While most universities nominally encourage students’ political activism, several universities have undermined students’ attempts to voice their political opinions in the weeks leading up to the midterm elections.
Lafayette College President Daniel Weiss cancelled a scheduled visit to campus by Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann, who was invited to speak on campus by the College Republicans. To his credit, Weiss admitted his mistake in an apology to the campus community. As Weiss stated that he plans to draft policies to ensure that Lafayette does not make the same mistake in the future, FIRE sent him a letter yesterday containing suggested guidelines for regulating partisan speech on campus.
At Bellevue Community College (BCC) in Washington state, some professors required students to attend a rally for Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, while other professors cancelled class to allow students to attend. When five students arrived at the rally wearing T-shirts supporting Cantwell’s Republican rival, Mike McGavick, they were denied access to the rally by Cantwell staffers and by BCC administrators. FIRE joins the Institute for Justice (IJ) and the ACLU in protesting BCC’s attempt at forced association. FIRE and IJ sent BCC a joint letter of concern on Friday.
FIRE is currently investigating a reported incident at Pennsylvania State University, where an administrator interrupted a student’s protest of a rally supporting Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. The student stood in the Hetzel Union Building (HUB), Penn State’s student union, holding a sign that read “Like your tuition???? Thank Rendell.” The student reports that Senior Director of Unions and Student Activities Stanley Latta told him to vacate the area near the entrance to the rally, but invited students wielding pro-Rendell signs to enter the rally. FIRE is currently investigating this incident of possible viewpoint discrimination.
Election campaigns present a perfect opportunity for universities to prove themselves to be models for democratic discourse. For many students, the current campaign will represent the first time they are able to vote and to speak out about their beliefs. It is the university’s job to ensure that their voices can be heard.