Why bother with a liberal arts education? Some students at a Washington university wanted to know, but their school administrators canceled a panel scheduled to debate the question.
The cancellation, with no reason given, was one of the five biggest incidents of censorship of conservatives on college campuses in the past 12 months, Charlie Copeland, president of Intercollegiate Studies Institute, told The Daily Signal in a recent phone interview.
Here are the top five identified by Copeland as contrary to free speech and other First Amendment rights:
1. Liberal Arts, but Not Liberal Discussion
Students affiliated with ISI at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, which says it celebrates “a proud Jesuit liberal arts tradition,” planned a debate for last November on the importance of a liberal arts education.
Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a nonprofit organization that seeks to educate conservatives to become eloquent defenders of liberty, invited three professors to speak on a panel on the topic “Why Bother With a Liberal Arts Education?”
ISI said George Mason University’s Bryan Caplan would argue that the study of liberal arts isn’t important, and Clemson University’s Brookes Brown would argue that it is important. Utah State University’s Harrison Kleiner was set as moderator.
“This wasn’t a panel discussion where we had one opinion; it was going to be a discussion of the value, good or bad, of a liberal arts education,” Copeland, who also is a veteran Republican activist in Delaware, told The Daily Signal.
Yet, on Nov. 5, about three weeks before the scheduled event, the university informed ISI that it couldn’t approve the debate, without citing a reason.
“We don’t have any idea why they didn’t want the debate to proceed,” Copeland said in a phone interview. “And then they further asked for the names of the students and faculty involved, which we perceived as a blacklist, so we didn’t give them that information.”
On Nov. 6, the university told ISI that another, more high-profile event sponsored by Gonzaga’s dean was scheduled the same night, and the school didn’t want such conflicts.
The university wouldn’t permit ISI to advertise on campus and didn’t provide any information on the conflicting event, Copeland said.
The students put on their panel discussion at a nearby hotel instead.
The censorship was “ironic,” Copeland said, given the university’s liberal arts background.
A few months later, he said, Gonzaga allowed a student-hosted campaign event for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to take place, with no issues raised by the administration.
Gonzaga provided this statement in response to an inquiry from The Daily Signal:
Gonzaga University hosts an array of speakers representing various political, religious and social perspectives each year.
With respect to the event proposed by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, our academic leadership reached out to ISI regarding the event to learn more about their plans. No acknowledgement or response was received.
As an independent, faith-based and nonprofit institution, Gonzaga University works every day to provide students with a broad range of intellectual thought, ideas and debate opportunities. We encourage our faculty and students to discuss the value of a liberal arts education–and they are well-prepared to do so.
Gonzaga also emphasized that the Sanders event was an informal, students-only gathering that occurred under conditions set by the school’s Student Development Division.
“Gonzaga University’s decision to host any speaker—past and future—does not imply endorsement of the speaker’s views,” spokeswoman Mary Joan Hahn said in an email.
2. Woke at Wake Forest
When some perceived a fake campus campaign poster at Wake Forest University to be racist, student Jordan Lancaster called out fellow collegiates on Twitter for overreacting.
Then she received death threats.
The phony poster in the campaign for student body president, the work of an unknown person or persons, read: “Build a wall between Wake Forest and Winston-Salem College.”
Salem College, Wake Forest’s rival, also in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, traditionally has had a larger percentage of blacks in the student body.
Wake Forest President Nathan O. Hatch sent a campus-wide email March 23 condemning the fake poster and announcing that a team led by the dean of students would investigate.
“The joke could certainly be argued as in poor taste,” ISI’s Copeland said, “but a student of ours [Lancaster] who wasn’t even in the United States at the time tweeted that the administration’s response was an overreaction.” He added:
Almost immediately, [Jordan] was doxed, she received death threats, one student said explicitly that she would have the girl’s head, basically because ‘the other school is not going to be played with.’ All of these are characteristically threatening, by any definition, and yet there was no response about that from the administration.
The College Fix reported that Winston-Salem students recommended on Twitter that Lancaster be “fired and expelled,” and called her employer and Wake Forest with complaints.
Copeland said he thinks this outsized response was due to Wake Forest’s making a big deal out of the campaign poster in the first place.
“By the administration’s response at Wake Forest, creating a big racial incident out of that one comment, it all of a sudden became very touchy and polarized, and angry people started to respond,” Copeland said. “Whereas, had the administration just contacted the original student and told him it wasn’t funny, corrected his behavior, they likely could have solved the problem.”
“It’s an instance of when the adults in the room don’t act like adults. They allow angry members of society, on both the right and left, to overreact,” the ISI president said.
Wake Forest did not respond to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment.
3. Notre Whiteness
Copeland recalled how Notre Dame University held a panel discussion on “whiteness” during which faculty members expressed frustration with skin color as an “oppressive political condition.”
The panel of four professors—three speakers and a moderator—was hosted in January by the mediation program of the Indiana university’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. Copeland said he found this odd, since all speakers on the panel argued that whiteness is oppressive.
“I’ve been in mediation before. It basically means you have one person on one side and one person on the other side, to reach common ground,” he said. “There was no mediation involved. Why the Kroc Institute for International Peace was involved in this, I don’t know.”
During the question-and-answer session, the ISI president said, a European man stood up to ask a question.
“When he got to the microphone, one of the panelists, a faculty member, yelled out, ‘White power!’ and they took the microphone away,” Copeland said. “Now if you’re a white student at Notre Dame, how do you think that made you feel? Talk about oppressive.”
Copeland, who said some ISI students attended, said he found the premise of the panel of professors ironic:
Notre Dame is one of the most elite schools, and these people have reached the pinnacle of their career. They should be thankful, saying, ‘Look what I have achieved, it has allowed me to thrive.’ And instead we get moments like this, where they’re saying, ‘We are oppressed.’
Notre Dame did not respond to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment.
4. Targeted at Michigan State
When a student representative at Michigan State University included his student government position in his email signature, his fellow representatives tried to remove him from the elected position in February.
Copeland said that Sergei Kelly, a conservative student at MSU, had sent out an email to recruit more conservatives for student government, and included his position in the student legislature with his name.
Some students said they were afraid Kelly’s use of that signature implied that the student government promoted conservative values at the school in East Lansing, Michigan. Copeland said:
He had in his email signature line that he is a member of student government, ASMSU [Associated Students of Michigan State University], which I imagine most students do. Well, some progressive students viewed this as him using it in an inappropriate way, and so they came up with a bill to get him removed from his elected position. Which would be a little bit like [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi bringing a bill before Congress to get [Rep.] Mark Meadows kicked out of Congress.
Meadows, R-N.C., is chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative lawmakers.
Though the motion to remove Kelly did not succeed, the student assembly did pass a rules change. An inappropriate act now is defined as “physical violence, personal attacks of a severe and/or pervasive nature, harassment and discrimination,” or—in response to this flap—“the misrepresentation of a constituency.”
Copeland pointed out that a student representative’s voting privileges already could be removed if the assembly finds that he or she has committed an inappropriate act.
“Because of the adding of that phrase, you’ve now equated physical violence—me punching you in the nose—as the same as my email saying I’m a member of student government,” Copeland said.
“The chamber defines that as a misrepresentation. It’s one thing to not hit somebody, but now I’m not even allowed to speak because the majority could say that in my speech I misrepresented my constituency.”
This kind of censorship is what leads to “tyranny of the masses,” Copeland said.
“The rules are in place to protect the minority, because otherwise the majority could rule all the time,” he said. “It would be tyranny of the masses. Many of those people who fought those civil rights battles years ago are now in charge today, and they are reinstituting rules that allow for the tyranny of the majority, and that is a dangerous place for this country to go.”
In response to The Daily Signal’s request for comment, Michigan State University said it does not have a role in overseeing student government, and that the student government’s decisions are not subject to the university’s jurisdiction.
The Associated Students of Michigan State did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment.
5. Closed Doors at Pitzer
Pitzer College in Claremont, California, prohibited some student journalists from attending a student council vote that previously was to be open to the public, Copeland said.
The Pitzer College Council, composed of students and faculty, voted in March to suspend Pitzer’s only Israel study abroad program, in an effort to keep American money out of Israel in support of the pro-Palestinian BDS movement, which stands for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.
The college advertised the March 14 vote as an open meeting, and when the Claremont Independent initially called the college’s Office of Communications, it welcomed the student journalists to attend, Copeland said.
“And then, when [the office] realized later it was a conservative student newspaper, they called back and said, ‘No, you cannot attend, it’s only for faculty, staff, and members of The Student Life staff,’” he said.
The Student Life is a publication funded by the student government.
The Claremont Independent published a story March 13, the day before the meeting, saying that the college had prohibited its editors from attending.
“They wanted to make certain that no external media attended. But [the Claremont Independent] is not external media—it’s an official club of the Claremont College Institute,” Copeland said.
The ISI leader suggested the student-faculty council actually withdrew the Claremont Independent’s invitation because it didn’t want a more conservative perspective in the room during the vote.
“They didn’t want somebody in there that would say, ‘This is a bad idea,’ and force these brilliant faculty members to defend their position,” Copeland said.
The Pitzer Faculty Executive Committee offered this explanation:
Due to limited seating for College Council, the Faculty Executive Committee (FEC) requested that attendance be limited to Pitzer faculty, staff and current students, and that reporters be limited to the official 5C paper, The Student Life. The Claremont Independent (CI) is privately funded.
FEC also excluded the LA Times and other papers that have inquired about attendance to the meeting, along with Pitzer alumni who have asked to attend. If there were any current Pitzer student-reporters for the CI, they were welcome as members of our community.
Pitzer’s senior director of communications and media relations, Anna Chang, said the Claremont Independent was informed after publishing the article that it could cover the meeting using reporters who were Pitzer students.
Both the Claremont Independent and The Student Life are staffed by students from all five Claremont colleges.
“As far as the claim that our student editors were invited to attend, I can only go off what our student editors told me, and that was that they were banned from attending,” Copeland said.