…I’m proud of my employer, the University of Sangamon at Big City. A certain very controversial presidential candidate from one of the major parties will soon be holding a rally at a campus event center, and the chancellor has declined to heed calls to forbid that candidate from appearing.

The chancellor has issued a statement that says in part, “Consistent with its role as a public university, the University of [redacted] is not endorsing, sponsoring or supporting any candidate for political office,” said the statement. “At the same time, it has been our standard practice for decades to rent available space on campus to any political candidate when requested. As a result, we have a long history of campaign events on campus, and no legal basis to exclude any candidate because of the views he or she expresses.”

Elsewhere, perhaps the same statement (I’m cut and pasting from a couple different articles), the chancellor says “”[the university]’s core values of freedom, equality and social justice for all, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability status or sexual orientation, are deeply rooted in our diverse community and not endangered by the presence of any political candidate on campus,” [the Chancellor] wrote. “We encourage public and civic engagement by all members of our University and we endorse the idea that the answer to speech that one does not like or finds offensive is more speech and not censorship.”

Some faculty and staff have signed a petition claiming that university should cancel the rally for safety concerns. I hope they’re wrong. But even if they’re right, I wouldn’t want to forbid political speech just because of safety concerns. And this is political speech in the most obvious sense of the word. If a rally by the front runner for a major party’s nomination for president doesn’t count as “political” speech, I’m not sure what does. And for what it’s worth, the university is taking safety precautions (although I don’t know what kind).

I won’t be going to the rally. My biggest worry about it happening on campus–aside from the fact that I don’t support the candidate–is that it will probably make it hard to leave work on time this Friday by tying up buses and city trains.

I’m used to criticizing my university. It has in the past had a tendency to adopt the most weak-willed, tepid positions in defense of mediocrity. Its sister university–the University of Sangamon at Flagship City–recently had a controversy where it denied a job it had offered to someone seemingly because of that person’s extramural political speech. That was a closer case than this one, but from what I have heard, the chief negative consequence wouldn’t have been “safety” concerns, but some major donors discontinuing their support for the university.

So good on the university and the chancellor for doing the right thing. Here’s hoping everything goes off peaceably and that the candidate and the inevitable protesters enjoy the right to make their views heard.

Category: School, Statehouse

About the Author

5 Responses to Something I don’t usually say…

  1. fillyjonk says:

    Good. I am at a university myself and would be embarrassed if a controversial speaker were cancelled “to avoid hurt feelings” or whatever the reason given now is. Or even safety concerns, life isn’t safe any more, if it ever was. And I think the university’s response was smart. Oh, some people will mis- or over-interpret it, people always do. But the idea of restricting speech on university campuses is chilling.

    I admit, if, say, Yassir Arafat had come to speak at my school (I mean, back while he was alive), I might have avoided campus that day because “discretion is the better part of valor,” but I wouldn’t advocate banning him from speaking.

    • Michael Cain says:

      Re discretion… During the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver, I was one of the two “stuckees” who had to keep the Joint Budget Committee office open during the convention. Lots of organizations had promised demonstrations at the Capitol, some of them had promised violence. Unknown to most Coloradans, the Capitol and assorted state government buildings within several blocks are connected by tunnels that were originally used for coal distribution (the local coal company would only deliver to one building).

      The State Patrol’s tactical unit took over the second floor of the building the JBC is in for that week — the JBC office is on the third floor — prepared to deploy through the tunnels in order to come up from unexpected directions if any of the violence materialized. It was almost disappointing that the whole week passed without major incidents. Interesting to discover that many of the tac squad members were taking various college-credit classes — they had the equivalent of a library study area set up, and it was full all week.

  2. Kazzy says:

    I’m conflicted on this. I see the validity of everything you state here. But I think reducing opposition to Trump’s presence on campus to seeking to avoid hurt feelings is unfair. It is far more complicated an issue than that. In part because pretty much any argument used to refute his opposition could be similarly used to refute Trump himself.

    Imagine the university turned Trump down. How is he harmed? If he wants to hold a rally in that part of the world, I don’t doubt he’d find someone who would take his money and let him do so. And the people who want to hear him speak would go to see him speak all the same. So what is Team Trump’s opposition to being denied rooted in? Hurt feelings or something included under that very broad and vague umbrella when being applied as it is here?

    I would probably ultimately come down in the same place as you do here, Gabriel. Especially given that the university is a public one and the idea that any arm of the state is limiting access based on ideology is troubling. But that doesn’t mean that his presence on campus doesn’t cause real harm that the university needs to at least consider and perhaps account for. Trump isn’t just pushing for policies that others find disagreeable. This isn’t a different of opinion of whether the top tax rate should be 35% of 39% or how we should fund health care. This is a man who has villified people based on their ethnicity and their faith… ethnicities and faiths are undoubtedly represented on that campus. And he has gone even further in saying that such people should not be in this country. These ideas being given center stage — even without the university’s endorsement — can have a very real deleterious effect on the educational environment for these students. And, above al else, a university is a place of education.

    We should not lose sight of the fact that part of what makes Trump so controversial is his belief that certain people (Muslims) should be kept out of this country based on what they believe while insisting that being kept off a college campus because of what he believes is his immeasurable harm.

    So, yes, let him speak. But do not double-down on the potential harm done to students by dismissing it as merely hurt feelings.

    • Kazzy,

      Thanks for chiming in.

      I did not myself rely on the claim that this is just about “hurt feelings.” However, I did use scare quotes to talk about “safety” concerns. And as it turned out, those concerns may have had some validity, even though it’s unclear to me who did what.

      And more important, I probably should have been more sensitive to what you point out here. It’s easy for me to take the big picture view about freedom of speech when I’m not part of the demographic against which the candidate’s speech is targeted. And you’re right, Muslims and (probably) undocumented students, or at least students likely to be accused of being undocumented* by those who endorse the candidate’s xenophobic remarks are a big presence on campus. And to be clear, I value their presence very much.

      *My understanding is that it’s very hard for an undocumented person to attend this particular university because of financial aid regulations. I could be wrong, though.

      • Kazzy says:

        Yea, I think I was responding more to fillyjonk’s comment above.

        I’d also include Mexican students (be they immigrants or US-born) to be in Trump’s crosshairs more or less, both because of the vitriol he laid upon the nationality as a whole and because of the possibility/likelihood of them being closely connected with undocumented immigrants.

        As I said, I think this is a complicated issue and I sense you get that. Gun to my head, I’d say the university did the right thing and this is probably how I’d want a public university to respond. We just shouldn’t pretend the decision is without harm.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

If you are interested in subscribing to new post notifications,
please enter your email address on this page.