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What We're Reading: November 2020

In this month’s readings, we feature contrasting stories on the activities of student governments and associations and consider how political speech impacted faculty and students around the 2020 election.

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Campus Happenings

Universities Halt Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Programs, Fearing Loss of Federal Funds
First Amendment Watch | October 8, 2020

The University of Iowa and John A. Logan College halted campus diversity, equity, and inclusion training programs in response to a September 22 executive order from President Donald Trump, which prohibited recipients of federal grants from promoting “race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating.” The schools paused their diversity initiatives to give administrators time to evaluate training, workshops, and programs for compliance with the order. Critics have warned that the order likely violates the First Amendment.

UNI Student Government Blocks Anti-Abortion Group from Forming a Chapter, Says It Could Create a Hostile Environment
Cleo Krejci | Des Moines Register | October 16, 2020

“Student government leaders at the University of Northern Iowa… denied students’ request to form a local chapter of Students for Life of America, a national nonprofit that opposes abortion, saying that allowing the student group to form could create a hostile environment on campus.” After the decision was upheld by the student government Supreme Court, the anti-abortion group appealed to UNI President Mark Nook, who reversed the student government ruling, arguing that “this was a decision that ultimately came down to the First Amendment and students’ right to not only free speech, but free assembly.”

SU Political Groups Unite Against Residence Hall Sign Ban
Derek Dengler, Thomas Tang, and Alexander Stone | The Quill | October 29, 2020

In a public letter, student leaders of political clubs at Susquehanna University respond to an instruction from administrators to remove all political signage from publicly viewable areas of student residences. “While it is perfectly clear that SU has full discretion in the policy to request removal of any outdoor decorations, having political decorations inside has no such limitations in the student handbook…. As the presidents of the SU Democrat’s Club, SU Republican’s Club, and Young Americans For Liberty, we cannot and will not accept such unjustifiable limitations on our rights to free speech. We stand united past the political divide to challenge and urge the administration to swiftly change its decision.”

Academic Freedom Questions Arise on Campus Over COVID-19 Strategy Conflicts
Kate Chesley | Stanford News | October 30, 2020

At an October 22 Faculty Senate meeting, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne defended Scott Atlas, a senior fellow at Stanford think tank the Hoover Institution and special advisor to President Donald Trump for the coronavirus, after 98 Stanford physicians published an open letter arguing they have “both a moral and an ethical responsibility to call attention to [Atlas’] falsehoods and misrepresentations of science.” Tessier-Lavigne cited the university’s Statement on Academic Freedom, stating that the “function of the university would be seriously eroded if we were to publicly take sides either to disavow or to support the specific positions of a faculty member engaged in such a debate.” On November 16, Stanford issued a statement that “Dr. Atlas has expressed views that are inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic. Dr. Atlas’s statements reflect his personal views, not those of the Hoover Institution or the university.”

Impeachment of ASLMU Senator Overturned
Sofia Hathorn and Kennedi Hewitt | The Los Angeles Loyolan | November 4, 2020

In a unanimous decision, Loyola Marymount University’s student Judicial Board overturned the impeachment of Stephanie Martinez, a self-described Latina conservative who served as student government senator for diversity and inclusion. Martinez was impeached by the Student Senate last month after it became public that she started a Students for Trump Instagram page, has used the phrase “illegal immigrants” in her tweets, and allegedly retweeted a post about not wanting children to learn the “LGBT curriculum.” Instead of impeachment, the Judicial Board chose to impose a series of sanctions on Martinez, including a public letter of apology and meetings with the director of LGBTQ+ student services and the director of Chicano/Latino student services.

Macalester President Offers to Pay Bail, Fines for Student Protesters
Emma Whitford | Inside Higher Ed | November 9, 2020

“Suzanne Rivera, president of the private liberal arts college in St. Paul, first said in June that the college would help pay bail or reimburse students who incurred fines after they were arrested at peaceful protests” and recently reupped her offer by tweeting, “Any currently enrolled student who participates in civil disobedience and needs help with bail or a fine they cannot afford can seek reimbursement by emailing me.” In a further statement, she asserted, “The free exchange of ideas—even when done inconveniently—is one of the cornerstones of a liberal arts education. I would defend free speech for our conservative students as vigorously as for our liberal students.”

Virginia Professor Resigns After Anti-Biden Tweet
Justine Coleman | The Hill | November 16, 2020

A Virginia Wesleyan University professor has apologized and resigned after posting on Facebook that “If you were ignorant, anti-American, and anti-Christian enough to vote for Biden, I really don’t want to be your social friend on social media.” His resignation from the faculty comes a week after he resigned as dean of the college’s Global Campus over those same tweets, which had been retweeted by President Donald Trump. The college stated “These views and opinions are expressly the individual’s own,” and that “Civic engagement and religious freedom are at the core of the University’s values, and we remain an inclusive and caring community that empowers meaningful relationships through listening, understanding, and communication.”

Op-eds and Thoughts Pieces

Amidst FIRE’s Record-Breaking Summer, Demands to Terminate Faculty Went Mainstream
Peter Bonilla | Foundation for Individual Rights in Education | October 13, 2020

“The charged national atmosphere following George Floyd’s killing significantly contributed to the busiest summer FIRE has ever seen in terms of case inquiries and submissions… The last few months have been remarkable in terms of the sheer volume of demands to investigate and sanction speech on campus, faculty speech included.” The author catalogs incidents from the last few months when faculty felt the fallout from attending a “Back-the-Blue” rally, publishing blog posts critical of Black Lives Matter, and taking to social media to criticize white police officers.

Statement from the NYU-AAUP on Zoom Censorship Today
NYU-AAUP Executive Committee | Academe Blog | October 23, 2020

Zoom canceled a webinar hosted by the New York University chapter of the American Association of University Professors. The event was meant to discuss Zoom’s cancellation of a webinar to have been hosted in September by San Fransisco State University faculty members with Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine member Leila Khaled. The NYU chapter writes that “it is an act of sick comedy to censor an event about censorship. …If Zoom will not walk back its policy of canceling webinars featuring Palestinian speech and advocacy, college presidents should break their agreements with the company.”

They Voted for Trump as Freshmen. Did College Change Their Minds?
Vimal Patel | The Chronicle of Higher Education | October 27, 2020

The author sought to learn whether college experiences changed the minds of students who voted for President Donald Trump in 2016 by requesting interviews with 15 students, of whom four agreed to answer questions. One student “thinks he might still be a Trump supporter had he not attended college. …‘I was in sort of a conservative bubble,’ he says. ‘College opened me up to different viewpoints. Not just different viewpoints, but the logic behind different viewpoints.’” Another reported that “outside of the classroom, supporting Trump exacted a social penalty” and supported his candidacy in 2020.