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The university is deeply enmeshed in a national college admissions scandal involving various pay-to-play schemes in which rich parents paid hefty bribes to get their children into some of the nation’s top colleges. USC students were implicated in the fraud and bribery scheme more than were students at any of the other colleges. And one of the USC students was among those most widely mocked for an apparent lack of interest in studying.
Instead of turning the tide of bad publicity and banner headlines, the university has only drawn more critical scrutiny.
Many USC students, alumni and influential benefactors are deeply disappointed and angry about the latest turn of events and are highly critical of the administration under whose watch the bribery apparently occurred undetected. They are particularly annoyed that USC administrators are again scrambling to contain a public relations debacle instead of focusing on restoring the reputational luster already lost as a result of the past incidents.
Although the hiring of a new president was announced last week, raising hopes that a change in leadership might help steer the campus onto a path of positive change, the university's critics are debating the long-term implications of the collective scandals. They're also wondering whether the image of the institution will be permanently sullied along with the standing of current students, the graduating Class of 2019, and alumni.
“I was totally embarrassed,” said Calvin Carmichael, a freshman at USC. “I know how hard I worked to get into the school. Before people would say, ‘Wow, you go to USC -- you must be so smart.’ Now I’m not sure what they’ll say.”
They might say something along the lines of: How much did you pay to get in?
Greg Autry said he was asked that very question at a recent conference, even though he’s not a USC student. He’s an assistant professor of clinical entrepreneurship in USC’s business school but was nonetheless the subject “of a constant barrage of admission jokes” during the conference.
He said variations of jokes about bribing one’s way into USC were “the second thing out of people’s mouths after they said hello and saw the name of my institution. They questioned the quality of faculty along with that of students.”
Autry took the ribbing in stride, but he believes what’s happening at USC is no laughing matter. When the charges and arrests related to the admissions buying were announced earlier this month after a yearlong investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, he was immediately dismayed. He dreaded the thought of more unseemly headlines about USC after widespread media coverage of revelations of sexual assault allegations against a campus gynecologist and charges of drug abuse by the medical school’s now former dean.
“I thought, oh no, not again,” he said.
The admissions investigation led to the arrests of 50 people, including athletics coaches at USC and five other selective institutions who allegedly took bribes in exchange for granting spots on various sports teams to students who did not play those particular sports. The students’ parents and several college entrance exam administrators were also arrested and charged.
The university’s top administrators have not responded to requests for comment, but Wanda Austin, USC’s interim president, has issued several written statements outlining the university’s cooperation with law enforcement authorities and actions taken in the wake of the Justice Department announcement of the indictments and arrests.
“We have planned significant remedial efforts,” she said in a statement issued on March 12, hours after the Justice Department announcement. “We will take all appropriate employment actions. We will review admissions decisions. We are identifying all funds received that may be connected to the government’s allegations. And we will be implementing significant process and training enhancements to prevent anything like this from ever happening again.”
Austin also announced the firing of two employees, including Donna Heinel, the senior associate athletic director who was among five current or former USC coaches charged with racketeering conspiracy as part of the Justice Department probe. She also said a tenured faculty member named in the federal indictment as a parent would be placed on leave while the university takes "a required procedural step in the process for terminating tenured faculty." The faculty member is Homayoun Zadeh, an associate professor of dentistry who received his doctorate of dental surgery from USC in 1987. According to the Justice Department's affidavit, Zadeh and his wife refinanced their home in order to pay a $100,000 bribe to the athletic director to have their daughter designated as a recruit for USC's lacrosse team, "despite the fact that she did not play lacrosse competitively -- thereby facilitating her admission to USC."
“More employment actions may be possible as new facts come to light,” Austin said in another statement.
Autry said the culmination of various scandals within a relatively short time period -- “It seems like a scandal du jour, or one every six months,” he said. -- contributed to an overall unflattering perception of USC.
“There’s a sense of institutional corruption, and that’s not wrong,” he said. “There’s a severe cultural problem going on that you can’t deny.”
He’s worried the perceptions may become reality and hurt faculty recruiting, “which had been on the upswing.”
Paul Kaster, a sophomore at USC, agrees.
“It impacts USC’s reputation for sure,” Kaster said. “Its reputation is important for recruiting faculty and students and for the value of your degree later, especially when you’re looking for a job.”
Students who were considering applying “might see the university as less prestigious,” he said.
Still, as disappointing as it was for Kaster to learn that 12 students were accepted at USC through admission fraud, he said it was such a small portion of the nearly 20,000 undergraduates enrolled that the impact on campus and on the larger student body is almost negligible.
There’s also the notion that even bad publicity can sometimes result in positive attention.
“I actually hear more about the scandal from people who aren’t at USC,” Kaster said. “It’s kind of good to know that someone is willing to pay a million dollars to attend USC. I’ve actually been offered money to take the ACT test for others, but I declined. I feel honored to be in the company of Yale and Stanford, and being among that caliber of school can also improve USC’s reputation.” (Although USC has become increasingly competitive and selective in recent decades, it is still not as selective as Yale or Stanford Universities, other institutions where parents tried to rig the admissions process. According to federal data on College Navigator, a database of the National Center for Education Statistics, USC accepted 16 percent of 56,676 applicants for its fall 2017 freshman class, while Yale and Stanford accepted just 7 and 5 percent respectively. Yale and Stanford students also scored higher on college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT, and they graduated from those institutions at higher rates, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard.)
It’s obviously impossible for anyone to predict what will happen over time, especially given the fast pace of news cycles and the short attention span of the general public.
“Reputational damage is not forever anymore,” said Margaret Dunning, managing partner at Finn Partners, a global marketing and communications firm. “There are a few exceptions, but it’s hard to predict what they are.”
Still, some USC alumni remember the university’s less heady days, when it was known for being “a party school” with a great football team and less than rigorous academics. USC was not nearly as selective back then, and the competition to get in was not so intense. People joked that USC actually stood for “University for Spoiled Children.”
No one wants a return of that image, but the involvement of the children of wealthy movie stars and hedge fund managers in the admissions scandal only reinforces that impression. These students have become the focal point of public ire and are seen as the embodiment of spoiled and entitled young people who gained entrée to USC by dint of their parents’ money and influence.
The students and their parents are the source of intense social media attention and derision because they are viewed as unworthy of enrollment spots that might have gone to more deserving students. Many current students and alumni were upset and offended by the YouTube video of Olivia Jade Giannulli, a so-called social influencer with two million followers, casually discussing wanting to experience college “game days and partying” but not academics.
“I don’t really care about school,” she said.
It made matters worse when it became public that Giannulli, whose famous parents, the actress Lori Loughlin and the fashion designer Mossimo Giannulli, were implicated in the admissions buying scheme, was enjoying spring break in the Bahamas with other wealthy classmates aboard a yacht owned by Rick Caruso, the controversial chairman of USC’s Board of Trustees.
Lloyd Greif, a 1979 graduate of the USC Marshall School of Business and a member of its Board of Leaders advisory group, was among those offended.
“I’m a native of Los Angeles, and I’m very aware of what USC’s reputation was and what caused it to change and made it what it is today,” he said.
Like many other alumni, Greif credits Steven B. Sample, the institution’s 10th president. USC grew fast, amassed lots of money and raised its academic standing under Sample’s leadership from 1991 to 2010.
“That’s when the University of Spoiled Children name sank and went away,” Greif said. “So to have it come back now is distressing to alumni who lived through the metamorphosis.”
Sample, who died in 2016, was widely praised for transforming USC into a leading research university. During his tenure, USC “recruited some of the most academically talented freshman classes in the country, more than doubled sponsored research to $430 million a year, and completed two comprehensive, universitywide strategic planning processes designed to take USC to new levels of academic excellence,” according to the university. “It also mounted the most successful fund-raising campaign, raising $2.85 billion and becoming the only university to receive four separate nine-figure gifts in one campaign.”
Greif fears that the admissions scandal will undermine all the progress made. He thinks one way to prevent that from happening is for heads to roll “not only at the top of the athletic department … but also at the very top of the university itself.”
He’s not alone in wanting change.
“There are a lot of us that came up the hard way and not with this who you know, who paid what stuff. We had no such connections,” said Robert L. Rodriguez, principal and CEO of First Pacific Advisors Inc., and a USC donor who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the business school.
“To have a vacuous individual like her take a spot from a hardworking applicant who really wants to learn is reprehensible,” he said in reference to Olivia Jade Giannulli.
“When I served on the Board of Leaders several years ago, there were members whose kids did not get in at USC. The kids getting in today have scores that are qualitatively equal to kids getting in at Stanford University. That was not the case 20 years ago. I look at how far the school has come, and when I see the things that drag down the school, it’s very heart-wrenching. Hopefully the whole school will not be condemned just because of the individual bad apples and bad actors.”
According to the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, which represents 83 private, nonprofit college and universities, the concerns about USC’s image are unwarranted.
“The recent college admissions scandal should have no effect on the reputations of the universities involved,” the organization said in a prepared statement. “The affected AICCU institutions are cooperating fully with the United States Department of Justice, as well as conducting internal reviews to ensure all appropriate responses and campus actions are taken. These were illegal actions committed by individuals at institutions -- not by the institutions themselves -- and do not reflect the mission, vision and values of our member institutions.”
Most people will not likely see things that way, however, and will consider the actions of the individuals involved as representative of the universities that employed them.
Any talk of USC's mission and values seem to be overshadowed by the bad publicity. On social media, the focus is on a campus bursting with students from rich families.
The median family income of a USC student is $161,400 (compared to $62,175 for the average American family), and 63 percent are from families with incomes in the top 20 percent of the income scale, according to data from the Equality of Opportunity Project launched by Harvard University economist Raj Chetty with The New York Times. Fourteen percent of USC students are from families who earned $630,000 or more per year, the top 1 percent of the income scale.
“I think it would be a great shame for people to believe that it should permanently damage a very fine institution such as USC,” said Mary Sue Coleman, president of the Association of American Universities, which represents leading research universities, including USC.
Coleman, who was president of the University of Michigan for 12 years and president of the University of Iowa for seven, believes Interim President Austin and other USC leaders “understand the gravity of the situation and the need to investigate and root out the problems and do the right things to regain the public trust.”
Austin has indicated that USC leaders appreciate the seriousness of the scandal and what’s at stake for USC.
“We will do all that is necessary to continue to strengthen our culture and to restore trust within our community,” she said in a statement. “Moving forward, we will take all necessary steps to safeguard the integrity of our admissions process and to ensure we conduct ourselves with integrity and ethics consistent with our values.”
Coleman said it’s important for all the institutions implicated in the admission fraud “and all of higher ed to live up to the principles that we say we have for our institutions, especially in an era when there is a lot of mistrust that our admissions policies are fair and equitable.”
Greif, who funded the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC’s business school, said procedures should have been put in place to prevent or at least detect the bribery and corruption at the heart of the admission scheme.
“How is it that no one at the university was tracking athletic department admissions against athletic engagement post admission?” he asked. “This multiyear misconduct that escaped notice is clear evidence that governance is lacking and that the problems need to be addressed by the Board of Trustees and need to be done right now,” he said. “There’s a critical need for a president to be put in place, and that person needs to come in and clean house.
“This board needs to function like a board that actually oversees the management of the institution and demands accountability of that management, and make changes when changes are necessary. It needs to be more hands-on, more engaged and more involved, and it needs to enforce consequences when it’s clear there are issues that require remediation.”
Erin Hennessey, vice president of TVP Communications and a former admissions counselor and chief of staff to two college presidents, said even though USC may be unique in the numbers of recent scandals it has had, the problems and challenges posed by the admission fraud case are common to all the universities involved, and they’re all searching for the best ways to address them.
“Speaking broadly about what I have seen … all of the institutions that have been named in the indictment have positioned themselves as victims” of the individual at the center of the scandal, she said referring to William (Rick) Singer, who was identified by the Justice Department as the ringleader of the fraud and bribery conspiracy. “And I think that’s the right move.”
“Longer term, all institutions need to think about how this has resurfaced perceptions that wealthy children are treated differently in the admissions process. People think they’re not getting a fair shake,” she said.
Kaster, the USC sophomore, echoed those sentiments.
“For some people it reinforces speculation that the system is rigged,” he said. “But I also know that USC is very selective and hard to get into. I think ambiguity confuses and scares a lot of people. There’s a lot of variation in the process; it’s hard to know exactly what to do to get in -- there’s no one formula.”
He noted, for instance, that he was denied admission by the University of Michigan but was a offered a full scholarship by USC and Vanderbilt University.
Hennessey said the universities should be communicating with internal and external audiences “to reassure them about the integrity of their admissions process and that everyone can be treated fairly based on the institutions’ admissions criteria and the students’ academics abilities.”
She said college enrollment and admissions officials should also be explaining how the admissions process works and how transparent they are about the process
“It’s incumbent on enrollment management professionals to be clear about how they evaluate students and how they go about building a class,” she said.
Despite the widespread negative publicity about the scandal and the loss of goodwill the colleges will have to work hard to rebuild, Hennessey said the damage to their reputations won’t last.
“The universities’ reputations are going to be fine and students are still going to clamor to get in in record numbers,” she said. “Long term it’s still going to be really hard to get into Stanford next year.”
Dunning, of Finn Partners, said the focus on the prestige and image of certain colleges misses an important point.
“The vast majority of American students don’t go to elite institutions and they still do well, and we need to remember that,” she said. “You can get an incredible education at institutions that are neither Ivy League nor tier one.”
“We need to take a deep breath and stop the emphasis on elitism and focus on why higher ed institutions were created. The most important thing that you’re there for is an education, and we’ve lost sight of that. There needs to be a resetting on a variety of levels, and this latest scandal is just a reminder of that.”Image Caption: USC campusIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: University of Southern CaliforniaDisplay Promo Box:
Franciscan U of Steubenville is seeking to block faculty members from talking about university matters anonymously
Franciscan University of Steubenville is considering taking disciplinary action against faculty members who make anonymous comments to the media.
According to documents first obtained by the conservative Catholic website Church Militant, a proposed policy on academic freedom and personal conduct loosely follows widely adopted professional ethics guidelines from the American Association of University Professors -- before taking a hard left.
“Anonymous communication of facts or opinions about the university to media outlets or other external organizations is unprofessional and unethical, and may be grounds for disciplinary action,” it says. Few to no other institutions have such a prohibition. And professors frequently take concerns about their institutions public, using their names or not, to find support from colleagues elsewhere that may lead to change.
Another proposed policy on faculty disagreements outlines a process for resolving them and ends with a blanket ban on breaching “confidentiality.” That includes “spreading defamatory material among other faculty, students or the public” and involving “media outlets or providing them with anonymous information.”
Sharing on social media and “otherwise going outside the circle of parties immediately concerned with the alleged objectionable behavior” is also inappropriate.
A third proposed policy on social media use says professors "shall conduct themselves with the same level of professionalism in social media that they would when speaking to traditional media (newspaper, radio, TV), knowing that anything they say may have repercussions for the entire university community."
The policies appear to have been sparked by a recent controversy over the inclusion of Emmanuel Carrère’s The Kingdom in the syllabus for an advanced English seminar. The 2017 book was critically acclaimed but raised some eyebrows on campus: it discusses pornography and, crucially, questions the Virgin Mary’s virginity and makes reference to her masturbating.
The university initially defended Stephen Lewis, the professor who assigned The Kingdom, in a public statement. But after that statement was published in a Church Militant article called “Franciscan Univ Defends Use of Pornographic, Blasphemous Book,” Franciscan backtracked. Lewis lost his department chairship, and the university said the book would not be taught on campus again.
Church Militant reported this week that some of the faculty members who originally contacted it about The Kingdom, angry that Franciscan hadn’t immediately taken a harder line against Lewis, had retained lawyers in response to the new policies on anonymous sources. It’s arguably ironic. But so is the university responding to an academic freedom crisis with new limits on faculty speech.
Daniel Kempton, chief academic officer, said in an emailed statement Monday that the policies “are part of a broader set of draft policies that were recently proposed by our Faculty Standards Committee for consideration by the full Franciscan faculty.”
Kempton underscored that the policies are still drafts that “could well be revised prior to approval, or not implemented if not approved by a faculty vote.” The standards were “collectively developed by the members of the Faculty Standards Committee and were not authored by the administration,” he added.
Lewis did not respond to a request for comment, nor did numerous other faculty members.
John K. Wilson, co-editor of the AAUP’s "Academe" blog, previously criticized Franciscan’s actions regarding Lewis on that platform. As for the new policies, Wilson said what appears to be a growing trend toward prohibiting “staff and even faculty from speaking to the media” is a “threat to both academic freedom and transparency on campus. Freedom of expression, not secrecy, is a fundamental value of a university.”
Franciscan’s proposed policy on faculty disputes, in particular, is “extraordinarily broad,” he added, noting that it covers concerns about colleagues' publications. Faculty members "should not be immune from criticism, especially from their colleagues,” he said. And it's “particularly appalling that Franciscan wants to invoke the AAUP's principles of academic freedom then add on their unsupported belief that anonymous whistle-blowing is unprofessional and unethical.”
Anonymity is “far from ideal,” Wilson said, but academics may feel “they have to be anonymous because they work at an institution that fails to protect their academic freedom.” And while the “attacks” on Lewis and his academic freedom in response to The Kingdom were “terrible,” Wilson said, “the solution is for colleges to fiercely defend the academic freedom of faculty, not to try to silence criticism of them.”
Frank LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, said that rules against employees sharing information with reporters are widespread, but they are “on doubtful legal footing” and are regularly struck down when challenged.
The anonymous comment stipulation is one LoMonte hadn’t seen before, but one that he said “seems like an especially dangerous variation of the employee gag order.” That’s because it would be easy for someone to be the mistaken target of discipline based on "the erroneous suspicion that he is a leaker.” (LoMonte said this would also be a recruitment challenge, in that it would scare away potential faculty hires.)
The policy, as written, is weak in that it makes no distinction about the kind of information being shared, whether it’s sensitive and or “the location of the annual Christmas concert,” he added.
William C. Ringenberg, an instructor of history at Taylor University and author of The Christian College and the Meaning of Academic Freedom: Truth Seeking in Community, said that at these institutions, “attributable communications are usually preferable to anonymous ones, for the sake of open dialogue.” But the forbidding of anonymous statements “may be even more undesirable than the making of them.”
People in a community “must be able to trust one another,” Ringenberg added. “Often what is needed is more open dialogue rather than a restriction on communication.”Academic FreedomFacultyReligious CollegesEditorial Tags: Academic freedomEnglishFacultyReligionImage Source: iStockIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box:
- Baldwin Wallace University: Akram Boutros, president and CEO of the MetroHealth System.
- College of William & Mary: Glenn Close, the actress.
- Drew University: Christine Todd Whitman, former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and governor of New Jersey.
- Fairfield University: Chris Lowney, co-founder of Jesuit Commons and vice chair of the board of CommonSpirit Health; and Billy Shore, founder of Share Our Strength and the “No Kid Hungry” campaign.
- Guilford College: Johnnetta Betsch Cole, former president of Spelman College and Bennett College.
- Nichols College: Massachusetts lieutenant governor Karyn Polito.
- Northern Vermont University: Cyndi Lauper, the singer and songwriter; and Bess O'Brien, the documentary filmmaker.
- Ohio Northern University: Michael C. Kaufmann, chief executive officer at Cardinal Health Inc.; and others.
- Saint Anselm College: Robert K. Weiler, executive vice president of Oracle Corporation.
- St. Mary's College of Maryland: Erin Ryan, the writer and comedian.
- Sterling College: Vandana Shiva, the ecologist, activist and author.
- University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth: Ellen Zane, CEO emerita of Tufts Medical Center; U.S. Representative William R. Keating; and others.
- University of New Hampshire: David Brooks, the New York Times columnist.
- Washington College: Leo Strine, chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court.
When President Trump issued an executive order last week dealing with campus free speech, he was joined by conservative students who complained their rights had been trampled by liberal censorship.
One of the earliest backers of the Trump executive order was Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., who has frequently called out the alleged "silencing" of conservative college students.
“The president is right to stop our government from handing out taxpayer dollars to subsidize institutions that practice censorship -- regardless of whether that censorship is used against those on the left or the right,” he wrote in a Fox News opinion column earlier this month.
No college president is more closely identified with the president than Falwell, who invited Trump to give a 2017 commencement address at Liberty and has frequently attacked the president’s critics in the media and on Twitter. He’s also claimed unique credentials on campus speech, having declared in the past that Liberty promotes free expression “unlike many major universities where political correctness prevents conservative students from speaking out.”
But the university has been repeatedly taken to task by civil libertarians in recent years for censorship of student journalists and speakers on its campus.
It’s not clear that the executive order will actually endanger federal research funds for colleges and universities that fail to protect free speech. And it states only that religious private colleges like Liberty must comply with their stated institutional policies on campus speech. However, despite Falwell's boasts about the freedoms at Liberty, the complaints about the university show that -- contrary to many statements from President Trump -- censorship isn’t just an issue affecting conservative speakers on largely liberal campuses.
Among the incidents of alleged censorship that have become public, Falwell instructed the editor of Liberty Champion, the campus newspaper, in October 2016 to spike a column critical of then-candidate Trump after a leaked recording from Access Hollywood in which he is heard bragging about assaulting women.
In October 2017 and again the following year, Falwell and faculty members pressured student journalists not to cover a gathering of a progressive evangelical Christian group in Lynchburg, Va., where Liberty is located.
In an April 2018 meeting with Champion staffers, Bruce Kirk, Liberty’s dean of the school of communication and digital content, told Champion staffers their job was “to keep the LU reputation and the image as it is … Don’t destroy the image of LU. Pretty simple. OK?”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a group that advocates for free speech on campuses, urged Falwell in a letter shortly afterward to reconcile the university’s actual policies and practices with his stated commitment to free expression.
“I think Falwell Jr.’s statements about his commitment to freedom of expression would be more well received if he didn’t have a history of engaging in a campaign of press censorship on his campus,” said Sarah McLaughlin, a senior program officer for legal and public advocacy at FIRE, and the author of the letter.
In February, FIRE listed Liberty in its annual list of the 10 worst colleges for free speech.
A spokeswoman for Liberty said the university would pass on commenting for this story.
Complaints about censorship at Liberty go back even further. In 2009, Liberty de-recognized the College Democrats chapter on campus. But FIRE found that, according to the institutional policies published at the time, respect for free expression did not appear to be among the chief values it professed. There was no mention of free speech or free association among the 10 "distinctive" attributes of Liberty published on its website at the time, the organization found.
Although Liberty does not rank among the top universities for federal research grants, which the executive order addresses directly, it ranked sixth last year for total federal student aid it received. The order does not affect federal student aid.
The extent to which censorship is an ongoing issue on the campus is difficult to track in part because the university requires student journalists to sign nondisclosure agreements. That means their ability to continue their education could be affected by complaining to outside groups.
According to the executive order signed by President Trump -- the first in what he said would be “a series of steps” to protect students' rights -- public institutions must uphold the First Amendment while private colleges like Liberty must comply with their stated institutional principles on free speech. Liberty’s institutional policies, which were previously available online in its student handbook, are now password protected on its website.
It’s unclear if the executive order, which provided few details on how it would be implemented, will push more private colleges to disclose those policies. FIRE has called out those colleges that choose not to make them public.
“Generally, our stance is that schools should make these handbooks and any policies public so students can know what kind of campus they’re agreeing to go to before they actually attend,” McLaughlin said.
Because of the lack of transparency at the campus, it’s difficult to say whether censorship has gotten worse in recent years, McLaughlin said.
“I can say that over the past two years it appears to have been a sustained campaign of censorship,” she said.Editorial Tags: Free speechImage Source: Getty ImagesImage Caption: President Trump and Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr.Ad Keyword: Free speechIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box:
On March 15, in the early hours of the morning after the bloody shootings at New Zealand mosques, Beloit College student Nathaniel Acharya made an emotional post to a campus Facebook group.
Little did he know that this -- and other statements on his social media -- would set off a free speech battle at Beloit that Acharya said resulted in his temporary suspension and removal from the private institution’s grounds.
Acharya has since been reinstated, but placed on probation. The college has refused to discuss his case, despite Acharya alleging he was targeted for his religion and background. The kerfuffle comes at a time when free expression in higher education has broadly been called into question -- President Trump last week signed an executive order threatening to cut off research funds to colleges that do not support free speech.
Acharya, who is Muslim, wrote in that post about how he was sick of the attacks against those who practiced his religion (the shooting killed 50 worshippers and injured 50 more) and other minorities. He said his post was an open letter to the campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), a national conservative group, and its leader, who planned to bring Erik Prince to the college to speak on March 27. Prince is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and known as the controversial founder of Blackwater, a military security company that has been accused of crimes against Muslim people in many countries.
“I would like it to be public record that I, personally, at least, have had it with your shit,” Acharya wrote to the group. “To everyone with a basic sense of human decency, let’s organize to repel the March 27th invasion of our college, lest we be complicit in it and all that it represents.”
Two days later, Acharya received a letter from the college. Administrators alleged he was engaged in “acts of serious of misconduct” that violated the college’s policies.
The letter stated he had been accused of intimidating others and threatening violence, and referenced two social media postings (neither was the Facebook post against YAF).
The first was a Facebook post he had made that included a photo of someone else’s violent tweet. The original tweet read “don’t worry, revenge is coming” with a picture of a gun. Acharya wasn’t endorsing the message in that tweet, but urged his social media followers to stay safe.
He wrote that if the person was to “spray his bullets at the fascists, then perhaps he will rest among the green birds,” which is reference to his religion -- green birds are the souls of dead martyrs who live in paradise. Acharya was essentially saying that if the person was fighting fascists, he will enter heaven.
“Should he be one of those poor brothers that is only anger and no rationality, his will not be the resting place of the righteous,” Acharya wrote, indicating that if the person would murder innocent people, he will end up in hell. “Stay safe my friends. Please.”
The second of Acharya’s postings was a photo on Snapchat with a caption that read “Hey if you post on 4chan or [8chan] I don’t care what board you’re part of, you deserve to be shot for knowingly [participating] in one of the biggest breeding grounds for white supremacist terrorists of the modern era.”
Both 4chan and 8chan are social media platforms, but far less regulated than are Facebook or Twitter. They generally allow for memes and other showings of support for white nationalism. The alleged New Zealand shooter espoused white supremacist ideology, and he and his supporters were active on those platforms.
Acharya said that the proceedings against him were unfair.
The rest of the letter he received, as is common for campus disciplinary process, detailed where his hearing would take place, which administrators he would be facing and told him he was allowed a “support person” -- who could be a peer, professor, even an attorney.
But the problem was Acharya’s hearing was supposed to take place that day at 3 p.m. -- less than an hour after the letter had been delivered, he said.
This gave him no time to scrounge up someone to attend with him, he said. The hearing was also scheduled during spring break, which meant fewer people were on campus.
After the hearing, Acharya said he was suspended from the college and barred from campus pending a second hearing and a final meeting to decide the verdict against him. He said that the administrators in the first meeting mentioned the social media posts in the letter, but also the post against YAF.
Acharya’s friends launched a full campaign -- writing down the series of events and posting about his situation to Facebook and contacting media.
Another of Acharya’s friends created a petition, which she said was signed by nearly 300 people in the 24 hours after she published it online March 18. On Tuesday, the day of Acharya’s second hearing, his friends said that more than 50 students and a couple of professors camped outside the Office of Residential Life with signs that read “Nate Is Not a Threat/White Supremacy Is the Threat” and “Bring Nate Back.”
The petition read in part, "I condemn and protest the behavior of Beloit College in their choice to suspend him, and in the way the institution has responded to the alleged 'threats' he made on social media. The posts in question are not threatening, nor do they incite violence, which is more than can be said for the ideology [white supremacy] Nathaniel spoke out against."
Administrators lifted the interim ban against him on campus on Tuesday, saying that their investigation determined there was “no evident threat to campus,” according to a letter from the college.
In the letter Acharya received Wednesday, the college called his social media postings “disturbing” and said they could be construed as threatening to the campus. However, administrators acknowledged Acharya did not intend to threaten violence. The college said he violated the conduct code and put him on probation through May 19.
“Any student or student group at Beloit could consider your posts, individually, or in their totality to be intimidating and an effort to shut down speech you disagree with,” the administrators wrote. “Your personal views are welcome, but introducing the subject of guns and shooting people into the discussion is not acceptable at Beloit, or likely anywhere else. This is true whether you subjectively intended to harm anyone or not. Your communications are treated the same way as they would be if made by another student objecting to another speaker that you agree with.”
Tim P. Jones, a spokesman for the college, declined to discuss Acharya’s case, citing federal privacy laws. Asked what kind of speech that college would consider threatening and in violation of the conduct code, he said, “Every situation is unique and requires a great deal of context. The college follows its processes and procedures in the student handbook."
Acharya said he appreciated how the college handled his hearing, but he said he believes he was singled out because he was a minority. He pointed to Prince’s scheduled appearance -- he said the college feels comfortable giving Prince a platform, but pursued him for no reason.
“There’s not a lot of Muslim students here; I can count us all on two hands. They tend to really jump to conclusions pretty easily,” Acharya said.Editorial Tags: Free speechIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: College: Beloit CollegeDisplay Promo Box:
Asian Studies scholars debate ethics of holding future conferences in Asia after visa debacle in India
DENVER -- Is there anywhere in the world an academic association can hold a conference without making some kind of ethical compromise?
The Association for Asian Studies held a town hall meeting here Saturday night during its annual meeting to ask the question of whether it should continue to organize regional conferences in Asia. Controversy ensued last year after it emerged that the Indian government had barred Pakistani scholars from participating in an AAS-in-Asia conference in New Delhi.
More than 600 scholars signed an open letter at the time faulting the AAS leadership for not canceling the conference and for not informing participants about the restrictions on Pakistani scholars in a timely manner so that they might have the option of withdrawing prior to making travel arrangements. The February letter from India’s Ministry of External Affairs barring Pakistani participants was posted on the conference website as a hyperlinked document in a section about visa information, but AAS did not call attention to the restrictions or make any kind of public statement until news of it broke on social media in June, one month prior to the conference.
Anne Feldhaus, the Distinguished Foundation Professor of Religious Studies at Arizona State University and the president of AAS at the time of Saturday's town hall, said the association chose not to make a public statement upon learning of the visa restrictions in March at the request of its partner in organizing the conference, the New Delhi-based Ashoka University.
“The reason we didn’t cancel the conference is one we can debate,” Feldhaus said during Saturday’s town hall. “The reason we did not reveal in a very loud, public way the fact that this had been done to us was that our partners in Delhi insisted that that was their prerogative and that they were working behind the scenes with the government of India and it was not for us to speak about the government of India. That was their job. In my view, we were faced with the choice between being as transparent as our membership would like and if we did that being neocolonial in our relationship with our partners, or on the other hand being true partners of our partners.”
Members speaking at Saturday’s town hall criticized AAS for its handling of the situation and said the failure to notify participants as soon as the visa restrictions became known put them in ethically compromising positions. “By the time I got the news, it was too late for me to step back,” said Martha Selby, chair of Asian studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Selby said by the time she learned of the ban -- via Facebook, not an official AAS communication -- her university had already committed funds for her travel and she’d engaged in extensive planning of a panel with colleagues from India.
“Had I known when AAS knew this would have been an issue, I would have very quietly withdrawn,” Selby said, “and it also put me at odds with several of my colleagues on the U of T campus, colleagues who are very dear to me. They questioned me about why I would go to such an event after this happened.”
But while there was criticism of AAS’s handling of the situation in Delhi, several AAS members spoke in favor of continuing to organize conferences in Asia in the future.
“I strongly endorse the idea of continuing to meet in Asia,” said Arjun Guneratne, a professor of anthropology at Macalester College. He added that he was astonished by the lack of self-reflection in the discussion in Denver.
“We live in a country where scholars from Iran, Sudan and elsewhere may not attend a conference in this country purely because of their citizenship, purely because of their religion,” Guneratne said. “If we are going to be outraged because Pakistani scholars were not allowed to come to New Delhi, we should be outraged now that there are potentially Asianists from Iran or Asianists from some other country that are in the crosshairs of the State Department that are unable to come here.”
Ananya Vajpeyi, an associate professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi, offered the perspective of an American-trained academic who taught at U.S. colleges but is now teaching in India. “For someone like me … it’s great for us that there is a conference option somewhere closer to home, more affordable,” she said.
Vajpeyi also argued that the problem of visa restrictions isn’t one that can be solved by either AAS or Ashoka University. “These are issues of national policy and international politics; it should not be a matter of a blame game on the leadership of the AAS,” she said.
“We all condemn hypernationalism, we all condemn xenophobia, and we can’t be responsible that our countries are practicing such policies that we ourselves don’t agree with … Some perspective and some modulation are called for.”
Fabio Lanza, a professor of history at the University of Arizona, argued, however, that if AAS does move ahead with hosting conferences in Asia, it needs to be more transparent with members, and not only in the event of a problem.
"What’s the standard for not choosing a place?" Lanza asked. "Do they ban LGBT people, should we go? Can we have a panel about Xinjiang or Tibet [two sensitive topics in China that are often subject to censorship] -- should we go? I’m not saying the answer is no or yes. I’m saying this is a decision the members should actually be part of."
"I’d also point out that we are a pan-Asian institution in terms of membership, but we are a North American-based institution," Lanza added (AAS's secretariat is based in Ann Arbor, Mich.). "Why do AAS-in-Asia is also a question. We don’t have to do it.”
AAS started holding regional conferences in Asia in 2014. The association has so far held five conferences in Asia -- in Singapore, Taipei, Kyoto, Seoul and Delhi -- and has a sixth conference scheduled for this summer in Bangkok. A seventh conference is in the planning stages for Hong Kong.
“I can imagine that if there are topics that couldn’t be talked about in Bangkok, they could be encouraged in Hong Kong,” said Laurel Kendall, a past president of the association and the curator of Asian Ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History. “If this is a pan-Asian organization and if we all recognize that there are going to be issues everywhere -- including huge visa issues in this country -- there are ways we can … use the resources we have as a pan-Asian organization to allow for the discussion of topics that can’t be discussed here but can be there.”
But each location brings different issues. Katherine Bowie, another past president and the Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, raised the question of whether AAS will need to warn members planning on participating in the Bangkok conference that they cannot criticize the monarchy, which is a criminal offense in Thailand punishable by jail time.
Bowie also discussed the difficulty of finding university partners in certain countries in Asia that have the capacity to organize conferences with 1,000 or more attendees. Sri Lanka is difficult, she said, as is Nepal; if AAS is unable to locate a partner in Pakistan, “that means we go back to India; we do this all over again.” And in regards to its conference in Thailand this summer, Bowie said the association could be criticized for de facto supporting a military regime.
AAS is following up on Saturday’s town hall with a survey of members about their views on future AAS-in-Asia conferences. “Do we continue to do this knowing that in every location we will be compromised?” Bowie asked. “Maybe not in the same way, but we will always be compromised.”GlobalEditorial Tags: Academic freedomIndiaInternational higher educationScholarly associationsIs this diversity newsletter?: Newsletter Order: 0Disable left side advertisement?: Is this Career Advice newsletter?: Magazine treatment: Trending: Display Promo Box:
New presidents or provosts: Alvernia Central Asia Gettysburg Kennesaw New Brunswick New England Optometry Seton Hall UConn
- Glynis Fitzgerald, associate vice president of academic affairs and dean of the School of Graduate Studies at Central Connecticut State University, has been chosen as provost at Alvernia University, in Pennsylvania.
- Robert W. Iuliano, senior vice president and general counsel at Harvard University, in Massachusetts, has been selected as president of Gettysburg College, in Pennsylvania.
- Thomas C. Katsouleas, executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia, has been appointed president of the University of Connecticut.
- Andrew Kuchins, senior fellow and research professor at the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University, in Washington, D.C., has been chosen as president of the American University of Central Asia, in Kyrgyzstan.
- Paul Mazerolle, pro vice chancellor of arts, education and law at Griffith University, in Australia, has been appointed president and vice chancellor at the University of New Brunswick, in Canada.
- Joseph E. Nyre, president of Iona College, in New York, has been named president of Seton Hall University, in New Jersey.
- Kathy Schwaig, Dinos Eminent Scholar Chair of Entrepreneurial Management and dean of the Michael J. Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University, in Georgia, has been selected as provost and vice president for academic affairs there.
- Erik Weissberg, director of clinical education at New England College of Optometry, has been promoted to vice president and dean of academic affairs there.