A post-election ‘silence’ at IUP

An Analysis

Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Michael A. Driscoll during a Nov. 11 "mid-semester briefing" in Sutton Hall. Photo by Logan Hullinger.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania President Michael A. Driscoll during a Nov. 11 “mid-semester briefing” in Sutton Hall. Photo by Logan Hullinger.

By Logan Hullinger

INDIANA — Donald J. Trump’s Nov. 8 election set off a storm of protest that spread across the country, including college campuses. At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, however, silence ruled.

One reason is that administrators declined to discuss the election outcome, and they discouraged faculty members from speaking about it outside their disciplines, according to a Nov. 16 email from an anonymous source who asked to be described as someone familiar with inclusion issues at IUP. (See sidebar on The HawkEye’s anonymous-source policy, below.)

On Nov. 11, three days after the election, faculty members received within a half-hour period two emails addressed to them from top IUP administrators. An email from President Michael A. Driscoll, citing remarks he delivered earlier that day, described what he said were recent incidents of uncivil campus behavior.

“Since Tuesday’s presidential election, the following have been reported at IUP, some multiple times: someone calling a co-worker names because of who they voted for, a faculty member spending the start of a class bashing a presidential candidate or the people who voted for them, a student bullied because they revealed who they voted for on social media, threats made against LGBT members of our community, and the defacing of property,” Driscoll said. “There are probably other similar things that haven’t come to my attention.”

Soon after, faculty members received a “dear colleagues” email from Provost Timothy S. Moerland and APSCUF faculty-and-coaches union President Nadene A. L’Amoreaux. The message was signed by Moerland alone.

“We have received reports that some members of our faculty are using class time to express personal opinions about the outcome of the presidential election,” the email reported. “Regardless of one’s leanings, the nature of the election has been such that strong emotions are understandable. It is not understandable – nor is it acceptable – to use one’s position of authority to make political statements if they are not germane to the subject of the class.”

The message cited a provision of the collective-bargaining agreement between union and university-system managers:

“A faculty member is entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing his/her subject, but he/she should be careful not to introduce into his/her teaching controversial matter which has no relation to his/her subject,” the email reported, citing the contract provision.

Both emails urged faculty members to direct post-election political discussion to university administrative offices, such as the Office of International Education, the Office of Social Equity, the Counseling Center and the police.

 

THE ADMINISTRATORS’ Nov. 11 email messages effectively chilled post-election discussion campuswide in a way that was “extremely painful,” especially for members of minority groups, the anonymous source said.

Asked to respond in a Nov. 11 email, Driscoll declined comment.

University spokeswoman Michelle S. Fryling also declined comment in a statement.

“I couldn’t comment in terms of the national election and President-elect Trump,” Fryling said in a Nov. 15 email. “I would just point you to Dr. Driscoll’s comments and his commitment to diversity and inclusion.”

According to the anonymous source, however, the lack of discussion is secondary to a signal to stifle intellectual freedom in a system of higher education at a time when anti-intellectualism appears ascendant with the election of Trump.

 

SOME IUP STUDENTS said they are troubled, too.

Sahar F. Al-Shoubaki, president of IUP’s Muslim Student Association. Photo provided by Al-Shoubaki.

Sahar F. Al-Shoubaki, president of IUP’s Muslim Student Association. Photo provided by Al-Shoubaki.

Sahar F. Al-Shoubaki, president of IUP’s Muslim Student Association, said she “would like to see an official statement coming from IUP that would affirm the university’s opposition to such policies and show its commitment to support its Muslim students.”

“I have huge concerns about how these policies will affect IUP and its atmosphere and whether IUP will take action to protect its Muslim students from these policies,” she said in a Dec. 7 email interview,

Amirah T. Macon, president of IUP’s NAACP chapter, advocated more discussion, not less, on the campus. Macon, a political science major, said she noticed the silence of faculty members when she expected more discussion about the election and its outcome.

IUP NAACP President Amirah T. Macon. Photo provided by Macon.

IUP NAACP President Amirah T. Macon. Photo provided by Macon.

“I do believe that this and all elections are a pertinent topic in higher education, especially being that we are a public institution, where we practically are required to take political and/or social classes,” Macon wrote in a Nov. 7 email. “We cannot express to students and faculty that have non-inclusive views that we must remain inclusive if we simply can’t express these views in class.”

 

DRISCOLL HAS LENT his prestige to efforts aimed at opposing discrimination and supporting inclusion. For example, on Dec. 1 he stood on the steps of the campus library and spoke in support of inclusion at an evening rally on the edge of the Oak Grove, the university’s most public space. And on Saturday he attended an open house at the community’s new –- and only -– mosque.

And like other college presidents who have grappled with such issues, Driscoll has been forced to confront racism on his own campus. More recently, he has addressed a 2015 Campus Climate Study, which reported that some IUP minority group members feel “unwelcome.”

The study reported widespread “concern with institutional commitment to diversity” and added that “employees observe and feel discomfort with a lack of diversity in the university’s leadership and decision-making process.”

The anonymous source said those findings should incline the administration toward encouraging open discussion of political controversies and their effects on the university environment.

“But if people don’t want to hear it, really hear it, and instead they choose to silence dissenters, then why are we calling this an institution of higher education?” the source added.

___________________________________

‘But if people don’t want to hear it, really hear it, and instead they choose to silence dissenters, then why are we calling this an institution of higher education?’

— anonymous source familiar with inclusion issues at IUP

___________________________________

Frank LoMonte, the executive director for the Student Press Law Center, a Washington, D.C. non-profit, viewed administrators’ Nov. 11 emails through a First Amendment lens.

If employees were disciplined for making a comment about a political issue, they would have “a very strong First Amendment challenge,” LoMonte wrote in a Nov. 30 email.

“It is slam-dunk illegal for a public university to gag its employees from engaging in political speech,” LoMonte added. “The federal courts have been especially protective of the speech rights of college faculty, because of the concept of academic freedom that enables a college to entertain differing — and occasionally extreme and experimental — ideas as part of its educational mission.”

 

IN HIS Nov. 11 mid-semester briefing, Driscoll assured his audience that publication of the complete Campus Climate Study was imminent. Three and a half weeks later, on Dec. 5, the study reportedly was scheduled to be uploaded to the Office of Social Equity’s website.

On Dec. 12, the office did not return an email message asking when the study would be published.

Today, the full 88-page study appeared.

Logan Hullinger, junior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania from Clarion, is a staff reporter for The HawkEye. He may be contacted at L.R.Hullinger@iup.edu.

 

Sidebar: Anonymous sources and The HawkEye

The news analysis published above contains information provided by an anonymous source. The decision to grant anonymity was consistent with The HawkEye’s policy.

As a general rule, The HawkEye does not use anonymous sources. They tend to invite reader suspicion that such sources have personal axes to grind in print.

However, in some cases The HawkEye does publish information provided by anonymous sources. This has been done when the value of the information that an anonymous source provides to readers outweighs the diminished credibility that anonymity conveys. The HawkEye has granted anonymity when the information is not otherwise available.

When a source requests anonymity, the decision to grant it is made in consultation between the reporter and the editor. Both must know the identity of the source and must judge the source as reliable and positioned to provide accurate information. Published description of the source aims to shield the source’s identity while providing basic information for readers to evaluate the source’s credibility.

This policy mirrors similar policies followed by such respected news organizations as The Associated Press, as published in that wire news organization’s stylebook.

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One Response to A post-election ‘silence’ at IUP

  1. judith villa says:

    Thanks for an excellent article. A really good follow-up would be to interview white students who feel the same way–since racism is a white problem it would be inspiring and hopeful to hear solidarity-basd comments from white students, staff,and faculty. One thing racists like to do to further their rqcist agenda is to point fingers at non-whites and accuse them of “whining” when they try to discuss social justice issues, so if whites also weighed in against the silencing of critical politican discussion in classrooms, it would serve an excellent purpose.

    Thanks for your consideration.

    Dr. Judith Villa, another white person working against white privilege and racism

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