After a Wichita State student government decision not to recognize a free-speech group on campus, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — or FIRE — sent President John Bardo a letter Friday, urging him to “swiftly reverse the SGA’s unconstitutional decision.”
The student senate voted against a resolution Wednesday night that would recognize a WSU chapter of Young Americans for Liberty — a libertarian free-speech group that some believe promotes hate speech. FIRE is “a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.”
National media attention ensued. USA TODAY College, Breitbart News, The College Fix and Campus Reform all reported on the student senate’s decision.
President Bardo was unavailable for comment on Saturday afternoon, but Student Body President Joseph Shepard weighed in on the backlash that he and numerous senators have received.
“I think that the senators have the responsibility to do what they see as best for the institution,” Shepard said. “If they feel that an organization can be detrimental to Wichita State University and its students, their responsibility is to protect the institution and I believe they did that.”
Shepard said senators who voted down the resolution were drawing the line between free speech and hate speech.
“I believe every one of the senators who engaged in debate on Wednesday believed that the student group should have the opportunity to practice free speech,” Shepard said. “There’s this belief that free speech means you can say whatever you want even if it is hate speech, and a lot of senators in that room along with myself do not believe that.”
Shepard noted that Vice President for Student Affairs, Teri Hall, who is currently serving as the SGA advisor, was in the room at the time of the debate and vote, and had the opportunity to speak out if she believed the senate was engaging in unconstitutional behavior.
Student Body President-elect, Paige Hungate voted in favor of recognizing the organization.
“I think that us voting against recognizing an organization is probably a poor decision to make because it sets a bad precedent for what SGA is capable of doing,” Hungate said. “If we have members who disagree with a particular organization, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be recognized.”
Hungate said she worried that personal politics played a role in senators decision to oppose recognizing a WSU chapter of Young Americans for Liberty.
Various chapters of the organization across the nation have hosted controversial Breitbart News Tech Editor, Milo Yiannopoulos on his “Dangerous Faggot Tour,” speaking out against feminism and Black Lives Matter, and accusing LGBTQ individuals of blowing hate crimes out of proportion.
“People brought personal politics into the decision which happens quite a bit in SGA and although they had fine reasons for raising their concerns, I don’t believe we can just lay a blanket statement over an entire organization based on actions that take place on other campuses,” Hungate said.
Hungate said she believes FIRE is justified in asking for the decision to be overturned, but would prefer for SGA to sit down and work the issue out with the student group as opposed to appealing to the university president.
“Before going to President Bardo and asking him to reverse the decision, Student Government Association should hear out the student organization and address what they want to accomplish in the next year as an organization,” Hungate said.
Lou Heldman, vice president for strategic communication, said in a statement that Senior Vice President and Provost Tony Vizzini, Vice President for Student Affairs Teri Hall and others plan to discuss the issue Monday.
Read the full letter FIRE to WSU President John Bardo: