Bucknell to Student Conservatives, Liberty: Drop Dead

By on June 11, 2009

Wow, that was fast!

Today’s press release about Bucknell’s lamentable ongoing crusade to squelch the expression of the students of the Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC) has shaken a formal response loose in record timeprobably less than two hours. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the university did even two minutes’ worth of thinking about the evidence and our arguments, despite the fact that it has been sitting on FIRE’s letter since May 21. In fact, I can’t even figure out how Bucknell General Counsel Wayne A. Bromfield could sit down, read our letter, and produce a presumably straight-faced response that simply ignores the reality of what Bucknell administrators did.

For instance, Bromfield says, "In the first instance – distribution of handbills at the primary entrance to the cafeteria for students – all organizations are required to register and be approved for use of that campus space." That’s funny, since the policy Bucknell administrator Judith Mickanis cited when she "busted" the BUCC students for passing out their "Obama stimulus dollars" was the policy on Sales and Solicitation, which applies to "promotions, contests, sales to and solicitation of students and other members of the University community." She made no mention of the location of the protest being the problem, exposing Bromfield’s post facto justification for the flimsy excuse it is.

At any rate, the BUCC wasn’t "soliciting" anything. They were not selling anything, having a contest, or trying to raise money. They were protesting Obama’s stimulus plan by distributing handbills that protested government policy. This is the stuff of Thomas Paine, not Amwaywhich is probably why Bucknell’s written policy doesn’t prohibit it. And if what the BUCC was doing was so clearly prohibited by Bucknell’s rules, why didn’t administrators cite a relevant rule in the first place?

Bromfield’s concern about "traffic flow" and "safety" is also hard to swallow. Here’s a map and picture of the Elaine Langone Center, outside of which the BUCC chose to distribute its handbills. I am pretty sure that having a few people, or even a bunch of people, distributing handbills around there would not cause a problem. The supposed safety concern about distributing handbills is even less credible. In our free society, everyone from Jehovah’s Witnesses, to environmental activists, to local politicians frequently walk right onto someone’s private property, knock on their doors, and hand them flyers or try to talk to them about issueseven in not-so-safe neighborhoods. To imagine that some sort of elaborate security measures are required to ensure that students at an expensive private university in a small-town setting don’t come to harm while handing out pamphlets is really a stretch.

Bucknell is also arguing that an affirmative action bake sale must be bannedeven if the prices are merely suggestionsbecause of its commitment to nondiscrimination. This argument is bogus for a number of reasons, the main one being that it is blazingly obvious that the point of the protest is not to make money by unfairly exploiting white people (who are supposed to pay the higher prices), but to bring attention in a particularly visceral way to what the protest organizers see as unfair racial discrimination in admissions and employment. FIRE has won several cases where schools have begrudgingly accepted that such sales are acceptable forms of protest that do not run afoul of antidiscrimination laws or policies. It is especially deceitful for Bromfield to make this argument in this case since FIRE has a video clearly showing that antidiscrimination concerns were not the reason Bucknell stopped the sale. On the video, Associate Dean Gerald Commerford is recorded saying that the mismatch between the prices listed on the students’ sign and those listed on their permit (the students were charging half of what they originally said they would charge for donuts) gave him the "opportunity" to shut down the sale, and that if they wanted to have it again they would be allowed to; they would just have to apply for a new permit.

I can’t believe I actually have to say this in the America of 2009, but if you have a commercial enterprise on campus that is profiting by treating different races unequally, you don’t have the opportunity to shut it downyou have a moral and legal obligation to shut it down. I don’t have the highest opinion of Associate Dean Commerford’s commitment to liberty, but I have to believe that if he caught someone running a segregated lunch counter on campus he wouldn’t just show up mumbling about having the "opportunity" to shut it down and telling the employees that they could apply to reopen their Jim Crow deli next week. The fact that Commerford didn’t use a "discrimination" rationale when he shut down the sale suggests that he understood that an affirmative action bake sale is, in fact, a satirical form of protest.

It’s pretty obvious that in this letter General Counsel Bromfield is just trying to throw out some post hoc justifications for Bucknell’s actions in order to try to throw FIRE and the press off the scent. We’re too smart for this, and so are you. To some extent, I feel for Bromfield, as he’s clearly been ordered by someone to defend Bucknell’s indefensible actions. But that doesn’t make it right. Is Bucknell really so committed to its institutional hostility to BUCC’s views that it’s willing to try to run a third-rate cover up? So far, signs point to yes. Bucknell students, faculty, and alumni deserve better, and we hope that President Brian Mitchell will wake up to this fact sooner rather than later and provide a real response to the real facts and issues in the case.

Schools: Bucknell University