It was the best of times and the worst of times at two universities. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL) and the University of St. Thomas are in the news today and the juxtaposition is interesting. UWL fired an employee and then, under legal action, has offered her the job back. According to the Fox 9 headline, the St. Thomas student body president apologizes for anti-Isreal tweets. Others call the tweets anti-semitic. Here is the full text (excluding the salutation) of the Student Body President’s statement. See if you can find the apology.
“I am writing this message in acknowledgement that we are in a climate that’s seeing a great rise in anti-Semitism, islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, hate crimes, and other various forms of oppression. This stuff is real. It is a critical time for our communities and we must unite together to challenge bigotry and racism in the world.
“For the past year or so, I have been constantly harassed by a notorious organization that conducted a smear campaign against me by digging through my social media accounts and stating that I had made offensive comments. Yesterday, another organization published an article with the intent to discredit me and my reputation using the same methods. I believe the attacks levied against me by both organizations are Islamophobic. I am coming under attack for being a Muslim leader of the student government at a private Catholic institution. Growing up, I was taught by my religion to treat everyone with respect and dignity no matter where they came from or what they believed in.
“The tweets that resurfaced were from 3+ years ago and do not reflect what I meant at the time. My words were poorly chosen and shared during a period of time where I was very emotional about Israel’s politics and the loss of life in Gaza. I regret my choice of words and apologize for any impact this may have had on people reading my tweets.
“As a leader of this school, I am committed to supporting the students that I serve. If any student comes to me looking for help or support, I believe it is incumbent upon me to do everything that I can. I want members of the St. Thomas community to know that I am trying my best to look out for them and their interests.
“Now more than ever, it is critical for Muslims and Jews to unite, as we already have to combat the hate and attacks that come our way. I am in full support of the Jewish community, and am commanded by my faith to care for all people and to stand up for others who may come under attack. The Quran commands Muslims to “stand out firmly for justice…even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor…” (Quran 4:135)
“I want to reassure everyone that I am committed to serving and assisting each and every single student that I represent. I also want to assure you all that I stand firmly against anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, divisiveness, and oppression that don’t create an inclusive campus for everyone.
“As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I call for everyone to come together in peace and unite to fight against the injustices that happen all around the world.”
Even in the world of politics this is hard to describe as an apology. His apology is for the impact on others. He accuses “notorious” organizations for “smearing” him. He plays the Islamophobia card. He takes little responsibility, “I regret my choice of words.” What were those words? Scott Johnson at PowerLine gives one example: “[Y]ahood [Jews] will get what coming for them”. Which word or words were chosen poorly in that tweet?
The President of St. Thomas, Julie Sullivan has responded by glorifying diversity and condemning hate speech. She says nothing about free speech. She seems to have left the decision about the Student Body President to the students.
Meanwhile, the details of the UWL incident are coming out. Here is part of the latest update from the La Crosse Tribune:
According to the initial complaint, submitted to UW-L police Sgt. Jordan Schaller on Feb. 2, Dearman reacted to a series of emails Gow sent out first in response to the January travel ban signed by President Donald Trump and one a few days later apologizing for any political tone in his comments. According to the complaint, Dearman initiated the conversation about the emails, saying Gow deserved the backlash he got. During the conversation, the student asked Dearman her opinion of the travel ban [the press loves to use this word with The Donald], to which Dearman said people should respect the president and that people “who don’t belong here” should leave.
The complaint further states that the student debated with Dearman, her direct supervisor, about the countries included on the travel ban list and Dearman spent several minutes saying immigrants don’t belong here, that she wasn’t a racist and she wasn’t trying to offend the student. The complaint said the student, who Gow said was of Asian descent, didn’t know what to say in response, so she just sat quietly until she left for class, before subsequently resigning her position.
It seems to us that there are three interesting issues in considering the two situations.
First, free speech is not encouraged at either institution. It is clear that both schools are diversity cults where free speech is not valued while finding and eradicating hate speech is highly valued. As these institutions try to eliminate the last vestiges of hate speech the decisions get increasingly difficult.
Second, the students know how to play the game. The student body president accuses his “attackers” of Islamophobia. He said he was taught to treat everyone with respect and dignity but he hadn’t leaned that lesson as of a few years ago. The UWL student (snowflake really seems to apply here) spoke up against The Donald at first but then sat quietly, resigned, and complained. She is identified as Asian but not religious affiliation is noted. Her complaint got her immediate supervisor fired.
Third, there are big differences in the situations. St. Thomas clearly has found some hate speech. The person in question did it three or so years ago and was elected by the student body recently. On the other hand the UWL situation is much less clear cut in terms of speech but involves a direct supervisor and subordinate (the student) as well as an overall supervisor, Chancellor Gow, and a subordinate, the employee.
These two situations point out the problems of diversity and “hating” hate speech. It gets so confusing trying to sort out how to score all of the complaints and complainers. For example, schools can and do discriminate against Asian students in admissions but the fact that she (is there a weight to that? Both the student and employee are female. Does that balance out?) is Asian allowed the Chancellor to say the comments were directed at a student of color. Free speech is a much better rule but there needs to be a way to deal with interactions among folks. For example, sending the employee for diversity training implies the employee would be punished for her speech. Scoring is hard but schools need to trend away from the diversity cult and move toward free speech.