Cancel Culture — withdrawing support for free speech —  has now made its way to the Heartland after Wichita State University rescinded an invitation last week to “First Daughter” Ivanka Trump to speak at the school’s commencement ceremony.

Trump had been scheduled to provide a video address for WSU affiliate Wichita State University Tech’s June 6 virtual graduation ceremony.  

However, backlash generated by Associate Professor of Photo Media Jennifer Ray prompted the university — located in one of the most conservative states in the union — to cancel the invitation.

“Ivanka Trump, obviously, represents her father’s administration as one of his closest advisors,” Ray posted in a letter online. “To many Americans, that administration has come to signify the worst of our country, particularly in its recent actions toward those peacefully protesting against racist police brutality.”

According to deadline.com, WSU President Dr. Jay Golden and WSU Tech President Dr. Sheree Utash issued a joint statement, in which they ignored the issue of the cancellation entirely, instead simply calling the timing of announcing the speaker “insensitive” in light of “the social justice issues brought forth by George Floyd’s death,” and instead announced the “WSU Tech commencement plans have been refocused more centrally on students — student voices in particular.”

In a statement, Trump slammed the decision to disinvite her.

“Our nation’s campuses should be bastions of free speech. Cancel culture and viewpoint discrimination are antithetical to academia,” she wrote. “Listening to one another is important now more than ever!”

Trump posted the nearly-10 minute address on Twitter, Friday, which focused on COVID-19 and said “I know that all of these talented graduates will dream big and aspire to make the world a better place!” she said.

Backlash from longtime WSU supporters

Al Higdon, a 1961 journalism graduate of WSU, who is a past chair of the WSU Foundation National Advisory Council and is a major donor, was incensed.

“I was appalled when I first read late last week of this dis-invite,” Higdon said in an email. “The decision by Wichita State President Jay Golden not only showed weak leadership in the face of one of his earliest major challenges but, much more significantly, this action flies in the face of values of freedom and open expression of a variety of opinions that every institution of higher learning should hold dear.”

Higdon said he does not know, Golden’s personal politics, but said Golden should resign.

“Whether or not he personally supports this close-minded view I do not know,” Higdon said. “But, at best, President Golden caved to a vocal consortium of liberal academic minds who demand no voice be heard but their own. This is not what WSU has stood for in the past, and not what so many of us want the university to be known for in the future.  A formal apology needs to be extended to Ms. Trump, and President Golden needs to step down from his position.”

Steve Clark, a former member of the Kansas State Board of Regents and namesake of the Steve Clark YMCA and WSU Student Wellness Center, was also livid.

Clark said in a letter to both Golden and Utash, that the events in Minneapolis which resulted in the death of George Floyd were “reprehensible” and that he was confident justice would be served in the case, adding that the politicization of the event — and subsequent “lawlessness” — just as appalling, noting that Golden and Utash dodged all of that in their statement.

“The communication we received was purely a political statement, and one a taxpayer-funded public institution should not be making,” Clark wrote. “Regardless of political bias, it’s incumbent on the University to protect free speech and respectfully allow others to speak who may have differing opinions than the majority of those on campus. Restrictions on speech by public universities are censorship, and (I) should not need to remind you, are in violation of the free speech protections of the Constitution. Any discrimination against speech on the basis of a speaker’s viewpoint, or assumed viewpoint, is prohibited by law.”

Clark called the disinvitation, “at the very least ill-advised” and warned the university that many supporters are as upset as he is.

“I’m aware many other long time loyal and staunch supporters of Wichita State University also feel similarly,” Clark said. “My guess is the University has little comprehension of just how strong those feelings are.”

Not-so-free speech on campus

Although often derided by the left as a non-existent problem, Forbes reported just over a year ago that most university students do not, in fact, believe they are able to speak their minds without fear on campus.

“Sixty-eight percent of collegians ‘largely agree’ that the campus climate today prevents some students from being able truly to speak their minds for fear of offending someone. Only 31% disagree,” the article, which is an analysis of a Knight Foundation report on free speech on campus.

FIRE, a campus free-speech advocacy group endorsed the “Chicago Statement,” a free speech policy statement produced by the Committee on Freedom of Expression at the University of Chicago, which reads in part; “Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn . . . . [I]t is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive.”

As of this writing, the only Regents institution in the state which has signed on to the document is Kansas State University, and in fact, only 72 of the roughly 5,300 universities and colleges in the nation have done so.

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