Students from campuses nationwide issue statement calling for free speech

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Gathering draws students from numerous campuses who endorse a statement of principles about the value of open expression in higher education.

Fordham Suspends Protesters' Access to Campus

Fordham University’s dean of students took action Friday against more than a dozen students who were involved in a scuffle outside the president’s office by suspending their access to campus for anything other than academic studies.

The decision led campus officials, including many faculty members, to pen an open letter to the president calling for the actions to be reversed.

The student protesters “forced their way” into the foyer of the president’s office Thursday afternoon, according to a university statement provided to Inside Higher Ed, requiring intervention from public safety officials. After multiple requests to leave the entrance to the office, the protesters relocated and resumed their demonstration outside.

The students were protesting "in support of faculty rights," according to the open letter.

No protesters were injured, according to the statement, but the public safety officials each sustained a cut to one of their arms.

Christopher Rodgers, the dean of students, decided on Friday to suspend at least 14 students’ access to campus until Sunday evening. Students living on campus were evicted from their dorm rooms, the open letter says, and those living off campus were prohibited from going on campus for anything besides class and other mandatory academic activities.

“The university condemns the actions of those protesters who used physical force to make their point, and in the process injured two members of the Fordham community,” the statement said. “These measures are not frequently used, but are routine for the level of disciplinary charges the students will likely face, and are part of the university’s long-established policy.”

The signees of the open letter to the president, Reverend Joseph McShane, disagree -- they called Rodgers's actions "unprecedented."

The letter says Rodgers took this action based on a line in the student handbook that says a student may be suspended if the dean of students “determines that the well-being including, but not limited to, the health and safety of the community or of the accused student is endangered by that student’s presence on campus.”

The authors of the open letter felt Rodgers’s actions reflected a misinterpretation of that line in the handbook.

“Whatever [the students'] behavior was in the context of the demonstration -- and again, that has yet to be adjudicated -- nothing in their actions indicates that they could pose a threat to anyone outside of such a context,” the letter said. “There is zero chance that they are going to walk around campus assaulting students and security guards. It is hard to see Dean Rodgers's decisions as anything other than vindictive.”

Those who signed the letter are urging Father McShane to intervene and overturn the dean of students’ actions immediately.

The university’s statement says that all students who were affected by this action had other places to stay over the weekend. “The university stresses that these are interim measures only: whether the students in question face sanctions will be determined through normal conduct proceedings in the coming week.”

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President Helped End Machete Attack on Students

A former Transylvania University student was subdued by the president of the university and the chief of the public safety department Friday after he attacked a female student with a machete and appeared ready to use the weapon on other students, The Kentucky Herald-Leader reported.

The attacker, 19-year-old Mitchell Adkins, entered an on-campus cafe with a bag full of weapons and begin singling out female students and asking them which political party they identified with, one witness told LEX 18.

When the first woman said she was a Republican, Adkins passed over her. The next woman, however, had a different answer, and Adkins stabbed her with his machete.

Gregg Muravchick, director of public safety at Transylvania, happened to be next door to the cafe when he received an alert that someone had pressed a panic alarm. When he approached the building, he saw the female student suffering from a stab wound.

Muravchick drew his handgun and told the attacker to drop his weapons.

President Seamus Carey, who also happened to be in the area when he heard students were in trouble, helped with the handcuffs while Muravchick restrained the attacker.

Other university and city police officers arrived to help, as well as an ambulance for the student victim, who had been aided by an employee in the accounting department.

The victim was admitted to a hospital but is not suffering from life-threatening injuries.

Adkins left the university in 2015. In November of that year, he wrote an article for BuzzFeed about harassment and discrimination he faced on campus for his conservative political beliefs.

He is charged with first-degree and fourth-degree assault, plus multiple counts of first-degree wanton endangerment. Adkins is being held in the Fayette County Detention Center and is scheduled to be arraigned Monday.

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Students Warned in Advance of White Nationalist Rally

The University of Pikesville urged students and parents, in advance of a white nationalist rally that took place near campus on Saturday, to consider leaving town for the weekend if they were concerned about safety, The Kentucky Herald-Leader reported.

In a letter published on the University of Pikeville’s website, President Burton Webb told parents that the quiet, safe town of Pikeville, Ky., could look “very different” as members of the Traditionalist Workers Party converged on the area for a rally.

“They were not invited to our town and are not welcome on our campus,” Webb said in the letter, adding that local and state law enforcement were ramping up security efforts to ensure nothing and no one was harmed during the event.

“Sadly, we cannot guarantee safety when three hate groups from outside the region have determined to pitch their battle on our streets,” he wrote.

He offered parents two possible options to suggest to their children. First, parents could encourage students to stay away from the downtown area, where the TWP and other groups would be rallying. Second, parents could urge their students to leave town and visit family or friends elsewhere until things settle down in Pikeville.

“Please, talk to your student and make your wishes known,” Webb said. “Encourage them to be part of the solution by working toward reconciliation rather than increasing hate.”

During the rally Saturday, the white nationalists and those there to protest against them avoided violence, according to the Herald-Leader. About 125 white nationalists were present, as were another 200 protesters.

Law enforcement officials, including about 40 armed police officers wearing riot gear, stood shoulder to shoulder between the two groups as people on each side chanted, yelled and sounded off with whistles and horns.

Three people were arrested during the event, all of whom were in Pikeville to protest the white nationalists.

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30 Middlebury Students Punished Over Murray Talk

Middlebury College announced that it has punished more than 30 students who were involved in disrupting a March 2 talk on campus by Charles Murray. A statement from the college said that these students "have accepted disciplinary sanctions," although the statement said the college would not provide details on those sanctions. The college's statement said that it has identified more than 70 students who "may be subject to disciplinary procedures under student handbook policies." A college spokesman said that those punished so far were believed only to have disrupted the Murray talk by chanting and shouting. This group does not include any who may have been involved with physical attacks after the event on a professor and a car carrying the professor and Murray.

The college's statement also said, "At this point there is no unambiguous evidence that any member of the Middlebury College faculty violated faculty policies in regard to their actions on March 2."

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Clay Christensen sticks with predictions of massive college closures

Despite emerging questions about applicability of his "disruption" theory, the business guru still believes half of colleges could close in a decade, driven by the spread of online learning.

Purdue acquires Kaplan University to create a new public, online university under Purdue brand

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Indiana institution acquires Kaplan University and its 32,000 students in an unprecedented move to enter online education as many large for-profits continue to slump.

U of All People's quest for an appropriate commencement speaker (essay)

The roses are blooming on the quad, and the adjuncts are planning how to get through the summer without salary, which means that commencement at U of All People is imminent (those roses cost money and are planted at the last minute, to impress alumni). Over the years, meanwhile, the commencement venue has moved from the amphitheater to the arts center to the multipurpose ballroom in Building A -- the space with a foldout screen to adjust for low attendance.

But the main difficulty is procuring a speaker for the graduation ceremony, to the point where we’re soliciting suggestions from even the Faculty Senate. “The list of creeps and losers speaking at the U of All People graduation exercises boggles the imagination,” claims Professor of Political Science Cam Payne, Faculty Senate head and No. 1 on the university president’s hit list. “It’s time we took a stand.” Unfortunately, Payne’s favored candidate is Adlai E. Stevenson, who died in 1965. With less than half a month to go, the speaker gap has reached epic proportions.

Here’s whom we’ve already asked:

Jess Rigged, CEO at ProTest, a company that rose to prominence in 2010 in the wake of a testing scandal at its competitor, ConTest. “We have the answer!” is ProTest’s slogan, and the company has proved its boast by providing more answers for standardized forms than there are questions listed. U of All People uses ProTest for all its metrics, including the annual assessment of its assessment programs. But Rigged has recently become embroiled in a scandal for peddling test answers to the Chinese, and his standard speech, “A Test for Everyone,” now has disturbing implications. In any event, Rigged declined the invitation, since he’ll be in Fujian that day on company business.

Rill Fickle, a senator from our state known for crossing party lines on such issues as multilingual classrooms and teacher salaries, sometimes several times during one vote. “You can’t spell ‘diversity’ without d-i-e,” he says, confusingly, or maybe just confusedly. Still, about 45 percent of the faculty voted for him last election. (His opponent, Walt Wright, campaigned to abolish higher education as elitist.) Though Fickle never replied to our request, his press secretary, Knott Frank, did, politely declining. That may have something to do with a horde of U of All People undergraduates outside Fickle's office in 2015, protesting one of his tweets: “Have student issues? Gesundheit!”

Wei Kapp, the 10-year-old founder of HornyApp, a tech start-up that grossed $37 million last year for its photo app that adds devil’s horns to people’s head shots. “You can do it with your fingers, but HornyApp is so much cooler lol,” he texted in a Bizness 2Day interview. A whopping 65 percent of U of All People students have his app on their cellphones. An inspiration to young entrepreneurs everywhere, Kapp has already pledged .005 percent of the company’s profits to his favorite charity, Safe Halloween. But Kapp has other obligations that week, including helping his father clean out the garage.

Other tries include Sue Crose, the head of Sweet Charity, an organization dedicated to improving the candy that children eat. Crose did hint that she might speak at commencement if U of All People made a major pledge, but a recent investigative article revealed that 95 percent of all donations to Sweet Charity go to cover administrative costs. By comparison: at U of All People, the administrative costs are only 90 percent.

We also reached out to the musician-writer-artist Stupor, whose self-made single “Think I’m Stupid? Stupid!” went viral on YouTube last year and won an Almost-Grammy. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to establish contact. “His EarthLink account appears to be defunct,” claimed Kant Dewett of our development office, after a quick Google search. This is a continuing issue with that office, which tends to employ people who failed at PR.

We briefly considered local lawyer and wine enthusiast Don D. Hatch, useful in reversing many DUI charges for our students and lately branching into politics. But we’ve used Hatch twice already, and the students and faculty are tired of the same speech that concludes, “A toast to the future!”

Note: We did have one person who repeatedly offered to speak at the U of All People commencement, but he wants to rebrand the school “Trump University.” We’re thinking about it.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book, Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, was recently published by Columbia University Press.

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North Carolina, Wisconsin Bills Would Mandate Punishment for Campus Speech Disrupters

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin and North Carolina are circulating bills that would require state universities to punish students who disrupt campus speech and remain neutral on political and social issues. Both are based on model legislation from the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank.

In North Carolina, House Bill 527 mandates that public universities “ensure the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression,” according to The News & Observer. Institutions would have to teach students about free speech during freshman orientation and punish those who disrupt or otherwise interfere with invited speakers and others’ free speech rights. The bill, which passed the state House, 88 to 32, this week, would also require the University of North Carolina Board of Governors to establish a Committee on Free Expression to report annually on university barriers to free speech and how it maintains “a posture of administrative and institutional neutrality with regard to political or social issues,” The News & Observer reported. In response, some legislators have wondered whether the bill will bar scientists from talking about such things as climate change.

The Wisconsin bill’s authors described it in a memo to fellow lawmakers this week as "Republicans' promise to protect the freedom of expression on college campuses in order to encourage the broadening of thought and growth of ideas," according to the Wisconsin State-Journal. Under the Campus Free Speech Act, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents would be required to develop a free expression policy stating that universities' "primary function … is the discovery, improvement, transmission and dissemination of knowledge," and that it is not the role of an institution "to shield individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment," the State-Journal reported. The board also would have to develop rules for disciplinary hearings and sanctions for anyone affiliated with a state university who "interferes with the free expression of others." Any student found to have violated the policy twice would be subject to a suspension of at least one semester, up to expulsion.

A spokesperson for the Madison campus said that it shares lawmakers' goal of ensuring free expression, but that it already has policies in place for dealing with misconduct. So mandating certain sanctions would take power away from campus committees to administer appropriate punishments, the spokesperson, John Lucas, said.

The Goldwater model legislation was co-written by Stanley Kurtz, who has written frequently about campus speech debates for the National Review. “As both a deeply held commitment and a living tradition, freedom of speech is dying on our college campuses and is increasingly imperiled in society at large,” it says. “Nowhere is the need for open debate more important than on America’s college campuses.” Among other things, it says that “any student who has twice been found guilty of infringing the expressive rights of others will be suspended for a minimum of one year, or expelled.”

The model says that it’s inspired in part by the University of Chicago’s 2015 Stone Report on free speech, which articulates the institution's commitment to uninhibited debate. Chicago also recently released a report recommending punishments for those who disrupt campus speech, though it says that sanctions should be developed by a campus committee on a case-by-case basis.

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West Virginia State Sues Dow Chemical for Pollution

West Virginia State University announced Thursday that it is suing the Dow Chemical Company for allegedly polluting the groundwater under the university's campus. The suit says people on the campus face no danger but Dow should be responsible for cleaning up the area. A statement from Anthony L. Jenkins, president of the historically black institution, said, “Dow must restore our campus to the condition it was in before this contamination and help us address the harm this will do to our image locally and nationally. Dow also must compensate us for the loss of use of our property. We are reluctant to resort to litigation, but Dow has left us no choice.”

Dow told NPR that it was unaware of a suit being filed and had no comment on the statement from the university.

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