Free speech issues to be addressed by faculty
A host of topics were addressed at the MSU Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, but the most controversial issue brought up was one the trustees didn’t say a word about.
Two people addressed the board at the end of the meeting and expressed concern about English professor William Penn’s remarks during a lecture some are calling anti-Republican. Both speakers were concerned about the impact it could have on the university’s reputation.
“His complete lack of sophistication and what appears to be a very limited intellect was not only embarrassing, but I think a poor reflection upon this university, both academically and otherwise,” said Chris Fitzsimmons, an alumnus.
MSU Campus Conservatives, or MSUCC, had a few people outside the the Administration Building holding signs that asked for Penn’s resignation.
Acting Provost June Youatt gives a presentation about this year's enrollment numbers at the MSU Board of Trustees meeting Sept. 13, 2013, at the Hannah Administration Building. The Board discussed many topics including new research and events coming up in the new school year. Margaux Forster/The State News
“I believe that removing him from the classroom was an excellent first step in preserving the trust that students hold in this university and the administration,” said Matthew Bedard, MSUCC president and political science junior. “I do however, believe that it was only a first step.”
He added that he believes Penn took advantage of his position and the trust of his students to promote personal views.
Some MSU faculty are taking a different approach.
An ad hoc committee will be put together in the coming weeks by the Steering Committee to address overarching concerns that came out of Penn’s case, committee chair and journalism professor Sue Carter said during the meeting.
“Recent events have prompted us to look at academic rights and responsibilities, and we believe it’s important to take a global view, not just focus one particular incident with regard to classroom debate and classroom discussion,” Carter said.
The board made no comments during the meeting on either the complaints or the committee, but MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said afterward that it’s a step in the right direction.
“I give faculty an enormous amount of credit because they’re prepared to work with students through academic governance to work through these issues,” Simon said. “That’s the measure of a great faculty.”
She said it’s important to have an active and challenging learning environment where students and faculty can feel safe expressing different points of view. She said students should think about how they would feel if they thought they would be recorded if they said something outrageous or dumb.
“I would never do that to you as a student — that’s not right, it’s not right, in my opinion,” Simon said. “It threatens the capacity for us to have the kind of learning environment that (students) came for.”