Michigan Student Newspaper 'Decapitates' Athletic Director in Photo Illustration

10/07/2014 05:42 pm ET Updated Dec 07, 2014

A conservative student newspaper at the University of Michigan is in the spotlight after publishing a photo illustration that led a UM adjunct professor to bring up ISIS and alert campus police.

This past week, The Michigan Review posted a doctored photo online that included a depiction of the severed head of the school's embattled athletic director -- bloodied and decapitated from what appears to be a French-Revolution-era guillotine.

According to Review editor Derek Draplin, the image aimed to capture the "mob mentality" of an increasingly vocal group of Wolverine football faithful who are fed up with the team's struggles and a recent on-field incident possibly putting the starting quarterback in harm's way. Head coach Brady Hoke and Brandon have both been vilified lately by portions of the public and the press.

The Review's photo illustration, in response, as the Student Press Law Center confirms, is "political satire" -- visually representing fans' insanely-impassioned pleas for the coach's and AD's heads to roll.

But UM adjunct finance professor Kai Petainen sees something more disturbing embedded in the image -- enough to compel him to contact UM police via Twitter and email.

One tweet of protest Petainen posted regarding the image: "With current events about ISIS, drawing Brandon decapitated is violent and wrong. Remove it."

As Petainen explains to College Fix editor Jennifer Kabbany:

I'm against censorship, but I'm also in favor of some common sense and attention to the world beyond us. Within the world of education, all too often we hear of violence at schools (think of school shootings.) And recently, we hear a lot about beheadings and more violence in the world around us. When it comes to matters relating to beheadings or violence (and mixing that in with school matters), then that's not a laughing matter. Some may want Brandon to resign (I'm not commenting on that issue), but to draw an image of him decapitated is disturbing and lacks some common sense to the worldwide issues around us... I CC-d campus police as I like to keep them in the loop as to the things that I see.

Sensible response or yikes-level overreaction?

The University of Michigan is a public institution legally and morally bound by the First Amendment, and an image like this -- which cannot reasonably be interpreted as a threat -- is no less protected just because violent incidents sometimes occur at schools, or because of recent tragedies in the news. Further, newspapers contain disturbing content all the time; that's the nature of reporting on real news.

That this illustration is akin to any editorial cartoon in a newspaper should go without saying, but in today's world, people's hurt feelings seem to trump free speech rights, especially on a college campus... It's not an act of violence or aggression, nor does it even come close to the threat of violence. To imply that it does is chilling. To alert the campus police? Overkill.

Draplin at the Review: "It's just another example of the uber-sensitivity prevalent on campuses today."