ryan lovelace

As a student journalist, I received lots of hostile feedback ranging from people calling me a “piece of s—,” to the more creative “you wouldn’t make a good pimple on a journalist’s a—hole.” But the greatest hostility I’ve experienced came my way after the publication of an opinion piece here for The College Fix about indoctrination in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at my alma mater, Butler University.

A political science professor used her syllabi to ask students “to write and speak in a way that does not assume American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status, etc. to be the norm.” I explained that I thought being judged before the class even began and being forced to act in such a way ran against the mission of every institution of higher education.

The article soon went viral. Talk radio show hosts discussed it on air and it got picked up all across the Internet at places such as The Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web Today.” Then Sean Hannity did an entire segment on it for his primetime Fox News television show.

Soon thereafter, Butler University President Jim Danko sent out a campus-wide email titled “Affirming our Guiding Principles,” in which the president took care to explain that “inclusive language is encouraged and supported at Butler University.”

“Unfortunately, some responses we have received from individuals not associated with Butler University who read the article online have targeted various individuals at Butler in ways that have involved personal (verbal) attacks and hateful language,” Danko wrote. “We have taken care to ensure the safety and well being of those on our campus who have been the recipients of these responses.” Danko never contacted me, nor anyone involved in the editing or production of my article to my knowledge, to see if the hateful attacks extended in more than one direction.

Soon after Danko’s campus encyclical, I was called in for meetings with a professor, a department head, multiple college deans, and the provost of the university.

The Limbaugh Factor

Some of these meetings arose after Rush Limbaugh mentioned the story for a brief moment on his radio show. Rush may be the foulest four-letter word for some at Butler University, where people would mention his name to me in a hushed tone as if he were “He Who Must Not Be Named” from Harry Potter.

And while students and professors used his name as an obscenity, insult or punch line, his listeners reacted differently. One Butler alum and loyal Limbaugh devotee wrote the president and copied me on an email explaining that she was saddened to hear my story on his show, and relayed her own similar experience at Butler 32 years before.

“My sociology teacher at BU had called me a middle-class-brat when I wrote of my value system (work/pay/reward) growing up in southern Indiana,” the alumna wrote. “That part-time professor loudly pronounced his judgment on me in night class with his holier-than-thou reasoning, making me feel like a small freshman–I did not dare come back with a rebuttal.  I was frozen.  It was demeaning. … Thankfully, I had the power of perseverance and made it through the class AND pharmacy school.”

Soon after Rush discussed my story, more than 110 professors had drafted and disseminated their own critique of my work via an all-campus listerv.

“Support for such a view of education, as manifest in the criticism the professor and Butler University received in response to the piece, reminds us that we are all, professors and students alike, navigating in a challenging cultural moment, one that would define education as a commodity and dismiss efforts to establish inclusivity as “political correctness” rather than a worthy educational endeavor,” the letter explained in part.

The faculty then staged an “inclusivity teach-in” to protest my opinion and its existence on campus. I was not invited to the “inclusive” campus gathering and did not attend. According to The Butler Collegian’s Twitter feed, at least one professor called me a racist, while others questioned my character and one attendee suggested I had “plagiarized the syllabus.”

One student told me about his experience at the ‘teach-in’ without realizing I was the author of the piece in question (I waited until after he told me about his experience to let him know I was the author). The student explained that attendees at the event suggested I would “burn in hell” and “did not deserve to have any friends.” The student said he had attempted to speak out against the personal attacks against me as shameful, but was cut off by a member of the faculty.

Having learned of the planned rally just hours before it began, I decided to head to the gym—I figured it would be the last place I’d find any angry feminist professor.

Eventually the hostility directed at me seemed to subside as final exams fast approached. But as soon as the next semester began, the university continued its response to my article, even as I was off-campus completing a semester in Washington, D.C.

University Officials Double Down

As a response to my article in The College Fix, the university brought back “Founder’s Day.” The Founder’s Day event took place at the on-campus Starbucks and included readings of the Emancipation Proclamation, a speech by Frederick Douglass, and other speeches, according to The Butler Collegian. An associate professor told The Collegian such action was necessary because “the school needs a reminder of its values following the article written by Ryan Lovelace last year for The College Fix.”

But the Founder’s Day event did not conclude Butler’s response to my article. Instead, Butler continued to reward those who openly attacked me and my point of view. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences awarded a $1,000 prize to a student who entered the LAS essay contest writing against my work. The contest asked students to respond to the prompt, “Primed to Serve, a Benefit of a Liberal Arts Education,” and the winning student submitted an entry titled, “Bologna and Blogs: A Student’s Journey Towards Actualizing The Purpose of His Higher Education.” In the essay, the student framed the situation surrounding my article as “A professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences came under attack by a student.”

This student’s opinion was hardly new. Butler University’s website housed multiple blog posts by the same student about the situation titled, “Fixing College?” and “Fix College: The Real Problem is the Student.” The College Fix’s editor responded to the Butler University blog posts here.

While the university sponsored, rewarded, hosted and promoted content and programming that viewed my existence and thinking as reprehensible, I decided not to respond fearing retribution. The College Fix defended my article and helped me evaluate the situation, while some professors, students and friends at Butler advocated on behalf of allowing me to continue as a student at Butler. I am grateful for all of the support that I know allowed me to continue pursuing my college degree.Having graduated in May, I now feel comfortable explaining that my article was not written or meant as an ad hominem attack on any course, professor, or syllabus. Instead, my critique was directed at the Liberal Arts experience I encountered at Butler University.

I could have written about many other classes. A Spanish class I took screened a film portraying Che Guevara, the Marxist revolutionary, as a young man who fought to help the sick and impoverished. While the rest of the class did not appear to share my reaction of disgust, I suspect a similar film romanticizing Adolf Hitler’s life as a struggling painter in a German language class would have elicited a stronger reaction against such vile propaganda.

In another class, a professor called me into his office because he was displeased that I submitted a homework assignment that did not share his beliefs and concern for the trees being chopped down in the Amazon. He proceeded to lecture me for half an hour about why the class materials he selected were unbiased.

And I could continue with several other examples, but I chose to highlight the syllabus of a political science class in my article because it was a concrete example of bias in the Liberal Arts curriculum that could not be brushed off as an isolated anecdote or hearsay.

Standing Firm

I had hoped my article would encourage decision-makers on campus to consider the values of “inclusivity” and “diversity” as less about race, sexuality, and identity and more about welcoming contrasting points of view. I hoped Butler would listen to students with differing opinions and present multiple ways of thinking in the classroom without first evaluating students’ ethnicity or socio-economic background. This never happened at Butler. But it happens every day at The College Fix, where students offer opinions and uncover stories that campuses are unwilling, or else unable, to consider and cover.

Despite a few ups and downs, I enjoyed my time at Butler University and will always love being a Bulldog. Ultimately, I benefited from attending Butler—where I learned to speak up for my beliefs, even when those beliefs were unpopular—and I hope others will benefit even more so. I hold out hope that Butler will improve because I know many friends, teachers, and parents who have a vested interest in making Butler a better place to learn.

Ryan Lovelace is a 2014 graduate of Butler University. He was a 2013 College Fix Summer Fellow, and has recently been named the William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow in Political Journalism at National Review Institute.

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Butler University has awarded endowed scholarships on the basis of race and gender, The College Fix has learned.

Butler removed the listing of all endowed scholarships, totaling approximately $2.4 million, from the university website before the 2013-2014 school year after inquiry from a parent of a prospective student.

The Scholarships

The “race-conscious” scholarships Butler has offered include scholarships that are only awarded to African-American students, an award limited to “a female student of Hispanic descent,” an award limited to “a woman of Indian descent” (unless Butler cannot find one) and an award that declares, “Preference will be given to Caucasian undergraduates enrolled in the College of Business.” The whites-preferred scholarship was created after the benefactor’s wife died in 2002, according to literature from Butler’s College of Business.

Roger Clegg, president and counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity who worked as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan and Bush administrations and held the second highest position in the Civil Rights Division, said Butler’s status as a private institution does not impact the legality of the scholarships in a state such as Indiana.

“What’s relevant is the federal law,” Clegg said. “And the federal law applies essentially the same way to both public universities and private universities because private universities all get federal money, except for two, which you know [are] Grove City and Hillsdale.”

As a private institution that accepts federal money, Clegg said, Butler is prohibited from racial discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which the Supreme Court has ruled is coextensive with the Constitution in banning discrimination.

“If the university is involved, either in funding the scholarship or in choosing the recipient, then I think that you would have a hard time justifying a scholarship that is racially exclusive,” Clegg said.

Melissa Smurdon, the director of the financial aid office, said the advancement office works with donors to create the endowed scholarships.

“It may be as simple as you can say—what college the student is in or, in the case of larger awards, they might be able to say college and another preference—one brown eye and one blue eye or something like that, which can make [it] hard to find the students,” Smurdon said. “Then there are, some of the larger awards, larger endowments or endowed accounts, have a little more leeway on what criteria they establish.”

Smurdon said the financial aid office then administers the aid to students. She said her office awarded scholarships to students of different races based upon students’ answers to an optional question on the admission application.

The Legalese

“Frankly, your messages caught us a little off guard,” wrote Tom Weede, then vice president of enrollment management, in a letter responding to the multiple inquiries from the father of a prospective Butler student, who lives in Northern Virginia with decades of journalism and media experience under his belt.

The father first contacted Butler University’s Office of Financial Aid via email to inquire about the legal and moral reasoning behind the race- and gender-based scholarships in the fall of 2012 and received no response.

The father then sent another message to which Smurdon replied on November 16, 2012, “Your emails have been referred to others on campus who can more adequately address your questions.  Due to university business travel and the upcoming holiday, they may not be able to respond to you for a short time.  We request and appreciate your patience.”

Receiving no explanation during the month after the father’s initial inquiry, he wrote again to Smurdon on December 10, 2012, saying in part, “My son recently commented that if it takes more than a month to explain something, maybe it is something you shouldn’t be doing!”

On January 18, 2013, Weede emailed the father and attached a letter containing an explanation of sorts.

“[A]lthough race-conscious scholarships can be awarded under current law, the circumstances under which they can be awarded are relatively narrow,” Weede wrote after acknowledging Butler had consulted counsel. “Accordingly, sufficient concern exists currently to justify Butler’s re-evaluation of its current race-conscious scholarship offerings. During that process, we will be pulling down those specific scholarships from the University’s website and will discontinue offering them until such time, if ever, we are able to confirm their legitimacy and legality.”

In his letter to the curious father, Weede also wrote that Butler would examine its “gender-based scholarships,” and added that Butler would carefully watch and consider the Supreme Court’s ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case about the affirmative action admissions policy at the University of Texas, as part of its re-evaluation of the endowed scholarships in question.

“I think that they’re [Butler University] to be applauded for doing that because I think these scholarships are illegal, you know particularly the ones that are racially exclusive, and I think that the ones that are not racially exclusive but still racially preferential also raise legal problems,” Clegg said. “And you know the Supreme Court in its Fisher decision said that you’re not supposed to be engaging in racial discrimination unless you conclude that there really is no other way to accomplish whatever end it is that you’re trying to accomplish, except through racial discrimination. So I think that needs to be part of the re-evaluation process too.”

Weede noted that the father’s inquiry represented the first time anyone had questioned the scholarships, and said, “We appreciate not only the manner in which you have communicated with us, but also your efforts to provide an education for your son. You are to be commended.”

Weede left Butler University in December 2013 in order to “pursue other opportunities,” wrote Butler president James Danko in an email, according to The Butler Collegian.

Smurdon said she had “no idea” whether his handling of this situation played a role in Weede’s departure. She also said she did not know why her supervisor left the university, or whether he was asked to leave or chose to leave.

“I don’t know that anyone even if institutional, HR [human resources], or president or anyone knew, I don’t know that they could comment,” Smurdon said. “So, I don’t know.”

Danko did not respond to an interview request for this story, and would not provide comment to The Butler Collegian about Weede’s departure at the time he left the university.

Smurdon told The Collegian in January 2014 that prior to Weede’s departure she would provide status updates to Weede who would then have a regular meeting with the president. After he left, Smurdon had regular meetings with the president, provost and vice president of marketing and communications regarding financial aid and enrollment management.

Smurdon said she never talked about the removed scholarships in her discussions with the president, provost, or vice president of marketing and communications.

Smurdon said the race- and gender-based endowed scholarships questioned by the father are inactive.

She said the inactive scholarships did not disqualify people from consideration for dollars because most of the endowed scholarships are not additional aid. The scholarships are included in an entire financial aid package awarded by the university.

In the 2013-2014 school year, Butler replaced these scholarships with “unfunded dollars,” Smurdon said.

“This is where it’s hard to explain,” Smurdon said. “It’s all one pool. So as I said you didn’t get additional [money] if you got an endowed scholarship. An endowed scholarship helped create the aid package. So if we didn’t have those then the university used unfunded dollars or what’s also known as discount.”

The “unfunded dollars” may appear as a “Butler grant” or a “Butler award” on a student’s financial aid statement, she said.

“It’s discount dollars. It’s not real dollars,” Smurdon said. “It’s saying, just as you described, you’ll pay less because we’re giving you this award.”

Butler’s vice president of finance and administration Bruce Arick declined to comment for this story, including how Butler replaced the funding for the removed endowed scholarships in an email saying, “I believe you have met with Melissa Smurdon on this topic.  I don’t have anything further to add, so we do not need to meet.”

Arick is the signatory on the Form 990 prepared by “BKD LLP” and provided to the IRS titled, “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax.” The form is used by government agencies to prevent organizations from abusing their tax-exempt status. The signatory certifies “Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this return, including accompanying schedules and statements, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, it is true, correct, and complete. Declaration of preparer (other than officer) is based on all information of which preparer has any knowledge.”

On Butler’s 2012 Form 990, under the section labeled “Schools,” “Part I,” question five, part d, asks, “Does the organization discriminate by race in any way with respect to…Scholarships or other financial assistance?” Butler answered, “No.”

When asked whether the answer Butler provided was correct, Smurdon answered, “I don’t know.”

Arick did not return request for comment on Butler’s answer provided on the Form 990.

Butler’s first-ever general counsel, Claire Aigotti, was named to her position in June 2013. She did not return request for comment.

Shari Richey, vice president for advancement since October 2012, did not return request for comment. The advancement office worked with donors to establish the criterion for the endowed scholarships that have since been rendered inactive.

Clegg said it’s not necessarily a good thing for the re-evaluation process to be conducted in public.

“I think that for both public and private universities, if they’re afraid of getting sued—which they should be—they probably want to be circumspect about some of the re-evaluation at least while it’s ongoing,” Clegg said. “But, I mean, obviously once the process is finished, if the criteria for the scholarships has changed, of course that should be announced.

“Sometimes it’s easier for a university to do ISthe right thing, if it can do the right thing quietly because unfortunately sometimes civil rights organizations on the left will put pressure on the university not to award the scholarships on a non-discriminatory basis.”

Stumbling Onto Landmines

The father explained how his son first discovered this matter in an email, saying, “We simply stumbled across the whole thing searching the web, talking father/son…about schools and how people pay for college.”

“[E]ven if an endowed scholarship with a requirement made sense when it was endowed, it may well not be so even a few years later,” the father said. “It’s kinda like [a] landmine laying active after the war ends.”

A self-described libertarian-leaning progressive, the father said he thinks, “[A]ll these decisions should be simply neutral, though I can understand the need for colleges to exercise their judgment as [it] regards admissions and aid. I do, however, resolutely reject the notion that they ought [to] engage in overt discrimination, still worse that they should permit others to do so on their campus.”

Clegg said he thought Butler made the right decision to re-evaluate its discriminatory scholarships.

“I’m glad that Butler has discontinued these scholarships and I’m glad that they are reevaluating them and I hope that they conclude that the scholarships should not be made available on a racially discriminatory way,” Clegg said. “What they should do is not discontinue the scholarships; it’s simply make them available to students without regard to race or ethnicity.”

Ryan Lovelace is a 2014 graduate of Butler University.

(Image: Flickr.a2gemma)

Butler University is striking back at the student whose recent article exposing anti-male, anti-white, anti-heterosexual bias at the university has gained national attention.

In the original article, Ryan Lovelace, Butler student and Fix contributor, explained how he was presumed guilty of racism, sexism and homophobia when he enrolled in a political science class taught by a black female professor:

Butler University asks students to disregard their “American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status” when writing and speaking in the classroom – a practice the school’s arts and sciences dean defended as a way to negate students’ inherent prejudices…

Clearly, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University believes its students were raised as racist and misogynist homophobes who have grown to harbor many prejudices, a stance that is both offensive and hostile to any student’s ability to learn.

As a student at an institution predominantly focused on the liberal arts, I expected to hear professors express opinions different from my own. I did not expect to be judged before I ever walked through the door, and did not think I would be forced to agree with my teachers’ worldviews or suffer the consequences…

Presumably, Lovelace did not expect to be singled out and publicly criticized on his university’s website either, simply for expressing his views.

Penned by fellow student Andrew Erlandson, and published on the university admissions office blog, two articles on the university’s official website take aim at Lovelace for blowing the situation “out of proportion” and for failing to be “adaptable.”

One article, entitled “The Real Problem is the Student,” takes direct aim at Lovelace. “’To write and speak in a way that does not assume American-ness, maleness, whiteness, heterosexuality, middle-class status, etc. to be the norm…’ is rather reasonable for a political science class,” the article states.

The university seems to have missed the point of Lovelace’s complaint, which had to do with presumption of guilt inherent in the above statement–as well as the hypocrisy behind the idea that American-ness, maleness, whiteness, etc. must be singled out as invalid in an academic world that creates entire departments dedicated to narrow world views such as black studies, chicano studies, women’s studies, or gay and lesbian studies.

The failure of left-wing academics to recognize the hypocrisy of continually talking about the need for “diversity” while simultaneously seeking to suppress or discredit people who happen fall outside the left’s list of favorite victim groups shows that diversity is the last thing on their minds. This is about class warfare, gender warfare, and perpetuating racial grievance.

Nevertheless, Lovelace’s article has helped focus national attention on the issue of liberal bias and reverse discrimination in the classroom. (See here, and here, and here, for just a few examples.) In so doing, Lovelace has advanced the true and proper goals of higher education, which are to advance knowledge and provide a forum for free academic expression–not to demonize white male heterosexual Americans or enforce speech codes.

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Image source: Kijkwijzer/Wikimedia Commons