(CNN)A professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington has come under fire for tweets he posted which the school has called "vile and inexcusable," according to a statement the school provided to CNN Saturday.
University of North Carolina Wilmington calls professor's tweets 'vile and inexcusable' following growing backlash online
At the center of this controversy is Mike Adams, a professor of criminology at the university, according to the school's website. On May 29, Adams tweeted, "This evening I ate pizza and drank beer with six guys at a six seat table top. I almost felt like a free man who was not living in the slave state of North Carolina. Massa Cooper, let my people go!"
Roy Cooper is North Carolina's Democratic governor.
Adams' tweet was sent a week after the state moved into phase two of reopening and a few days after protests erupted because of the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis after a police officer was seen on video kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Adams could not be reached for comment on Saturday despite numerous attempts by phone, email and social media.
Another tweet from Adams on May 28 read, "Don't shut down the universities. Shut down the non essential majors. Like Women's Studies."
Adams is the author of the book "Feminists Say the Darndest Things: A Politically Incorrect Professor Confronts 'Womyn' on Campus."
Adams' tweets became the focal point of a change.org petition calling for his removal. Since it was launched roughly four days ago, the petition has collected more than 40,000 digital signatures.
Another petition in the same vein has collected more than 11,000 digital signatures.
"We are listening to the outrage being expressed regarding the vile and inexcusable comments made by a UNCW faculty member," the university said in the statement provided to CNN. "However, we are not just listening; we can confirm we are very carefully and assertively reviewing our options in terms of how to proceed. We are not able to comment further at this time, as this is a personnel matter."
In a lengthy statement released online, the university addressed the free speech implications of Adams' tweets.
"Hateful, hurtful language aimed at degrading others is contrary to our university values and our commitment to an environment of respect and dignity. Its appearance on any platform, including the personal platforms of anyone affiliated with UNCW, is absolutely reprehensible," the university wrote.
"However, no matter how upsetting and distasteful the comments may be, they are expressions of free speech and protected by the First Amendment. We review any perceived threats that are brought to our attention, and at this point, the conduct and materials at issue do not contain any evidence of a true physical threat toward any members of our community."
Roy Gutterman, the director of the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University's Newhouse School, said while Adams' comments may be offensive, they should be protected by the First Amendment.
The tweets appear to be unrelated to academic work and are simply personal opinions offensive to some people, which is not a crime, he said.
"The answer to this is not punishment, which would run afoul of the First Amendment because this involves a public university. The answer is to counter the speech and confront the speech. This could be the subject of campus-wide discussions," Gutterman said.
This is not the first time Adams has courted controversy online.
In 2016, another change.org petition called for his removal after Adams had published an article titled "A 'Queer Muslim' Jihad?" on right-wing news site The Daily Wire. In the article, Adams wrote about a Muslim refugee and LGBT student-activist at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
In 2006, Adams was denied a promotion at the University of North Carolina Wilmington due to his conservative views, according to the Wilmington Star News.
Adams sued the university and won in 2014 after a jury determined that Adams' speech was a factor in the decision to not promote him, according to court documents. The federal court also ordered the university to pay Adams roughly $50,000 in back pay and over $600,000 for attorney's fees and other costs, the Star News reported.
One person unhappy with how Adams has conducted himself on social media is Kaela Bedics, a first-year graduate student pursuing a master's in conflict management and resolution at the school. Bedics first became aware of Adams after the Daily Wire article published.
"Though I acknowledge that Mr. Adams has a first amendment right to the freedom of speech, I find his tweets contemptuous and unbecoming of a university professor," Bedics told CNN through Twitter.
"I can appreciate the desire to focus on more right-wing work and expose students to these ideas in the university setting, but his methods of exposing students to these ideas are, in my opinion, unethical, a means to encourage harassment and violence, and targeted at minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQIA+ community."