July 20, 2024

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Washburn president slams free speech over Michael Knowles event

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Conservative media figure and speaker Michael Knowles is scheduled to speak at Washburn University Thursday evening, at the invitation of the College Republicans.  The university says it supports free speech and the First Amendment, but organizers say Washburn has put up a number of roadblocks.

Jerry Farley, Washburn University Presiden

Moreover, Washburn University President Dr. Jerry Farley’s support for freedom of speech appears to be limited to speech with which he agrees and apparently finds having Michael Knowles speak is a bridge too far.  Farley, on March 29, sent a letter to the entire student body condemning the Knowles event scheduled for March 31.

In it, Farley purports to be in favor of free speech, while at the same time attacking speech he apparently does not agree with.

“A Washburn student organization has invited a speaker to campus who has a history of inciting fear and distrust,” Farley wrote. “While I am strongly in the support of first amendment rights, I am disappointed when those rights are used to make others feel unwelcome and even unsafe in our community. While we support the right to speak freely, Washburn University does not condone the hate and misinformation spread by the speaker and his supporters.”

Knowles, who works for The Daily Wire, took exception to Farley’s assertion that he is spreading “hate and misinformation.”

Michael Knowles

“President Farley of course did not cite any evidence for his defamatory claims because none exists,” Knowles wrote, adding that he was inviting Farley to share the stage with him. “If President Farley believes that I have spread “hate and misinformation,” then he can cite specific examples, and we can discuss them. If he believes that my thesis that boys and girls are different constitutes misinformation, then he can defend his alternative thesis.”

Farley also apparently took exception to the date of the event.

“Thursday also happens to be International Tans (sic) Visibility Day,” Farley wrote. “Washburn University supports the Trans community and students who identify as LBGTQ+. We support and stand in solidarity with Trans people around the world and encourage you to learn more about the issues affecting students, faculty and staff who identify as LGBTQ+. We will continue to engage our resources to influence campus (sic) community to be an inclusive place where all feel they are protected, affirmed, and valued.”

In a story about the event and planned protests, the Topeka Capital-Journal suggested the date was deliberately picked, noting sophomore Washburn Student Government Diversity and Inclusion Committee Chairwoman Sierra Jeter told them “said she initially wasn’t sure if the speech was intentionally timed against International Transgender Day of Visibility, but that it would make sense as a methodically provocative way to take away from the day.”

However, in an exclusive interview with The Sentinel, Washburn College Republican Chairwoman Claudia Fury said they weren’t even aware there is an “International Transgender Day of Visibility, let alone that their event coincided with it until she saw Farley’s letter.

“This date was given to us by YAF,” Fury said. “They provided a list of two dates in March and then two dates in April that he’d be available.”

She said between spring break, other days off at the school, and other meetings, March 31 was the only day that would work.

Roadblock after roadblock on Michael Knowles event

Fury said the university has dragged its heels at every turn since they decided to invite Knowles.

“This has been a six-month ordeal, essentially,” Fury said. “We contacted the … Young America’s Foundation to help us book Michael Knowles because they do that for colleges around the country.

“They required a contract to do this, and so we started working with the school. The school took weeks to respond to emails which was our first roadblock with the school.”

In October of last year, Fury said, her organization began planning to bring a high-profile speaker to campus and began speaking to YAF and the Wire to bring Knowles to campus, and confirmed he was available in January.

Normally the cost for Knowles to speak is $10,000 but the group’s total budget for the year is just $3,000, but they offered to spend all of it to bring in Knowles.

However, the school then told WCR that private security would be required — at a cost of $30,000.

“We knew that was not an appropriate amount,” Fury said. “So we continued to plan the event knowing that probably wasn’t the true number.”

Screenshots of emails between Fury and University Counsel Marc B. Fried, obtained by the Sentinel show that Washburn eventually reduced the cost to $780.

The Sentinel reached out to Washburn Public Relations Director Patrick Early, asking if private security was required for all campus events or just this one.  Early said this was a “standard contract” which requires “adequate security measures as defined by state law.”  Pressed on what “adequate” measures were and by whom they were defined, Early simply stated, “as defined by state law.”

Fury said the university continued to drag its feet and “slow roll” the approvals, finally signing the contract with less than a month to go.

And then the Student Government Association, according to Fury, refused to approve the expense.

“We were denied the funding,” Fury said, adding — given the signed contract — the SGA approval was a formality. Something the SGA was apparently unaware of at the time.

Fury said her organization doesn’t know what happened after the meeting, but fortunately, they did have the contract.

“If we didn’t have this contract,” she said. “I’m not quite sure how this event would have played out in the end because we wouldn’t have had the money to give to him.”

The Michael Knowles event is Thursday, March 31 at the Washburn University Memorial Union in the A/B Auditorium.  Doors open at 6 PM and the event begins at 7:15 PM.

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