Bell Tolls for Suzie Williams (not the Liberty Bell); Lawless President to Leave St. Cloud

Interim President Suzie Williams of Saint Cloud State University, Minnesota, well known to readers of FIRE’s website, will be stepping down at the end of this academic year. Her disregard for the First Amendment, due process, and free speech was egregious even by the sad standards of current American academic life. She had been on the publicly announced short list of candidates for the chancellorship of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, but she was not offered the position. At a public forum at River Falls on February 16, 2000, she had announced that she would make certain that the university was “politically savvy.” If her tenure at Saint Cloud State University is any indication, she would have made certain only that the university was politically correct.

This past year, after charges of sexism were made against several male professors, President Williams split the Department of Applied Psychology at Saint Cloud into two programs. The professors were completely exonerated, and they enjoyed the overwhelming support of both male and female students in the program, a large number of whom wrote to President Williams pleading for the continuation of the program that they had entered in good faith. Indeed, an independent investigation commissioned by the office of the chancellor of the Minnesota State College and University system, conducted by Anne Weyandt, Deputy to the Chancellor and Chief of Staff, concluded that it was President Williams who had discriminated against the male professors on the grounds of their race (but Chancellor Morrie Anderson refused to accept the report).

On May 17, 2000, in an article on the change of leadership at Saint Cloud, the St. Cloud Times referred at length to the case of a student at the University, Chris Monson, who had been quoted in the campus newspaper as arguing that prohibiting certain vendors from campus would be as illegal at a state university as banning blacks from campus. Without holding a hearing, President Williams absurdly and repressively sent an e-mail to the entire campus on December 13, 1999, condemning the student for racist remarks and promising “to take whatever action is necessary to stem racial insults such as this.” The St. Cloud Times discussed FIRE’s involvement in the case, noting that it had led to national publicity and widespread media coverage.

FIRE had reported at the time of the incident that President Williams had directed the student to undergo mandatory sensitivity training. In the May 17 article, Williams told the Times that “nowhere in the e-mail does it say I recommended sensitivity training.” In fact, on December 14, President Williams had sent a second e-mail on the affair to the entire campus, noting that the student would attend “multicultural sensitivity training conducted by the Multicultural Student Services.” Disingenuousness, like hypocrisy, is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

FIRE will continue to monitor events at Saint Cloud State University closely, and we hope that the incoming president, Roy H. Saigo, will rewrite the school’s sorry record on liberty, individual rights, and due process.

Schools: Saint Cloud State University Cases: Saint Cloud State University: Thought Reform and Suppression of Free Speech