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Roger Williams Witchhunt By: Jason Mattera
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, October 21, 2003


Roger Williams University in Rhode Island has shut down the campus' only conservative/Republican publication because it dared to voice a conservative argument against what it considered to be the university's anti-religious policies. Below, FrontPage Magazine has included the article "Roger Williams Witchhunt,"an account of the events as they unfolded, written by RWU student and the editor of the publication in question Jason Mattera. We have also posted the Students for Academic Freedom press release. Following that, we show you the letter Dr. Roy J. Nirschel, president of RWU, wrote voicing his personal condemnation of the conservative publication as "pornographic in nature, puerile (and) mean spirited." Sara Russo of SAF wrote him a letter in response, appended immediately afterward. Finally, we provide a link to the publication itself, so you can read it and judge its contents  for yourself. We hope this exposure will give RWU -- and other universities around the country -- reason to think twice before imposing ideological uniformity on campus. - The Editors.

ROGER WILLIAMS WITCHHUNT

American universities shun intellectual diversity. Or, at least, that’s the grim conclusion conservatives at one Rhode Island campus have been reaching in recent weeks. At Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, members of the school’s chapter of College Republicans have been physically threatened, accused of hate speech, and have stood by as the university forcibly shut down its only conservative publication and cut off funding to the school’s only Republican organization. The Hawk’s Eye, which I edit, has been judged the second-best College Republican newspaper in the country, according to the College Republican National Committee. It is now a victim of a university administration’s intolerance. The crime we committed? Speaking out in public against university policies we consider to be anti-religious and intolerant.

The story begins in August, when the university sponsored two speakers under the ostensible banner of diversity. As things turned out, the speakers, Judy Shepard, mother of slain homosexual Mathew Shepard, and James Dale, a gay man kicked out of the Boy Scouts, were interested in anything but diversity. Instead, the speakers took the occasion to denounce organized religion and cast aspersion upon President Bush’s demonstrable commitment to civil rights.

“Churches are damaging us as a society,” Shepard explained in a mandatory speech to freshmen during Welcome Week. “They don’t allow us to grow,” she continued. Students expecting a talk focusing exclusively on the evils of homophobia—what we would expect from Shepard—were unpleasantly surprised by Shepard’s tirade against churches.

Did the university knowingly require freshmen to undergo a seminar in anti-religious sentiment? Why did it subject freshmen to such views in a forum with clear university endorsement? Does the university takes sectarian positions on organized religion? These are the questions thoughtful students have posed to the university community. But the university did not answer them, and at the very least appeared content to allow impressionable newcomers to conclude that the university endorses such positions.

The second of the two speakers, James Dale, the gay man who was kicked out of the Boy Scouts, was just as inflammatory as Judy Shepard. He used the podium to argue that President Bush “is not an advocate of civil rights” because he doesn’t support gay marriage. Dale said that when he was a Boy Scout “nobody knew about its discrimination policy. Nobody knew [the Boy Scouts] was anti-gay.”

Roger Williams’s conservative students, sensing some views going unrepresented, pointed out that according to senate regulations, student organizations—including the ones that organized the Shepard and Dale events—are supposed to represent views across the spectrum. Indeed, the student senate’s rules of financial sponsorship are specifically designed to combat partisan agendas from non-partisan organizations. Section V, article I of the student senate bylaws defines an organization “as a group that targets the general campus population in its scope of activities and programs.” Clubs, including my own College Republicans, can be ideologically partisan. But the organizations in question—The Campus Entertainment Network, the Inter Residence Hall Association, and the Department of Campus Programs—were the groups who sponsored Shepard and Dale and paid their way to campus. Together, they have a combined budget of over $715,000. As anyone can judge by the names of these groups, clear university endorsement is implied when a “Department of Campus Programs” or some such official-sounding entity sponsors an event.

I decided it was time to confront this ideological programming and the system that fosters it.  As a student senator in college government, founder of The Hawk’s Right Eye, the College Republicans’ periodical, and president of the Rhode Island Federation of College Republicans, I called upon College Republicans to take common-sense steps to promote intellectual diversity to defend traditional values that the university was marginalizing.

I co-sponsored a Student Senate bill—similar to David Horowitz’s Students For Academic Freedom Bill of Rights—that would require politically divisive lectures sponsored by well-funded, non-partisan organizations to represent views inclusive to liberal and conservative students alike. Basically, it would have required organizations to follow their charter and not become mascots for a particular agenda. In addition, I wrote articles in The Hawk’s Right Eye exposing the intolerance of militant homosexuals, explaining the bastardization of the word “diversity,” and contesting the claim that failure to affirm homosexual practices, due to moral or religious convictions, constitutes bigotry.  You can read The Hawk’s Right Eye at www.rwucr.com/hre.

The day after I introduced the Student Senate bill, I was fired from my job at the Department of Campus Programs.

I was suddenly accused of breaking and entering the programming office to flip through personnel and payroll files in order to see budget figures for the Department of Campus Programs. The charge was ludicrous, not least because these figures are a matter of public record which can be obtained openly by any member of the university, according to the President.

It got worse. The university administration proceeded to attack The Hawk’s Right Eye, the only conservative publication on campus. Three days after The Hawk’s Right Eye was distributed, RWU’s president Roy J. Nirschel sent an e-mail letter to the entire student body accusing our paper of flirting with racism and “cross[ing] seriously over the lines of propriety.”  “The university will not condone publications that create a hostile environment for our students and community,” Nirschel wrote. The university is “too busy for hate,” he told the student body. We have since offered $25 to the first reader to find racist rhetoric in The Hawk’s Right Eye; no one to date has been able to do so.

Then came the death-blow. The administration cut off all funding to The Hawk’s Right Eye. This act is totally in violation of the Roger Williams University student handbook which says, “Roger Williams does not discriminate on the basis of…political affiliation.” According to RWU, “such discrimination is prohibited by Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972.”

The administration did so abruptly and in the middle of a semester, in contradiction of standard procedures which require funding decisions to go through the student senate.

The senate bill was portrayed as an anti-gay bill that would welcome the KKK and encourage gay lynchings on campus. “In my classes and from my peers, all I heard was the same hyperbole surrounding the senate bill—that it was a College Republican ploy which would welcome a KKK rally in the parking lot,” said former student senator Elysia Rodriquez.

The senate bill called for basic intellectual diversity only, but situated as it was in a climate of uproar and hysteria, it was not ratified.  Next, after the uproar, RWU provost Edward Kavanagh asked CR advisor Professor June Speakman to step down from her role as the club’s faculty sponsor. It was not clear to us what Speakman had done wrong. According to Kavanagh, the College Republicans do not accurately represent the Republican Party, and therefore need a different adviser who would correct their folly.

Kavanagh, thinking it fitting to tell a tenured faculty advisor how she should conduct herself and how she should manage her own voluntary university service, tried to solve the controversy with a heavy-handed approach. We thank her publicly and often for her support, but we are only students, and the provost is second in command.  If Speakman does resign, our club will become an unofficial campus organization with a severely limited means of expression.  Campus demonstrations, statewide activism, lectures, our Internet forum, and our periodical will all come to an end.  The “politically correct” liberal view will effectively be the only one seen or heard on campus.

Director of Student Affairs Richard Stegman has convinced liberal student senators to propose my impeachment from the student senate finance committee owing to unsubstantiated charges of “dereliction of duty” and “gross negligence.” The university administration has already cut off all funding to The Hawk’s Right Eye, while ignoring standard protocol.  Stegman claims to support intellectual diversity and has said that he would never micro-manage any organization or club sanctioned by the student senate.  By halting these funds for CR and calling for my impeachment, he has shown himself to be a blatant hypocrite. 

If you are a liberal, there are no stipulations on the campus of Roger Williams University, but if you are a conservative, there are many.  As David Horowitz says, the rule of the Left is “tolerance for me and not for thee.” Cowards shun debate and rely on turbid epithets to compensate for their political and intellectual vacuity.  The administration at RWU craves leftist uniformity and plans to silence discordant views that are not in lockstep with their oppressive, narrow-minded agenda.  If you agree that this progression of events at RWU is symptomatic of a dangerous national trend, we encourage you to speak your mind.

E-mail or call the intolerant establishment at RWU to voice your disapproval:

President Nirschel: rnirschel@rwu.edu, (401) 254–3201

Provost Kavanagh: ekavanagh@rwu.edu, (401) 254–3890

E-mail or call Professor June Speakman to praise her commitment to intellectual diversity:

jspeakman@rwu.edu, (401) 254–3346

To read president Nirschel’s all-student e-mail and the Hawk’s Right Eye article used to prompt his “straw man” response, visit www.rwucr.com.

Jedediah Jones, a sophomore at Roger Williams University majoring in political science and a frequent writer for The Hawk’s Right Eye, contributed to this article.

Jason Mattera, an economics fellow at the National Journalism Center, was named Best College Republican State Chairman in 2003 and is a junior at Roger Williams University. 

 

THE STUDENTS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM PRESS RELEASE ON RWU:

Students for Academic Freedom Protests Roger Williams University’s Suppression of Free Speech

Students for Academic Freedom issued a call today for Roger Williams University to cease their suppression of free speech on campus. The president and administration of the school froze the funding of a conservative student publication, The Hawk’s Right Eye, and publicly castigated the paper’s editors for their viewpoints. The newspaper had printed articles criticizing the lack of diversity of opinion among university-sponsored speakers this fall.

In an email sent to the entire campus, University President Roy J. Nirschel stated that The Hawk’s Right Eye had “crossed seriously over the lines of propriety and respect” and accused the editors of having “flirted with racist and anti-Islamic rhetoric.”

Despite claiming to support the free speech rights of campus groups, the administration froze $2700 in funding granted to the Hawk’s Right Eye to publish nine issues, effectively silencing them. The administration together with the student senate will now decide whether the paper should be permanently defunded.

“This is a direct assault on the right of students to express opinions and is a stain on the reputation of a university that bears the name of one of America’s most famous defenders of freedom of conscience,” said Sara Russo, the National Campus Director of Students for Academic Freedom. "The charges brought against these student journalists are baseless and President Nirschel’s intervention in a dispute over controversial public issues violates the posture of organizational neutrality that an institution of higher learning ought to maintain.”

Students at Roger Williams are currently in the process of registering an official chapter of Students for Academic Freedom which will defend the free speech rights of the editors of The Hawk's Right Eye and will urge the administration to adopt an Academic Bill of Rights.

Students for Academic Freedom is a new national initiative dedicated to restoring academic diversity and educational values to America’s institutions of higher learning. The organization recommends that colleges and universities adopt an Academic Bill of Rights to ensure that these principles are respected. The Academic Bill of Rights is available on the organization’s website.
“An environment conducive to the civil exchange of ideas being an essential component of a free university, the obstruction of invited campus speakers, destruction of campus literature or other effort to obstruct this exchange will not be tolerated,” states one clause in the Academic Bill of Rights which would have protected The Hawk’s Right Eye from attempts at censorship.

 

THE PRESIDENT'S LETTER:

Open Letter from President Nirschel

October 9, 2003

To: The University Community

From: Roy J. Nirschel, Ph.D.
President

Re: Free Expression, Civility and Mutual Respect

Roger Williams University is committed to intellectual inquiry and discourse. Among our core values is a celebration of the liberal arts, service, a global perspective and respect for the individual. Inherent within these core values is the affirmation of free expression as well as civility and mutual respect.

In recent days, a publication of a student-funded organization has crossed seriously over the lines of propriety and respect. In the past, this organization has flirted with racist and anti-Islamic rhetoric. The most recent issue of their publication, the Hawks Right Eye, is pornographic in nature, puerile, mean spirited and stereotypes gay individuals as child molesters, criminals or deviants. The views expressed therein do not represent the viewpoint of the Republican Party or most individual members of the party.

While we affirm the right of campus organizations to hold different points of view and to disagree, the university will not condone publications that create a hostile environment for our students and community.

Roger Williams continues to believe in respect for diversity of opinion and a civil exchange of views as well as respect for individuals regardless of their beliefs, backgrounds, or orientation. As an institution whose namesake preached, for his time, inclusiveness and respect for human dignity, we are a university too busy for hate.

You can visit the website of the RWCR's at http://www.rwucr.com and you can email President Roy Nirschel at rnirschel@rwu.edu

 

STUDENTS FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM'S RESPONSE

Dear President Nirschel:

 

I am the national campus director of Students for Academic Freedom, an organization with individual chapters on 90 campuses nationwide. I write to protest the attack by the Roger Williams administration on the free speech rights of the editors of the Hawk’s Right Eye and treatment by the university of students who have the temerity to express views that challenge university orthodoxy.

 

In an email sent to the entire campus, you stated that the Hawk’s Right Eye had “crossed seriously over the lines of propriety and respect” and accused the editors of having “flirted with racist and anti-Islamic rhetoric.” These are baseless and outrageous charges that have a chilling effect on the free speech rights of all students. Your intervention in a dispute over controversial public issues violates the posture of organizational neutrality that an institution of higher learning ought to maintain.

 

Despite claiming to support the free speech rights of campus groups, the administration has frozen $2700 in funding granted to the Hawk’s Right Eye to publish nine issues, effectively silencing them. The administration together with the student senate will now decide whether the paper should be permanently defunded. This is a direct assault on the right of students to express opinions and is a stain on the reputation of a university that bears the name of one of America’s most famous defenders of freedom of conscience.

 

Students for Academic Freedom will defend the free speech rights of the editors of the Hawk’s Right Eye and will work to bring this to the attention of as wide an audience as possible. Additional information is available on our website at www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org.

 

Sincerely,

Sara Russo, Sara@studentsforacademicfreedom.org

National Campus Director

Students for Academic Freedom

202-969-2467

You can read the original article here (in PDF format).




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