March 7, 2017
Free speech is an essential element of what makes American universities some of the best in the entire world. The firm commitment to freedom of expression in American education is part of the reason that America is the global leader economically, politically and culturally. Without free speech, the American university would be a dull and reactionary place, reduced to always looking over its shoulder to make sure it is not violating current political and cultural norms.
Here at Santa Clara, and at any university, it is crucial that administrators uphold the values of free speech and open intellectual discourse at every point. This is exactly what happened when the Vice Provost of Student Life recently overturned ASG’s decision on Turning Point USA.
The entire idea of the western university is predicated upon the free and open marketplace of theories and ideas. In this “marketplace” ideas are examined, critiqued, challenged and reformed, all as part of an effort to expand human knowledge and understanding.
The moment that a university begins to favor some ideas over others is the moment that a university ceases to be a marketplace of ideas. Instead, it becomes an institution where students are guided towards a particular way of thinking, as opposed to forming their own worldview. This marketplace of ideas needs to be made up of a variety of different voices and organizations, each with something to contribute to the campus dialogue.
This is why it is so important that the Vice Provost of Student Life stepped in to approve TPUSA as an RSO—she was protecting the foundational ideas of SCU as a place of learning.
Many students and alumni vocally disagree with the administration’s decision, saying that it delegitimizes the Associated Student Government of SCU, and renders their powers valid only when the administration agrees with their decisions. I partially agree with that idea. After all, a strong student government is an integral part of any college campus, serving as a conduit between students and the actual running of the university.
However, like any legislative body, ASG should have limits. In the same way that the Constitution serves as a check upon Congress’ effort to criminalize the burning of the American flag, SCU’s values and academic mission should prohibit ASG from denying TPUSA RSO status.
The simple truth is that ASG was never created, and its members were never elected, to be the final judge of whether or not a club is politically acceptable enough to exist at SCU. Electoral participation at SCU is low, ASG meetings are virtually unattended by the student body, and transparency about ASG’s goals and legislation is unsatisfactory.
I mean no disrespect to the student senators, I understand that they put real effort and hard work into their positions. However, it is apparent that ASG does not have the legitimacy necessary to have the final say over issues that pertain to the foundational basis of SCU as an academic institution.
However, I still do believe that ASG has a major role to play, but if it wishes to appear legitimate, it must change how it operates.
Firstly, ASG must remove the positions of appointed senators. The practice of allowing the senate chair to appoint senators without any popular vote is an affront to the basic principles of democracy that form the foundation of any elected body’s legitimacy. If ASG wishes to be treated as a real legislative body and not a student government rubber-stamp for the administration, then it must begin to function as one, and that means having a solely elected voting body.
Secondly, ASG must accept the fact that it is, in many ways, a political body with political goals. If ASG wants to claim the responsibility of voting on political issues like TPUSA, then the senators that make up the body must run on their political positions. We, the constituents of ASG, have a right to know how they will vote when it matters.
Lastly, ASG must commit itself to transparency. Condemning the videotaping of a public meeting because the people featured in the videos embarrassed themselves is not the act of a rational, legitimate student body.
For those SCU students and alumni that have formed the opposition to TPUSA, I encourage you all to remember why you decided to attend SCU at all. You most likely applied because you believed that SCU could challenge you in a way that would make you grow and develop as an individual, academically and intellectually. That kind of challenge can’t only come from the classroom though; it must be part of the intellectual discourse of the whole university.
So if you disagree with TPUSA’s mission, its national organization or its actions on campus, then by all means disagree. You can write editorials, challenge them to debate and critique their stances in public and in private, but you shouldn’t challenge their right to exist.
I’d like to conclude by commending the Vice Provost of Student Life and the administration as a whole for acting to preserve SCU’s academic and intellectual character.
I understand that the current political climate on college campuses is hostile to the idea of an administration standing up to campus regressives in favor of intellectual freedom—but that just makes it all the more important that the administration ruled in favor of TPUSA. As an involved student passionate about free speech, this is a rare victory in the world of higher education, and I’m proud that it happened here at SCU.
Andy Hudlow is a sophomore economics major and vice president of Santa Clara’s College Republicans club.
Articles in the Opinion section represent the views of the individual authors only and not the views of The Santa Clara or Santa Clara University.