Free Speech and bad political propaganda came to a head over the past few days as The University of Toledo College Democrats hung a badly photoshopped picture of President Donald Trump with a KKK Hood above his head. Above is a rather small call to action inviting you to a club meeting.
The banner was first approved by the university at the beginning of the week and by the wording of an email released it seems the university did not push for it to be taken down. With that said it seems the banner has been received with the expected negative reaction from the community and even an unusually negative reaction from the college campus which Americans expect to be anti-trump. The president of The University (Sharon L. Gaber) was quoted saying the banner was something “I personally find offensive” in an email titled “A message about free speech”. In the email, Sharon condemned the banner but stressed the importance of Free Speech.
This is certainly a good step for UT as in the past they have not exactly been a supporter of Free Speech. The first amendment organization F.I.R.E. (Freedom in Individual Rights in Education) has had the University of Toledo on their naughty list the past few years as a yellow light school. This means Free Speech exists but could be a lot better. Most of this ranking stems from a prior administration in 2014 who censored political protesters when Karl Rove came to campus and an old very vague Free Speech regulations in the new student handbook.
So far the College Democrats have yet to give us a comment on the motivation for this disturbing poster but we can only guess the national party. The “President Trump is a Nazi/KKK member” narrative is one the national Democratic party loves to exploit yet never explain. It seems this time that narrative did not play that well in the state where Trump won in a landslide of nearly 8 points.
The University and its President are planning to address this whole issue head-on in a forum on free speech at 4pm in their student union. The meeting is said to be regarding free speech and having a respectful political dialogue.
The University of Toledo having strong free speech codes is just what is needed to fight the snowflake crisis on college campuses. But the question is, is UT’s new found love of Free Speech real and universal? Or is this just something for Democrats? If that sign said Barack Obama was in ISIS and there are only two genders would that banner have made it up? All those questions are still up in the air but only time will tell. We can only hope The University of Toledo is the first of many that fight to once again make our colleges bastions of free speech.
Below is the letter’s Full text for your reading convenience…
Dear Campus Community,
I want to address a banner that was put up yesterday in the Thompson Student Union that I personally find offensive. I’ve heard from several other members of our community as well, across the political spectrum, who feel the same way.
I have been asked why we didn’t remove the banner and why we let it go up in the first place. The reason is that The University of Toledo respects the First Amendment rights of our students, faculty and staff. While we may not always agree with the way individuals or organizations choose to express their views, we must respect their freedom to do so. (Click here to read UT’s Expression on Campus policy.)
A college campus should be a place where everyone is encouraged to exchange differing ideas and viewpoints. Respectful dialogue and debate focused on facts and ideas is far more beneficial in broadening understanding than are personal attacks or “shock-and-awe” tactics. This is why I have asked the Division of Student Affairs to begin a larger conversation on this topic.
A Town Hall meeting is being planned for 4 p.m. tomorrow (Thursday, March 22) in Student Union Room 2592 to provide our students an opportunity to discuss free speech rights and the University’s role in maintaining and protecting those rights.
While I am disappointed in the banner, I am confident that our students, faculty and staff can engage in mature and civil discourse. We know that there is a national conversation on this topic. We will plan additional discussions because free speech is a fundamental right that is often misunderstood and mischaracterized.
Dr. Gaber’s Signature
Sharon L. Gaber, Ph.D.