In an email to state lawmakers Friday afternoon, Washington State University President Kirk Schulz indicated no actions will be taken to revoke the WSU College Republicans’ status as a Registered Student Organization.
Earlier this week, 12 Western Washington lawmakers sent a letter to Schulz calling on the university to remove the official recognition of the WSU College Republicans as an RSO and remove any financial resources received by the club.
The lawmakers cited actions by James Allsup, the former president of WSU College Republicans who marched with white supremacist groups at the violent rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia, this summer, and the group’s “record of hate speech” as motivations for their letter. They claimed the university continues to sanction College Republicans’ activities – including the invitation of far-right speaker Milo Yiannopoulos and the creation of a “Trump Wall” on campus – by maintaining the group’s status.
In his response, Schulz said WSU is committed to providing an inclusive campus climate and supports the independence of student groups and leaders.
“As emerging young adults who are learning about leadership, decision making, and accountability, we do not tell students who to elect as officers, what events they must offer, or determine the content of their programs,” Schulz wrote.
Schulz also wrote that several statements about the WSU College Republicans addressed in the letter needed to be clarified.
“The WSU College Republicans, both its student leadership and the organization as a whole, have officially stated its then President” – meaning Allsup – “did not represent the registered student organization in his appearance in Charlottesville,” Schulz said. “The student has officially stepped down from his leadership role in the WSU College Republicans. No state funds, student funds, or university resources were used to facilitate that student’s appearance.”
At a town hall meeting on WSU’s Pullman campus Wednesday, Schulz made additional comments about the university’s commitment to the protection of free speech.
“We can’t shut down a viewpoint no matter how horrific or upsetting it is,” Schulz said. “If we don’t preserve the opportunity for all students to speak, then we’re doing something wrong.”
Beth Hindman, WSU media law professor and free speech expert, said there are conditions under which the university can censor speech, but not because speech is offensive or unpleasant.
“WSU could stop speech of any group that is inciting immediate violence or is intended to directly intimidate specific individuals and cause them to fear for their bodily safety, and is in fact intimidating them,” Hindman said. “(The university) can also stop speech that is an actual threat of violence that a reasonable person would see as a threat. WSU cannot stop speech that is ‘merely’ offensive.”
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