Knight Critic Takes Leave From IU

Wednesday, June 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) — As Indiana University's most outspoken critic of coach Bob Knight, English professor Murray Sperber expected a backlash.

But death threats and harassing phone calls forced the professor to take an unpaid leave of absence for a semester.

``I could not see teaching under these circumstances,'' Sperber said Wednesday. ``I guess on the most-hated list I'm about third, behind (former player) Neil Reed, (former assistant coach) Ron Felling. But my e-mail is public, and the other two can't be reached so easily.''

J.T. Forbes, a university spokesman, said the school is handling Sperber's request as a routine matter.

``What I understand is he wants a break,'' Forbes said. ``I don't perceive it to be an internal conflict. We have a long history of supporting people who take strong stands on different issues. Professor Sperber has been doing that.''

The university recently suspended Knight for three games next season and fined him $30,000 following an investigation into accusations he choked Reed during a 1997 practice. He also faces a zero-tolerance behavior policy.

Sperber, 59, has criticized the university for being lenient on Knight for nearly three decades. The professor has been at the school 29 years, the exact number of years Knight has been there.

Sperber appeared in the March CNN/SI report that revived Reed's accusations. Since then, Sperber has been interviewed repeatedly.

``I started get vilifying e-mail in March as soon as I was on that CNN/SI thing,'' Sperber said. ``Some of it was from secret accounts on AOL and that kind of thing.''

Then Sperber began to notice menacing postings left on a pro-Bob Knight Internet site. Some of the postings suggested that enraged fans try disrupting Sperber's classes in the fall. Information on class schedules is easily available from the university.

When the threats reached the answering machine at his home, Sperber decided he had enough.

``He requested that leave himself without pay because he was concerned, and the chair shared his concerns, naturally,'' said Christine Farris, the acting head of the English department. ``We were concerned for his safety and for that of his students and the teaching assistants he worked with.''

Sperber reported the threats to the Bloomington police and he said they are investigating them.

The professor said he will spend the semester at his home in Canada.

``They've never heard of Bob Knight there,'' he said. ``That will be a nice change.''