his personal Twitter account was regrettable.  Professor Miller apologized for the Tweet and deleted it. NYU considers the matter closed.”

That’s a rather flip approach for such a damaging comment. As one person in my Twitter network said:

It will be interesting to follow how UNM handles this case. In the meantime, one thing is clear: If Professor Miller lacks the willpower to avoid assaulting entire groups of people, he lacks the willpower to retain his title of “Professor.”


UPDATE: July 5, 2013

According to The Daily Mail, The University of New Mexico has now confirmed that Mr. Miller’s tweet was not sent as part of a research project, as he had claimed. The article reports that “UNM officials say the school is conducting a disciplinary investigation.” As I originally suspected, it appears as if Mr. Miller doubled down on his bullying text with a lie. Both seem to be appropriate causes for his dismissal.


What do you think? Did NYU handle this matter well from a PR perspective? Are Mr. Miller’s comments a fireable offense? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.