Bucknell Alumnus Prefers Rival Lehigh on Free Speech

By October 20, 2009

Bucknell University alumnus Charles Mitchell has a strong piece in today’s Morning Call (Allentown, PA) regarding the administration’s wrongheaded censorship of political activity by the Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC). Because of Bucknell’s actions, the school is on FIRE’s Red Alert list, which warns students to think twice before applying for admission to Bucknell if they value free speech.

Mitchell, who also is a trustee of the Alliance for a Better Bucknell, concludes that despite a healthy rivalry between his alma mater and Lehigh University, Lehigh is the winner when it comes to free speech:

[I read in] Lehigh’s student newspaper that the university is putting on a tribute to the First Amendment, ”Lehigh Celebrates the First.” It included a big event Monday — complete with the planting of a ”liberty tree” that will ”reaffirm Lehigh’s dedication to free expression now and in the future.”

Why would this cause me to repent of my past snide comments about the home of the Mountain Hawks? Because while Lehigh has been saluting the First Amendment, my alma mater has been shutting down peaceful protests.

Indeed, FIRE has provided documentary evidence, including audio and video, demonstrating how exceptionally badly Bucknell has treated its own students. In March, Bucknell administrator Judith Mickanis prevented BUCC from distributing “Obama stimulus dollars,” which bore an image of President Obama on the front and read “Obama’s stimulus plan makes your money as worthless as monopoly money” on the back. The next month, Associate Dean of Students Gerald Commerford shut down BUCC’s “affirmative action bake sale” and told BUCC that it could never hold such an act of political protest in the future because it was “discriminatory.” Commerford even suggested that any attempt to debate about affirmative action on campus would fall under Bucknell’s control: “it needs to be debated in its proper forum, ok, and not on the public property of the campus.”

Mitchell adds that Bucknell’s error affects not only the BUCC students but the whole campus:

What Bucknell is doing sends precisely the wrong message to watching students who are, after all, learning how to agree and disagree in a free society. It is an utter embarrassment to all of us who love Bucknell, no matter what we think of current fiscal policy, affirmative action, or the wage gap.

That’s why I’m apologizing to Lehigh for my years of heckling. Much to my chagrin, Lehigh apparently has a much better understanding than my beloved alma mater of one of the most important values in our society: freedom of expression.

It’s enough to make me wonder whether I need to get another obnoxious T-shirt: ”Bucknell: Because only some people deserve freedom of speech.”

Lehigh is not perfect, either; FIRE rates Lehigh with a “red light” for having at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. But FIRE’s last public case at Lehigh dates back to 2001, when the Vice Provost of Student Affairs ordered the removal of the American flag from a campus bus, but later apologized.

Mitchell calls on Bucknell’s president, Brian C. Mitchell, to finally speak publicly on this issue after six months of silence: “It is long past time he ended this insanity and unequivocally stood up for freedom of speechfollowing, odd as it might seem, in the footsteps of our rival Lehigh.”

Thanks to Charles Mitchell for this excellent article. Go Lehigh!

Schools: Bucknell University Lehigh University