By Bethany Bowra at Campus Reform
Donna Shalala, former Department of Health and Human Services secretary and outgoing President of the University of Miami, tried more than once to deny young female students a chance to organize a conservative club on campus.
Shalala’s past attempts to silence conservative activists is resurfacing amidst her new appointment to head-up the Clinton Foundation,
According to reports, the incident occurred during the 2002-03 academic year, during which Colleen Donovan, Andrea Kiser, Nathalia Gillot, and Sarah Canale founded a group called Advocates for Conservative Thought. In order to use university resources and facilities, the club had to be approved and registered with the Committee on Student Groups. However, the process did not occur as smoothly as they hoped it would.
The Committee on Student Groups denied the group approval three separate times—once in November 2002, again in December 2002, and again in January 2003. The Committee suggested that ACT would simply be a mirror of the College Republicans club that already existed on campus and adding another such club to the mix would be a poor use of university resources.
However, one of the group’s founders pointed out at the time that College Republicans endorse specific candidates and party policies; the club they sought to found would seek to sponsor lectures, distribute materials, and take part in “the exposition and promotion of conservative principles and ideas in society.” Indeed, some of ACT’s founders were Democrats who identified with many conservative beliefs.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) came out in support of ACT by sending several letters to Shalala and the university. FIRE argued that the group had every right under the university’s rules to organize, share their ideas, and stimulate civil discussion.
Thor Halvorssen, the then-chief executive officer of FIRE, said that Shalala’s failure to act and open the doors to recognition for ACT was a “scandal” that deserved a tremendous amount of attention.
A letter sent by FIRE to the university on April 7, 2003, garnered a response that indicated a change in policy was “under consideration.” However, when a definite response came a few weeks later, the situation received national media attention: ACT would not be recognized as a campus club, but could try again the next year to receive university approval.
Because of the pressure, Shalala finally caved and enacted a policy change to allow ACT to formally organize.
“The subject matter [of an organization] should not be subject to review. You cannot make a judgment on substance,” she said after the policy reversal.
Schools: University of Miami