I am writing on behalf of the St. Thomas Standard and the student writers. I am writing with regard to St. Thomas' actions with regard to bringing our speaker, Star Parker to speak on campus on April 21, 2008. My concerns are threefold as elaborated here: (1) the decision to bar Star Parker from campus as funded in part by the Young America's Foundation (YAF); (2) the manner in which this decision was made; (3) the reasons for which this decision was made. Furthermore, we are concerned about the manner in which St. Thomas co-opted our speaker.
The University's Reasons: Inconsistent and in violation of St. Thomas' own codes
Why is the University of St. Thomas opposed to students using speakers and funding from the Young America's Foundation? The only reasons that Ms. Jane Canney, Vice President of Student Affairs, could provide my sister Amie and me with on April 4, 2008 was that she did not feel comfortable with the YAF due to the Ann Coulter event sponsored by the YAF in April, 2005.
I asked Ms. Canney why she was suddenly making this decision, considering the fact that a student group, the St. Thomas College Republicans, brought Michelle Malkin to speak at St. Thomas using the Young America's Foundation on April 4, 2006, nearly a year after the Ann Coulter event. When faced with this inconsistency, Ms. Canney looked to Ms. Cahill, Director of Campus Life, who stated that she has "no record of Michelle Malkin speaking at St. Thomas." Ms. Canney drilled me, asking for the date that Malkin came to campus. I didn't have the date at the time of the meeting, but I knew she had come to campus.
Later, I did a search for "Michelle Malkin" on St. Thomas' website, and sure enough, the St. Thomas College Republican's list of past events came up with all the details on the Malkin speech. There are even several photos on St. Thomas' website showing Malkin speaking to students in the John Roach Center Auditorium and signing books at St. Thomas on April 4, 2006. In these photos, the sponsorship of the YAF was featured prominently on the podium as Malkin spoke.
Consistency is an important attribute when leading a college campus. The leaders and decision makers on any campus need to consistently treat all students with justice. They ought to consistently provide opportunities for a wide range of voices to be heard. St. Thomas' Vice President of Student Affairs, Ms. Canney, and the department she oversees, Campus Life, are inconsistent when making decisions. Apparently Ms. Canney does not feel constrained by the policies and processes. Ms. Canney interjected her own personal biases into the process when she told Amie and me that, "I was there (at the Ann Coulter event) and I never, ever, want something like that to happen again and nothing will ever happen again like that while I'm here." Obviously, Star Parker is not Ann Coulter.
Can the university provide the public with any concrete statements made by Ann Coulter that clearly "vulgarized" our campus, as Father Dease has proclaimed, although he did not attend her speech? Furthermore, while Ann was respectful and enlightening when she spoke at St. Thomas, The Young America's Foundation offers nearly ninety big-name conservative speakers other than Ann Coulter.
YAF is founded on the principles of former President Ronald Reagan, who praised the YAF, stating: "Young America's Foundation programs offer invaluable assistance to young men and women searching for the encouragement and understanding necessary to reinforce the values of a free society and individual responsibility. As young conservatives, you have a very special task before you - that of developing the political awareness of your fellow students." The YAF is a wonderful vehicle for St. Thomas to provide critical-thinking opportunities for its students, and increase its own pool of funds available for speakers.
So, if St. Thomas is open to diverse viewpoints and diverse groups, as it states in its own speakers policy, how can it put a ban on the Young America's Foundation?
The St. Thomas speakers policy states in part that, "It is a corollary that the university, in allowing such groups to use its facilities, is governed by fairness and equity toward various conflicting views and interests, being mindful of the needs for wider information on the part of students and the larger community. ... Another factor governing speakers on campus is our concern that a wide variety of issues and viewpoints be given expression. We take pride in the scope and quality of programs on campus during the past years. The value of freedom in the classroom is reflected in the campus forum, measuring the need to develop a critical mind against the appreciation of authority and competency in a given field. (emphasis added)"
The speakers policy continues: "Success in this area depends on the initiative, objectivity and earnestness of sponsoring groups, such as university clubs and department offices (emphasis added)." In violation of its own codes, the university essentially co-opted the Star Parker event from its own students in an effort to save face. We never asked St. Thomas to pay for or co-opt our speaking event, but merely to give our speaker a podium. This delay and reversal of decision demoralizes and confuses students and makes it impossible for them to effectively market and plan the event.
This ban on the YAF is clearly censorship by association. By banning the YAF, the Committee has made a blanket statement that essentially prevents high-profile conservative speakers from setting foot on campus. The cost for these speakers ranges from $1,500 to $30,000, and their presentations provide a point of view that is rarely found in the classroom setting. Why should students be limited to the contacts and funds that the university can provide and be barred from the enormous contacts and funding that the Young America's Foundation can offer students?
Realistically, what are the chances of a conservative speaker getting approved by the Student Life Committee, even if that speaker is willing to sign the university's amendments and addendums? Even if conservative speakers and students follow the university's own protocol, it doesn't seem like they can get approved through the Student Life Committee. Here's why: Ms. Canney is the Student Life Committee. She told my sister Amie and I in an April 4, 2008 meeting in her office that, "As long as I am a Vice President at the University of St. Thomas, the Young America's Foundation will not be allowed on campus."
Ms. Canney also told The Aquin on April 18, 2008 that, the YAF "has a process whereby they come into a campus and they do not sign our performer's agreement...therefore we would not have the opportunity to manage the event. We, as an institution, need to have that right to manage every event out of respect for everybody in the community."
Where is Ms. Canney getting her information to support her accusations against the YAF? In truth, the Student Life Committee, through Ms. Cahill and Ms. Canney, told my sister Amie and I (representatives of the St. Thomas Standard) that even if Star Parker were to sign the university's speakers amendment-which Ms. Canney, Ms. Cahill and Dr. Dienhart would not show to Amie and I even after we repeatedly asked for them both via email and in person-Star Parker would still not be able to come to campus, merely because she was associated with the Young America's Foundation. Jason Mattera, spokesperson for the Young America's Foundation, told The Aquin that "We're more than willing to sign addendums and work with the university...They just flat out said we're not welcome."
St. Thomas' April 15, 2008 press release does not clearly retract the statement made by St. Thomas Vice President of Student Affairs, Ms. Canney, when she met with my sister Amie and me on April 4, 2008 and declared: "As long as I am a Vice President at the University of St. Thomas, the YAF will never be allowed on campus."
To add to the confusion, the university has issued conflicting public statements regarding the YAF on campus. In Katherine Kersten's April 13, 2008 Star Tribune column, Did St. Thomas reject a group, a speaker - or range of ideas?, Doug Hennes, St. Thomas' spokesperson and Vice President for University and Government and University Relations states that:
"We're always willing to look at the possibility of collaborating with outside organizations, including YAF," he said. "If they approach us with another speaker in the future, we'd consider it, but the speaker must be willing to conform with all the things in our contract, including the behavior or 'subject matter' clause," which bars obscenities, racial slurs and other derogatory language."
Conservative students are confused because Doug Hennes' clarification in the Star Tribune on April 13 appears to open the door to cooperation with the YAF to some extent, while Ms. Canney's remarks in the April 18, 2008 edition of The Aquin clearly bar the YAF from campus.
The Proposed Solution
We, as conservative students, need some kind of written clarification on the university's speakers policies, especially with regard to those funded through outside conservative groups like the YAF.
The facts speak for themselves: There appears to be a structural problem at this university whereby conservative students are denied basic access to the university's speakers policy addendums, and whereby it refuses to give conservative groups, like the Young America's Foundation, an equal opportunity to comply with its own policies. The university's Student Life Committee seems to have calculatedly made it impossible for Star Parker to comply with its own speakers policies for over two months. Then, suddenly, a week prior to the event, on April 15, 2008, after extensive pressure and media exposure, the university backpedals and blames the YAF by saying they wouldn't sign the university's contract.
Ms. Canney has made two statements-the first is a bold and sweeping ban of the YAF, and her second statement, to The Aquin, publicly portrays the YAF in an inaccurate light. The university's April 15, 2008 press release does not retract either of her statements. Additionally, her statements conflict with Doug Hennes' statement to Katherine Kersten in the Star Tribune. We see this as a problem. How will the University address this problem?
Why does the university feel such an inexplicable need to properly "manage" events sponsored by conservative students? What does this mean? Who was monitoring the students or groups who brought Barbara Davis and Al Franken to St. Thomas in 2007 to ensure that they did not offend the St. Thomas community?
What kind of assurance do conservative students have of equal treatment in the future? Mr. Hennes, we need to know that the university will give equal treatment to conservative speakers and conservative student organizations. We need to know how we can go about working with St. Thomas to present campus speakers in the future without the delays, lack of cooperation, and hostility that accompanied our request to bring Star Parker on campus.
We were not asking for anything that oversteps St. Thomas' own stated convictions, mission, or vision. Star Parker was to speak at St. Thomas on how abortion has impacted our society since Roe v. Wade became national law in 1973. Discussion would include its impact on children, women, men, and our general society.
Star Parker's speech proposed speech was consistent with St. Thomas' own stated convictions of "Pursuit of Truth," "Faith and Reason," "Dignity" and "Diversity." Inexplicably, this student request to bring Star Parker to speak at St. Thomas has been denied, as funded in part by the YAF.
We are now asking the university for a written assurance that they will work with students and outside groups who will assist students in bringing high-profile, conservative speakers to campus. We believe that the university owes the student and alumni organizers of the Star Parker event both a written apology and a written assurance of equal treatment for conservatives in the future. We agree that this would amend the current situation and give us assurance that critical-thinking opportunities will be available at St. Thomas in the future.