Iowa State University reaffirmed the right to freedom of expression for Conservative students who were initially under fire for tweeting a nervous comment. This has aroused the ire of several ISU journalist professors who demanded that the students be punished.
A few days after the 2020 elections, the ISU college republican Twitter account made the following statement: “Everyone, you must arm yourself, expect these people to try to destroy your life, the elites want revenge on us . “
The tweet may have been hyperbolic, but it didn’t advocate violence. It did not call for violence or encourage armed resistance. At most it was a troll right-wing topic of conversation alongside a call to buy weapons.
Even so, the ISU interpreted the tweet as a “suggestion for armed activities,” which may be a violation of university policy. An ISU spokesman told The College Fix that the matter was being investigated.
This drew the attention of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which defends freedom of speech for students and faculty members. In a letter to the ISU, FIRE rightly stated that the tweet was protected by the first amendment and that the public university could not punish conservative students for their feelings. “While the university can legally punish ‘real threats’ – serious expressions of intent to commit unlawful acts of violence against a specific person or group of people – it must not penalize expressions that do not lead to this narrow category of unprotected language,” wrote FIRE.
To his credit, the university quickly came to the same conclusion and, within an hour of receiving the letter, informed FIRE that the students would not be punished.
“The protections afforded by the First Amendment and related provisions in the Iowa Constitution are core values of the university and the foundation of the university’s mission to create, share, and apply knowledge to make Iowa and the world a better place the ISU replied.
While it would have been preferable for the university to avoid the tweet leading to punishment in the first place, ISU administrators deserve credit for the quick course reversal. They also deserve considerable praise for continuing to oppose the demands of many campus members – including several journalism professors – to end the dissolution of the college’s Republicans in order to create an unsafe environment.
On November 12, Assistant Professor Kelly Winfrey and Associate Professor Novotny Lawrence of the ISU School of Journalism distributed a petition that was signed by more than 750 students, faculties and alumni. “”We are appalled that the administration of Iowa State University has decided not to take disciplinary action against …Iowa State University College Republicans … for a Tweet that has nothing to do with the political nature of the organization, incites violence and creates a campus climate that feels threatening and isolates students, faculties, and staff from marginalized and historically oppressed populations, “they wrote.”Privilege freedom of speech for those who cause harm over the safety of the historically marginalized Members of our community promote the harm. “
The petition accuses the university of failing to fight inequality and racism and of making everyone feel less safe on campus.
In response, the administration carefully stated that no matter how much some members of the campus may wish they could not violate the students’ initial adjustment rights.
“At the center of this demand is a separation between the law and the freedoms of first amendment guaranteed by our constitution, and the desire of many campus community members to punish those whose comments harm others,” the government wrote. “In short, this request is calling on the university to proactively break the law, and we are not going to.”
The administration’s response noted that there are plenty of campus resources for students and faculty who feel threatened or unsafe, including counseling services and the police. This also angered Winfrey, Lawrence, and ISU recruiter Lindsay Moeller, who wrote the following lawsuit:
We are sorry that the university administration has directed those who feel insecure to turn to a source of help – the police – who disproportionately harm or kill the members of the population we were trying to protect by demanding action.
We are sorry that the university is calling for an education that taxes members of historically marginalized groups disproportionately by using their emotional work and time to justify their existence in spaces where they already feel unsafe.
We will not apologize in our efforts and will continue to work for you, inciting hatred and pushing – and enforcing – university policies that reflect the values of diversity and inclusion they advocate.
Activists are welcome to push for more diversity and inclusion, but cannot break the First Change in pursuing these goals. Ideally, this would be a lesson that ISU journalism professors have already taught their students, rather than something they had to discover for the first time. (And we wonder where so many young progressives in the media got the idea that their job is to suppress information that contradicts a lively worldview.)
In any case, good for the ISU to defend the principles of freedom of speech in the face of significant hostility.