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Students march for free speech because dean resigned for anti-police, anti-flag, anti-white tweets

‘Shut up,’ they explained

So this is what it takes for college students to march for free speech.

Two weeks after the University of Alabama’s dean of students resigned over his past tweets that said whites can’t experience racism and the American flag and police are racist, the administration is under pressure to explain its role in Jamie Riley’s resignation.

“A couple hundred” students amassed outside Riley’s former office and marched to the Rose Administration building to promote “diversity and free speech” on Thursday, AL.com reports.

They stepped on their own message when President Stuart Bell greeted them and promised that “we will look at providing action items” in response to Riley’s resignation:

As Bell thanked the group for coming out, one student shouted “This is not for you! Shut up!” Bell continued, as the rest of the group rebuked the interruption. …

As Bell left the protest, one student interjected, “Are you not going to listen to what we have to say?”

MORE: Riley resigns as dean after tweets exposed

The March followed an open letter last week from a group of 533 named students identifying itself as “Concerned Students of the University of Alabama.”

They accused the administration of support for “conditional free speech”:

Instead of defending a University employee for exercising his freedom of speech, an action the University has claimed to support in the past, they have remained deafeningly silent, implying that the University only supports free speech as long as it doesn’t criticize institutional racism or call attention to the University of Alabama’s highly charged racial past.

The administration also appears to be out of line with a new state law (opposed by more than two dozen elected Democrats) that protects speech on campus, they said: “The bill ensures that faculty and students are free to take political positions without fear of retribution from the University.”

‘If you have an opinion that is disruptive in any way, you’ll face consequences’

Faculty are apparently more divided than students on how to respond to Riley’s resignation and what to demand from the administration.

The Crimson White reports that they disagreed at a Faculty Senate meeting Tuesday on whether to claim the university’s environment was “racist and toxic” as evidenced by Riley’s resignation.

But they did agree to say his resignation “raises questions about the university’s commitment to free speech” and that the word “racism” should remain in the letter.

The session was closed to the press and non-members so they could privately discuss the situation before (publicly) making edits to a letter to the administration.

Ten senators voted against holding a so-called executive session, including journalism professor Dan Meissner, who claimed it was hypocritical to hide their deliberations as they “condemn the administration for their lack of transparency in this process.”

The Senate also voted to create a task force to “fully assess” the impact of Riley’s resignation and address parts of campus culture that lead some to “feel marginalized, threatened, unsafe and/or unheard.”

MORE: Democrats oppose new Alabama campus free speech law

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the faculty letter said the university has a “reputation as non-inclusive and discriminatory” and asks the administration to “publicly and unequivocally affirm its commitment” to academic freedom and free speech.

Neither the Crimson White nor the Chronicle linked or posted a copy of the letter, and The College Fix has been unable to find a copy posted anywhere else, including the Faculty Senate’s website, whose Sept. 17 minutes have not been posted as of Friday afternoon.

The Chronicle said graduate students from the Department of Gender and Race Studies started a sit-in outside President Bell’s office on Monday and continued it through Wednesday. The Black Faculty and Staff Association also hosted a town hall last week and released their own letter (not linked), saying Riley’s resignation contributed to a “toxic environment.”

The student government approved an amended resolution, according to the Chronicle (not linked), building off the 533-student open letter “to protect free speech on campus,” though it didn’t go as far as student senator and letter author Jack Kappelman wanted:

“This isn’t an issue of liberal ideologies and conservative ideologies,” Kappelman said. “This is a concern of everyone on this campus because right now the precedent is, if you have an opinion that is disruptive in any way, then you’ll face consequences from the university.”

Read coverage of the criticism.

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IMAGE: Jamie R. Riley/Twitter

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg spent several years as a technology policy reporter and editor for Warren Communications News in Washington, D.C., and guest host on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators.” He co-founded the alternative newspaper PUNCH and served as a reporter, editor and columnist for The Falcon at Seattle Pacific University.

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