We recently brought you the unfortunate story of Grand Valley State University (GVSU) student and Grand Valley Lanthorn student newspaper editor-in-chief Lizzy Balboa, who was beleaguered by campus administrators for publishing an editorial expressing concern that GVSU might be prioritizing donor appeasement over education, free speech rights, and academic freedom. Shockingly, administrators reportedly told Balboa that she was unworthy of her scholarship because she was “ungrateful,” and suggested that the Lanthorn retract its editorial and publish puff pieces expressing gratitude to donors.
FIRE has since been told that the administrator who called Balboa’s personal cell phone to dress her down for the editorial was none other than GVSU President Thomas Haas. To be clear, it is unacceptable forany campus administrator to engage in such reprehensible behavior. But the fact that this chilling conduct was allegedly carried out in part by a public university’s top executive—who speaks for the institution itself—is truly remarkable. Such grossly inappropriate actions communicate to the GVSU community and observers nationwide that free speech, critical thinking, and open debate have no home at the university.
Many have rallied to the defense of Balboa and the Lanthorn. In a letter to the editor, GVSU professor Paul Murphy pointed out the irony that we noted: the administrators’ actions thoroughly vindicated the concerns expressed by the editorial. Murphy also (rightly) took the administrators to task for assuming that donor relations would be harmed by the Lanthorn’s editorial:
I think Vice Presidents Loth and McLogan may overestimate our donors’ need for expressions of fealty from the students who benefit from their public-spirited contributions and underestimate our donors’ appreciation of the open, robust, and critical debate characteristic of academic campuses.
In fact, it appears that these administrators’ actions themselves may have done more to harm donor relationships than the editorial they decried. One commenter on Balboa’s editorial concerning the administrators’ action reported:
Oddly enough — or not — I just got finished having an online conversation with a donor who has set up an endowed scholarship — and who is at this very minute pondering pulling it because of the way you were treated and by the way these so-called liberal arts leaders have responded.
Let that serve as a warning to GVSU administrators: An administration that forsakes these most crucial tenets of higher education in the name of protecting donors’ sensibilities may well find itself with fewer of those donors as a result. President Haas and his administration ought to focus on repairing the damage they have done to free speech and critical thinking on campus, and assure the campus community and donors alike that the university will respect student and faculty rights in the future.