San Francisco State bars use of university funds to travel to Indiana. Connecticut governor bars all public colleges (and other state agencies) from using state funds to do so. Do these moves raise academic freedom issues?
Connecticut College called off classes Monday to discuss the campus climate in the wake of recent incidents. The schedule for the day included both unstructured time and periods for students to gather to talk in groups large and small with themselves, faculty members and senior administrators. The campus has for a month been debating a Facebook post by a professor that has been criticized as hate speech against Palestinians by some and defended as a political critique of Hamas by others. Then racist graffiti appeared on campus, setting the stage for Monday's programs.
The presidents of three universities in Indiana issued statements over the weekend criticizing Indiana's new "religious freedom" law, which state lawmakers say is needed to protect religious freedom but is viewed by many as license for businesses to discriminate against L.G.B.T. people. The legislation says that the government cannot "burden" private entities with policies that clash with individual views of religious obligations.
On Sunday evening, Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie issued a statement that said in part: "The recent passage of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act has brought significant negative attention to the state of Indiana throughout the nation and indeed the world, because the law is widely viewed as signaling an unwelcoming and discriminatory atmosphere in our state. While Indiana University hopes that the controversy of the past few days will move the state government to reconsider this unnecessary legislation, the damage already done to Indiana’s reputation is such that all public officials and public institutions in our state need to reaffirm our absolute commitment to the Hoosier values of fair treatment and nondiscrimination."
Butler University President James Danko issued a statement that reaffirmed the university's anti-bias commitment and that called the new law "ill-conceived legislation at best."
DePauw University President Brian Casey issued a statement in which he said that he normally strives not to comment on political issues, and that he wants all sides of issues to be debated at the university. But he added: "Legislation that has the effect of either encouraging or condoning discrimination, however, must be addressed. I join with other Indiana corporations, leaders in industry and institutions of higher education and urge the governor and the legislature to take all steps necessary to address the harm this legislation has caused."
A spokesman for Purdue University said that, consistent with policy there not to take part in such public policy debates, President Mitch Daniels will not make a statement on the law.
A black woman who is a student at Duke University reported to officials there that last weekend a group of while male students taunted her with the racist chant used by a University of Oklahoma fraternity. That accusation has led to a larger debate at Duke. A group called the People of Color Caucus issued an online statement that said that the chant was not an "isolated incident" but part of a pattern of racist incidents at Duke and elsewhere. A hashtag -- #whatweneedfromduke -- has become a forum for people to share thoughts on these issues, while others have been putting up posters (at right) on what they believe the university needs to do.
Duke President Richard H. Brodhead and Provost Sally Kornbluth issued a joint statement Thursday in which they said that the reported incident with the racist chant was being investigated. Their statement said in part: "In the face of this situation both nationally and close to home, we want to underline Duke’s fundamental values. Inclusivity and mutual respect are core values for any civil society, but they have a special meaning in a university. Thinking in stereotypes is a failure of intelligence. Education begins the day we learn to pass beyond crude and distorting simplifications. Further, a university is based on the premise that we are all here to learn from each other, which requires a broad measure of inclusion and openness to others’ experience and points of view."
One of the two students expelled from the University of Oklahoma over a fraternity's racist chant has apologized to black leaders in Oklahoma City, and then to the public, The New York Times reported. The former student, Levi Pettit, said the chant was "mean, hateful and racist." After a meeting with black leaders at a church, he said: “Some have wondered why I hadn’t spoken out publicly. The truth is I have had a mix of pain, shame, sorrow and fear over the consequences of my actions. I did not want to apologize to the press or to the whole country until I first came to apologize to those most directly impacted. The truth is what was said in that chant is disgusting, and after meeting with these people, I’ve learned these words should never be repeated.”
President Obama, in an interview with The Huffington Post, responded to question about how the University of Oklahoma responded (in part by expelling two students and kicking a fraternity off campus) to a video showing a fraternity chant about not admitting black students to their organization. And the president strongly backed the university's actions, while offering some perspective on the incident.
The president's answer: "Look, at any given point on any given day, somebody is doing something stupid out there. In the age of the Internet, it's going to attract attention. I don't think this is the first time that somebody at a fraternity has done something stupid, racist, sexist. It won't be the last. What was heartening was the quick response from President Boren, somebody who I know well and I know who has great integrity. The quick reaction from the student body. You know, the way we have to measure progress here is not, 'Is there ever going to be an incident of racism in the country?' It's, 'How does the majority of our country respond?' And on that front, there's no doubt that the overwhelming number of students at the University of Oklahoma, and around the country, think that kind of behavior is deplorable and don't accept it. Frankly, 30 years ago or 40 years ago, there might have been a different reaction and more tolerance for that kind of racist chant."
McGill University has rejected the request of a Muslim female student to start women-only hours in the workout facilities on campus, CBC News reported. The request has prompted widespread campus debate in recent weeks. McGill's deputy provost for student life and learning, Ollivier Dyens, said, "We don't believe in the segregation of our services, we don't believe in separating some groups from others on campus. It's always been clear, McGill is secular and coed, and this is what we promote." McGill does have some hours for women only in the pool, but officials said that because people wear bathing suits, issues of modesty and privacy are greater there.
University of Georgia Greek leaders have announced that they will no longer approve costume themes for parties that involve antebellum hoop skirts, The Athens Banner-Heraldreported. The move followed discussions between administrators and Greek system leaders about the recent video of a University of Oklahoma fraternity's racist chant. Fraternities at the university have in recent years moved away from events in which some members dressed as Confederate soldiers.