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A Crackdown on Free Speech at … Bucknell University?

University administrators clamp down on — who else — campus conservatives.

by
Robert Shibley

Bio

June 27, 2009 - 12:00 am
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Bucknell University, a well-regarded liberal arts institution set in a picturesque location in the rolling Pennsylvania countryside, looks entirely benign. Its campus is safe, its students intelligent. It counts among its alumni the famed author Philip Roth and Leslie Moonves, the president of CBS. It’s a college to which most parents would be proud to send their kids.

But if your son or daughter is the type who might join the Bucknell University Conservatives Club (BUCC), you would be well-advised to send him or her somewhere else. Because Bucknell really, really does not want to hear what the students of the BUCC have to say.

The BUCC has never exactly been welcome at Bucknell, and as the movie Indoctrinate U shows (directed by a Bucknell alum), the university is hardly a stranger to free speech controversies. The college’s latest assault on the free expression of its students began in March, when the students of the BUCC earned the administration’s ire by passing out satirical “Obama Stimulus Dollars” — fake dollar bills with President Obama’s face on the front and the sentence “Obama’s stimulus plan makes your money as worthless as monopoly money” on the back. Only an hour of this apparently unacceptable behavior was tolerated before administrators “busted” them for “solicitation” without prior approval. A look at Bucknell’s “solicitation” policy quickly reveals that, unsurprisingly, for something to be solicitation it must be trying to sell you something, but that didn’t stop Bucknell from illegitimately using the policy to shut down the BUCC’s protest.

Only a couple of weeks later, the BUCC was back with more pesky activism, this time in the form of a satirical “affirmative action bake sale” protest. Affirmative action bake sales are a common form of college protest in which organizers put together a mock “bake sale” complete with a sign that advertises baked goods for different prices depending on the race of the buyer. Whites and Asians pay more than blacks and Hispanics for the same items. Protest organizers use the sales to spark debate over affirmative action policies. They are not a moneymaking venture, and, in fact, the bake sale protest idea is not new — affirmative action bake sales are based on earlier “gender gap” or “pay equity” bake sales, which intended to demonstrate the difference in pay between men and women by charging men less than women for the same baked goods.

As the BUCC conducted this protest on April 7, they once more had about an hour before an administrator showed up to shut the students down. Captured on video, Associate Dean Gerald Commerford actually told the students that Bucknell had the “opportunity” to shut down the sale. The pretext? The students were charging less for donuts than they said they would on their event permit. When the students offered to immediately raise their prices to match those on the permit, Commerford refused. After all, why miss such a good “opportunity” to shut down debate and dissent on campus? Commerford assured them, though, that they could reapply for a permit and have the sale again sometime down the road.

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