‘Disheartening:’ Students, faculty react to calls to fire WSU President Jay Golden over Ivanka Trump fiasco

Steve Clark, who chaired the committee that found Golden, now says it’s time for him to go



President Jay Golden makes his introduction to faculty senate in January. In his introduction, Golden emphasized the importance of shared governance and transparency.

UPDATE: Kansas Board of Regents takes no binding action related to WSU President Jay Golden

Major Wichita State donors are reportedly threatening to pull support for the university unless the Kansas Board of Regents ousts President Jay Golden for canceling Ivanka Trump’s virtual commencement speech. 

KBOR has called a special meeting for 3 p.m. Wednesday. The Wichita Eagle reports regents will discuss Golden’s future after former regent Steve Clark sent a letter calling for his resignation on Monday. 

WSU Tech announced Thursday morning that Ivanka Trump would be the keynote speaker at a virtual graduation ceremony last weekend. The university and WSU Tech reversed course just hours later, canceling her speech after widespread criticism from students and other campus stakeholders — including an open letter by a faculty member that collected nearly 500 digital signatures. 

After the commencement, graduates had the opportunity to hear recorded congratulatory messages from more than 30 speakers, including Ivanka Trump. 

At a virtual town hall on Monday, Golden said the university has faced equally fierce backlash for canceling the speech. 

Ivanka Trump posted her speech online Friday, condemning “cancel culture” and saying colleges should be “bastions of free speech.” 

“Cancel culture is antithetical to academia,” she wrote on Twitter. 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Wichita, said WSU and WSU Tech had missed an opportunity to showcase themselves.

Aleks Sternfeld-Dunn, president of the Faculty Senate, said he thinks the cancellation was not simply a political decision, citing past campus visits from Pompeo, Jerry Moran, and Bill Barr. 

“Our community and our country is going through this amazing amount of civil unrest, in the way that people of color are being treated in our country,” he said. “Students especially have responded with a concern that she represents an administration that is not interested in actually making progress on fixing those disparities, and the reality is this became a distraction from what this event is really about— a commencement, a celebration of our students.”

After news broke Wednesday morning that KBOR was considering ousting Golden, WSU students quickly took to Twitter to express their support for the president, some using a new hashtag — #IStandWithGolden. 

Sierra Brown, a junior studying human resource management, told The Sunflower she thinks Golden has so far put students first during his time as president. 

“Unlike many other high level administrators, I had got the chance to voice my opinions to Dr. Golden through numerous town halls and small group discussions,” said Brown, human resources officer for the Barton School Dean’s Ambassadors. “It would be disheartening to see him removed after making a decision that so many students and community (members) swiftly requested him to make.”

Golden became the 14th president of WSU in January after a closed search process to replace former President John Bardo, who died in March 2019. KBOR selected Golden, former vice chancellor at East Carolina University, from a pool of candidates recommended by a 20-person search committee

That search committee was chaired by Steve Clark, the campus YMCA namesake who also led the search for Bardo in 2012. 

None of the candidates publicly visited campus during the search or were announced ahead of time. The search cost the university about $129,000

After taking office, Golden laid out a vision for the university that emphasized shared governance with students and faculty, increasing diversity among university employees and improving “the student experience.” Just two months into his presidency, he faced the challenge of leading the university’s response to the coronavirus, which included moving all classes online last semester after Spring Break. 

At a virtual town hall on Monday, Golden called for more coordination between WSU and WSU Tech and said the decision to cancel Ivanka Trump’s speech was made in the interest of students. 

“Politics aside, we will — and I will — not do things intentionally to distract from a celebration, which should be a celebration experience for students and their families,” he said. “I live and I own this decision. But I do want to say … that we are focused on diversity, and we are going to be focused on diversity of our workforce, our student body, but also in regard to diversity of thought.” 

Clark told The Eagle the decision to cancel Ivanka Trump’s appearance violates free speech and damages WSU’s reputation with high-profile donors. 

“The Kochs never had any real confidence in the presidents we’ve had out there, and I’ve known all of them for 50 years. Then we finally got John Bardo in there,” Clark told The Eagle in a phone interview. “He was a very decisive guy.”

Steve Clark, chair of WSU's 2019 presidential search committee, speaks in June at a public forum on the presidential search. Four forums were held in the RSC to gather feedback on the presidential search.
Steve Clark, chair of WSU’s 2019 presidential search committee, speaks in June at a public forum on the presidential search. Four forums were held in the RSC to gather feedback on the presidential search. (FILE PHOTO/EDUARDO CASTILLO)

Koch Industries has given the university at least $15 million in gifts over the past seven years, The Eagle reports. The Koch family is also leasing out a building on campus for a private elementary school called Wonder.

In a statement on Wednesday morning, Koch Industries said it is “continuing its commitments to WSU, and we will continue evaluating new funding opportunities as they arise.”

The statement says Koch does not make its support “conditional on employment decisions,” but objects to “speaker disinvitations.”

“Universities offer students opportunities to encounter new ideas and think for themselves,” the statement reads. “Limiting access to unpopular speakers, viewpoints, and scholarship doesn’t protect students. It cuts off the changes to engage, debate, and criticize.”

David Dziok, director of communications and marketing for Koch Industries, said in an email to The Sunflower that Clark has “no authority” to speak on behalf of the company.

“Mr. Clark’s statements about Koch are inaccurate and in no way reflect our POV,” he said.

Sternfeld-Dunn said the senate plans to draft a letter in support of Golden after Sternfeld-Dunn received several “emails of concern” from faculty members. 

“I’ve not heard anyone in support of removing him based on this decision,” he said in a phone interview with The Sunflower. “There’s a lot of unhappiness that this is even being discussed or considered.”

The Student Government Association sent a letter supporting Golden to the Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday. 

“Since his arrival on campus, Dr. Golden has listened to students and student groups since day one,” reads the letter, written by Student Body President Rija Khan, Speaker of the Senate Olivia Babin and former Student Body President Kitrina Miller. “It was an immediate culture shift once he came into office; an impact that was so desperately needed. Students campus-wide were given an elevated platform to have their voices heard.”

The letter states SGA met with Golden and WSU Tech President Sheree Utash to voice their concerns over Ivanka Trump’s planned commencement speech. 

“In the strongest words, we expressed our concerns about having such a speaker address our peers at WSU Tech,” the letter says. “We are made up of students from all walks of life and political ideologies.”

Former Student Body President Kitrina Miller

Miller, who graduated last year, was one of two students on the presidential search committee. She said Golden was her first choice throughout the process and calls for his firing came as a disappointment to her. 

If KBOR chose to remove Golden, Miller said it would create uncertainty about the search process as a whole. 

“I think it’s very hypocritical of the search committee for, you know, putting this man forward saying that he is the best for our university and then because of a decision that he’s made now of, you know, protecting and advocating for our students,” Miller said. “That is extremely frustrating and I think it sends an entirely wrong message to the student body of why the search was even closed in the first place. . . and it makes me question everyone who was on the search committee.”

Sternfeld-Dunn expressed a similar concern, saying removing Golden would potentially hurt the university’s reputation and future searches for administrators. 

“If the Board of Regents removes that person because they made a decision … that has some controversy around it, then I don’t know how we can recruit another talented person to service the university,” he said. “Because essentially, you’re sending the message that if you make a decision that upsets some donors, we’re just going to remove you.” 

Students held an impromptu rally in support of Golden Wednesday afternoon outside of Koch Arena.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated Wednesday afternoon based on a statement from Koch Industries.