July 21, 2015

Will the Gospel Be Permissible Speech at the University of Oklahoma?

I’ll never forget a conversation I had one day in the fall of 2010. My son, at the time a high-school student who had done well on the PSAT, was being courted by the University of Oklahoma. We even attended a dog-and-pony show where folks from the OU admissions office and Honors College made their pitch.

A week or so later, standing one day in the break room at my workplace, I was relaying all this to an associate of mine who at the time was a professor at OU (he’s no longer there). “Don’t send him there,” he replied solemnly as he finished his tea. He then proceeded to discourse on the ignominies of the OU Honors College, crowning his remarks with the word “Marxism.”

So … not a great recruiter, basically.

None of what he said was surprising—we had had these sorts of conversations before. And my son, despite being a huge OU football fan (he has been to 98 consecutive home games, starting when he was six), had decided on a different school anyway.

Truth to tell, I was not disappointed in my son’s decision, given my firsthand familiarity (from my time there as an undergraduate) with OU’s many hazards and follies. In its long march through the institutions, the Left long ago captured academia, including my alma mater in Norman (see, for example, here, here, here, here, here, and, my personal favorite, here).

Dissent Will Be Punished
(Credit: The Weekly Standard)
Even so, my professor pal’s use of the word “Marxism” was memorable. And I have to say it has come to mind often lately, given OU’s partnership with a hostile foreign power likely responsible for the largest cyberattack ever carried out against our country. And of course, there's the cultural Marxism on display in the new push for mandatory coursework covering subjects such as “white privilege” and “gender identity.” Not to mention the news of mandatory “diversity training” now required for all incoming OU freshmen.

Detecting a whiff of the Orwellian in this new "diversity training," I reached out to OU's new vice president of university community, Jabar Shumate, to see if he would be willing to "explore some of these diversity topics (sexual identity, religious freedom, freedom of speech, etc.)" via an e-mail Q & A exchange to be published on this humble blog. "Given the seriousness of these matters," I cautioned, "the questions would not be softballs," and to his great credit he said send them along.

So, inspired by John Fund—who recently decried "leftist 'diversity studies'" programs and urged Americans to "practice free speech July 4"—I sat down over the Fourth of July weekend and drafted these questions. (I'm writing as an OU alumnus and as a parent currently shopping for colleges, not as a representative of any organization I'm affiliated with.) I haven't heard back from Mr. Shumate yet, but when I do I will publish his answers below. [UPDATE: Mr. Shumate's answers, e-mailed to me on August 21, appear below in italics.]

(1) Thanks for agreeing to field some questions. Even though we’re on opposite ends of the political spectrum, you and I have worked arm-in-arm for years on the important issue of parental choice in education. I can’t remember exactly when we first met, but we have worked together going back at least to my time on the Oklahoma state advisory committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. As you have pointed out many times, ensuring a quality education for every child is the civil-rights issue of our day. Now obviously the recent behavior of some Sig Alphs there in Norman was boorish and sinful and appalling. Acting on his belief that “it is wrong to use words to hurt, threaten, and exclude other people,” OU president David Boren called the students “disgraceful” and pronounced their behavior “threatening.” He expelled them for their “leadership role in leading a racist and exclusionary chant which has created a hostile educational environment for others.” Tell us about this new diversity training program at OU. What does it entail and what do you hope it can accomplish?
Shumate: Please see attached .pdf which outlines the Diversity and Sensitivity Experience.
(2) I’m curious how this new program compares to or relates to other training on campus. For example, I know the History of Science Department has done some training in which students were taught that the phrase “If you work hard enough, you will succeed” is a racist microaggression. Does the new diversity training embrace or reject that viewpoint?
Shumate: Our goal within the Diversity Experience is to reinforce a growth mindset for all of our students.
(3) The OU student newspaper reported that one of the topics covered in the new diversity training was “sexual identity.” What exactly is meant by that phrase, and what does the training entail?
Shumate: Sexual identity is how an individual identifies and expresses himself or herself sexually. Within the context of our training we encourage students to have respect for others and how they choose to identify themselves.
(4) Some cultural conservatives are worried about the slippery-slope implications of this claim of a “hostile educational environment.” For instance, Debra J. Saunders has pointed out that “student activists have used ‘hostile environment’ claims to try to muzzle those whose unwelcome viewpoints might ‘trigger’ feelings that make students feel less safe.” Many of us agree with Marco Rubio that “we are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech.” So: What if an incoming freshman in your diversity training class stood up and gave the following oration? (Let’s say a fellow student recorded it and it went viral on YouTube and then showed up on all the news networks.)
To those of you committing acts of sodomy in the OU library or in the dorms or who are considering entering into a same-sex “marriage,” I plead with you to renounce your sin and turn to Christ. In a spirit of genuine love and compassion, I say to those of you who are in bondage to same-sex intimacy: I hurt with you over your father-hunger and your fear and your sadness and your confused “sexual identity.” But God is offering his mercy to you! I implore you to repent and believe the good news, namely, that Christ died for your sins and was raised for your justification. But it is through tears that must I warn you that, if you do not repent, you will fall into the hands of an angry God and endure the punishment of eternal fire.
Now clearly those words could be viewed as hurtful and threatening to some people. Certainly it could be argued that the speaker is creating a hostile environment. As the OU official in charge of diversity training, what would be your response to such a soliloquy?
Shumate: People have a right to speak freely in our community.
(5) Turning from the diversity training specifically to the university community more generally, let’s consider another example. Imagine a student giving this oration on the lawn outside Evans Hall. It too goes viral and makes worldwide news.
Jesus says to everyone on this campus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The Bible is clear that salvation comes only through “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. … And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” To quote the great OU president Arthur Evans (who was also a missionary and a pastor): “Praise for the Cross! Praise for the Cross!” So to my fellow Sooners who are Muslims or Hindus or adherents of any other false religion—those of you who worship any so-called god other than the crucified and resurrected Christ—I beseech you to repent and turn to Him. If you do not, He warns that you will be cast forever into “into the outer darkness [where] there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
That’s clearly not a microaggression—that’s a full-blown macroaggression. Can parents and taxpayers be confident that this student will not be expelled for his “leadership role” in proclaiming an “exclusionary” message which “has created a hostile educational environment for others”?
Shumate: We allow religious free speech on campus and we have allowed spokespeople from different religions on campus to speak as long as it does interrupt the academic environment of the university.  
(6) The OU student newspaper recently reported that OU plans to construct a new study lounge for LGBTQ students in the student union. What is the rationale for this study lounge, and are there plans for any other groups to receive their own study lounges?
Shumate: There are already groups on campus that have lounges and study spaces across campus. There is also a meditation room, which is nondenominational, and open to any member of the OU community. Other lounges include the Honors College study lounge, the Graduate Student study lounge, study lounges in colleges across campus, the Jim Thorpe Multicultural Center and the Henderson-Tolson Cultural Center.
(7) OU has made it clear that hostile, racist, threatening chants are not allowed. One young man who has previously performed for OU students has threatened to “blow your brains out. You a f**k, n***a.” Will he or others like him be permitted to lead this chant—either live or via an audio recording—on the OU campus? Why or why not?
Shumate: OU will not allow activities that create a hostile environment based off of racism.
(8) Many Oklahoma parents and taxpayers share the view that the violation of those Sig Alphs’ First Amendment rights “revealed OU to be a place ruled by panic and prejudice.” Indeed, as attorney David French put it, “our public universities are becoming national leaders in trampling the Constitution to legislate their brand of ‘inclusive’ morality.” If a government official in Oklahoma can now decide what speech is permissible, what reassurances can you give to prospective OU students that their free-speech rights will be protected?
Shumate: Many times President Boren has expressed the view that the university must be a free marketplace of ideas just as he did in speaking to our student body when there was a mass protest against the Fountainhead, an underground conservative paper on campus. Free speech goes beyond the boundaries when it is used to threaten groups of students.
I think you'll agree those were important questions for the administration to answer—especially in a state where the people paying the freight (parents, donors, appropriators) look like this. Consider it tough love from an OU alum and big OU fan who still has three prospective Sooners under his roof.

Democratic pollster Pat Caddell finds that Americans pick religious freedom over gay rights by an overwhelming margin of 4 to 1. Clearly Oklahomans would agree. They need to remain vigilant about what's going on in Norman and on campuses throughout the state.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:57 AM

    The answer to #7 would need clarification, such as the Supreme Court's definition of student-on-student hostile-environment discriminatory harassment. A performance to a general audience (e.g., N.W.A performing its "warning" to the police) couldn't be legally prohibited. (Nor could that song chanted on a bus, not directed at anyone in particular and probably not even sincerely sung.)

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