Controversy over New Independent Newspaper at Vassar Spikes Student Interest in Free Speech

December 10, 2010

At Vassar College recently, there was some controversy surrounding the Vassar Student Association Council’s (VSA’s) approval of the publication of The Vassar Chronicle, a new political journal created by the Moderate, Independent and Conservative Alliance (MICA).

Vassar’s student-run publication, The Miscellany News, has been covering both sides of the discussion surrounding the Chronicle‘s trial run. 

In opposition, Boyd Gardner strangely argued that the decision to approve the Chronicle was rash and miscalculated:

My opposition, and the opposition of several of my colleagues, was grounded in the fact that the decision to create a new publication, especially one that will address such emotional topics as national and local politics, should not be entered into lightly. This was no average fund application; it was a VSA endorsement of a student publication, which should not have been approved casually.

Gardner mistakes funding for an endorsement, which is certainly not the case. Letting a publication exist is a matter of tolerance, expressing a commitment to the marketplace of ideas but not to any particular idea that might be found in a publication. Indeed, the VSA certainly could not plausibly endorse the views of every publication and student organization it approves for recognition and funding.

In contrast to the opposition, Rachel Anspach asks why the VSA would even consider not allowing the paper to be funded and published:

I, personally, am very liberal and will probably disagree with many of the opinions in the paper, but I cannot believe that a place like Vassar, with our nondiscrimination policy, would consider not allowing a more conservative or moderate voice to be heard on campus.

While Anspach argues that VSA should allocate funds in a non-discriminatory manner, she also understands the wisdom of being able to discriminate within an organization so that an organization can express its distinct mission:

As a liberal, I think that it is unfair that conservative groups are being targeted for discrimination when it occurs within most campus clubs. A college education should be about discovering your opinions and learning how to defend them. Only hearing one point of view defeats the purpose of going to a liberal arts college.

On this point Anspach even cites Greg’s response to the CLS v. Martinez:

In response to the Court’s decision, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) argued that it is a constitutional right for college organizations to discriminate. FIRE’s President Greg Lukianoff explained that "discriminating on the basis of viewpoint is part and parcel of having a viewpoint-based group." No one was forcing students to join the Christian Legal Society. If someone did not agree with the mission statement they would be free to join a different club that better matched their ideals.

She then refutes arguments made against fair treatment of the Chronicle.

A member of the VSA Council, Main House President Boyd Gardner, who opposed The Chronicle’s approval said that a more conservative voice is not necessary because "the tense interaction of political ideologies at Vassar is caused by the antipathy that colors American political discourse, not by a lack of understanding," as he wrote in The Miscellany News two weeks ago. 

However, I do not think this is accurate. In my classes at Vassar, I seldom hear conservative opinions expressed and I have never had a conservative professor. The liberal Miscellany News does publish conservative pieces, but they are often met with scorn from our liberal campus.

Anspach also mentions a recent Gallup poll on political affiliation to bolster her claim about the need for conservative voices on campus.

According to a June 2009 Gallup Poll, 40 percent of Americans identify as conservative, 35 percent as moderate and 21 percent as liberal. This means that 75 percent of the "American political discourse" is barely being represented on campus, as most Vassar students, I assume, classify their views as liberal as opposed to moderate or conservative. A more moderate to conservative paper can only improve the quality and understanding of contemporary politics at Vassar.  

Chronicle Editor-in-Chief and MICA Vice-President Steve Keller credits MICA with opening him to sincere debate.

I found that MICA was one of the only forums where I was not judged for my moderate sensibilities. My political views haven’t changed since then. I’m still a moderate Democrat. I still believe government is the solution to most of our problems. But what I believe is also the solution to most of our problems is discussing them openly with cool heads and a will to compromise and reason. 

We hope the publication of the Chronicle creates a more open political forum on Vassar’s campus and encourages students to understand the importance of free speech as Anspach and Keller do. We at FIRE look forward to the first issue of the Chronicle.

Schools:  Vassar College