Universities apologize after receiving backlash for silencing conservative voices on campus

Addison Pummill, Campus Reform

  • Leaders from public universities in Iowa are apologizing after multiple First Amendment violations occurred in 2020.
  • Lawmakers in the state still are not pleased with the explanations they got.

Leaders from public universities in Iowa are apologizing to lawmakers after First Amendment violations occurred on their campuses.

In October, David Johnsen, the dean for the college of dentistry at the University of Iowa, sent a mass email to the college criticizing an executive order issued by then-President Donald Trump. The email condemned the barring of certain types of diversity training that aim to promote “anti-American race and sex stereotyping.”

A conservative student, Michael Brase, “replied all” to the email, asking clarifying questions and sparking discussion on the email chain of about 1,200 students, faculty, and staff. Between two email threads, 18 emails were exchanged over the topic.

According to the Daily Iowan, in one of his follow-up emails on the thread, Brase says “simply do the trainings without intentionally race/sex scapegoating people in those trainings. That shouldn’t be that hard.”

According to The Gazette, administrators at the university then summoned Brase to a disciplinary hearing for “unprofessional behavior.” The letter used to summon Brase included warnings of “dismissal” based on his actions.

Brase reached out to lawmakers, which led to the university canceling Brase’s hearing.

Johnsen apologized to the House Oversight Committee and Brase for his actions and the errors of the university.

“I would like to start by apologizing,” said Johnsen, according to the Waterloo Courier. “Michael’s comments in front of the committee on Wednesday laid bare his concerns and fear that he felt regarding his educational future at our college, and, for that, I’m sorry.”

Johnsen vowed that he would never again use his voice “in an official capacity” to push personal political opinions. He also promised to review the committee and process that punishes students for violations of professionalism.

“Since October, we’ve been reviewing what happened, how the process worked and didn’t work, and we’re working to implement steps that will prevent this from happening again” said Johnsen.

Republican lawmakers, however, were not pleased with the explanation and apology.

“This isn’t a second chance,” Iowa Rep. Bobby Kaufmann said. “This is a repeated, decadelong and possibly and probably longer feeling of hundreds of students, if not thousands, that there are two different sets of rules. So as much as I greatly appreciate, dean, your efforts and look forward to seeing them implemented, I expect the entire university, all of you, to come up with a systemic policy.”

One Democratic lawmaker even said she agrees that the University of Iowa made a mistake.

“I readily concede that the UI made a mistake,” Iowa Rep. Christina Bohannan a Democratic State Representative and University of Iowa Law Professor, said. “Under the First Amendment, a state university should not punish anyone for commenting on a matter of public concern. It is antithetical to the university’s educational mission to foster debate.”

At Iowa State University, president Wendy Wintersteen apologized for a “disappointing, egregious” instance during the fall semester where a class syllabus told students that they couldn’t pick “any topic that takes at its base that one side doesn’t deserve the same basic human rights as you do (i.e.: no arguments against same-sex marriage, abortion, Black Lives Matter, etc.),” as Campus Reform previously reported.

Follow the author of this article: Addison Pummill

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