Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University in what university administrators there described as an event in the best American traditions of free speech. Earlier this week, however, a Columbus (Ohio) State Community College administrator expressly denied a request from student leaders to post a flier promoting Islamofascism Awareness Week amid what student leaders of the school’s chapter of the Terrorism Awareness Project say is a growing atmosphere of censorship and intimidation by college officials. The contrast between an Iranian dictator given an open forum at one of our country’s premiere academic institutions and students at a public college denied access to their own campus couldn’t be more stark.
The Columbus State administrator in question, Timeka Rashid, Director of Student Activities and Athletics, emailed Josiah Lanning, president of the Columbus State Terrorism Awareness Project chapter, on Tuesday informing him that she was not allowing the student group to post a promotional flier because of her supposed concerns with their topic:
Josiah, given this picture and our previous conversations I hope you can understand my concern, thus I am not approving this flier to be hung…Again based on your topic, our campus climate and culture and recent concerns brought to the President, I feel this event and it’s promotion needs careful consideration.
At issue is a promotional flier for campus events related to Islamofascism Awareness Week to be held at Columbus State and nearby Ohio State University later this month.
Rashid also strictly warned Lanning in another email last Friday not to discuss their interactions with anyone without prior approval from college officials:
Again I would caution you to not contact anyone on this without any word from administrators here.
On Tuesday, Rashid refused to comment for this story and referred all further inquires to Janet Rogers, Dean of Student Life, and William Kopp, the school’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement.
Student leaders told me that they are concerned about what appears to be hostility from some members of the college administration due solely to their group’s anti-terror message after repeated incidents of administrative censorship and bureaucratic obstruction of their events. “Columbus State is clearly engaging in a double standard when it comes to our material,” said Lanning. “There has been no want of graphic anti-war and anti-Bush administration material on campus, and yet it seems we are constantly being singled out only because of the content of our speech.”
This is not the first time that Columbus State administrators have prevented anti-terror and human rights student activists from expressing their message. Last April, Jacob Laskin described how the school’s administration tried to prevent a screening of the documentary, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West, as part of last year’s national Islamo-Fascism Awareness Day, where several participating student organizations were censored at universities and colleges across the county:
Josiah Lanning, a student at Ohio’s Columbus State Community College, offered one such story. Lanning recounted that his attempt to show the Obsession was nearly frustrated by the head of his school’s student activities center, which is in charge of such events. Even though he took pains to fill out the proper paperwork for the event, the center repeatedly intervened. First, Lanning was admonished for his proposed flyer for the event, which had the indelicacy to point out that terrorist groups like Hezbollah committed, well, terrorism. Forced to replace the flyers, Lanning was next told to suspend the film until further notice due, incongruously, to this week’s massacre at Virginia Tech.
One professor, meanwhile, wrote Lanning an abusive email, berating him for showing a film that, as she saw it, creates “barriers to acceptance of any Muslim person,” and judging his motives “suspect” because of the event's connection to David Horowitz. (“David Horowitz is insulting to me and to my colleagues,” the professor pompously informed him.) Only after Lanning appealed to the dean of students at the college was he at last allowed to proceed with the showing.
But if school administrators and faculty gave him a hard time, the students were much more receptive. Especially memorable, Lanning said, was a Muslim student from Somalia who approached him after watching the film. Bracing himself for an argument, Lanning found himself pleasantly surprised. “He said he was glad to see that the movie differentiates between radical Islamists and peace-loving Muslims, and he said he was a supporter of the war on terror,” Lanning recalled. Even the school’s chapter of the College Democrats found little to quarrel with about the film, Lanning said. (“Celebrating Islamo-Fascism Awareness Day”, April 20, 2007)
The faculty member referred to by Laskin who contacted Lanning was Ingrid Emch of Columbus State’s Communication Skills Department.
Another concern that the student leaders of the Terrorism Awareness Project said they have is that pressure from the administration has prevented the group from finding a faculty advisor, which the school requires for the group to book events in rooms that accommodate electronic media to screen films and give presentations.
One untenured Columbus State faculty member who spoke to me on condition of anonymity (for fear of retaliation) said that the hostile atmosphere at the school and the possible repercussions, including the administration not renewing their contract, was the only reason that they were unwilling to serve as the Terrorism Awareness Project faculty advisor:
“It is disheartening to me to not be able to openly help these kids, because they are among the most well-meaning students I’ve encountered here at Columbus State,” they said. “But I have little doubt that if I signed on as their faculty advisor, I would be without a job next term and the students would have to find a new advisor under more difficult circumstances. You would think that an educational institution that claims to value diversity of opinion wouldn’t be so quick to brazenly engage in censorship of students’ speech, but here at Columbus State that is the rule, not the exception.”
With several such incidents of censorship and acts of intimidation by faculty and administrators within the past year, the free speech rights of the Columbus State Community College students involved and elimination of the atmosphere of threats and intimidation that prevents the group from having a forum on campus may only be secured after intervention by Department of Justice authorities.
Of particular concern about this most recent act of censorship of the group’s materials is that apparently Rashid is acting on the basis of her own religious convictions – essentially using her official position with the taxpayer-supported public institution to suppress speech she personally deems offensive – a possible violation of federal civil rights law. What impact the public exposure of the Columbus State administration’s censorship campaign against the Terrorism Awareness Project student group remains to be seen.
Stay tuned for further details on this developing story.