I have previously written as a longtime supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) about my concerns about how the venerable group has changed under their current leadership, including a departure from their longstanding robust defenses of free speech. Recently, the ACLU has given up its famous neutrality and unsupported some on the right while supporting those on the left. Now, Kentucky ACLU's Samuel Crankshaw has targeted Transylvania University for admitting Nick Sandmann, falsely accused of molesting a Native American activist in front of the Lincoln Memorial. (Crankshaw identifies himself as an ACLU employee on social media) Although various media organizations corrected the story and some had come to terms with Sandman, some media outlets continued to attack him. However, it is far more alarming to see an ACLU official gathering people against a young man whose main offense appears to be that he is publicly (and unapologetically) conservative and life-loving.
Crankshaw took to Facebook to alert people that Sandmann was going to college and to express his veiled outrage that the school would accept someone with his opposing views. He warns that this child is “more dangerous” than characters like Milo Yiannopolous. The "danger" is that a young newbie will hold conservative views shared by about half of this country:
Does anyone think that Transylvania University has a problem accepting Nick Sandman? I'm sure it's a "two-way" defense, but it pretty much goes against their mission and another case where there really aren't any equal sides to a problem. I think the TU should accept anyone who is willing to be open and take part in debates, regardless of their views. That's how we all learn. This is Transy's mission …
After experiencing the incredibly high standards required for admission and then holding onto his students to Transy, this seems like a slap in the face. Hopefully some time will change him in a real classroom, but his twitter and public persona suggest otherwise.
Defending "both sides" used to be the ACLU's position in the struggle for equal opportunities and the protection of all sides. In addition, Crankshaw describes Sandmann as a "provocateur in training without the intention to learn". How would Crankshaw know that Sandman has "no intention to learn" if he leaves the provocateur label aside?
While the statement is from someone who specifically identifies themselves as an ACLU employee on social media, it is not a statement from the ACLU itself. However, the sentiment reflects growing concerns about the ACLU's realignment and shift from neutrality reflected in support of free speech.
Crankshaw later replied to the National Review, saying, “The views I have expressed on my Facebook page are my personal views that I have shared in my personal time. I have an initial customization right to express them, just as Nick Sandmann has an initial customization right to express his. “Of course, none of us doubted that Sandmann had the first rights to make changes. The suggestion he posted was that the university should have banned Sandmann's admission based on his views. Indeed, he expressed outrage that Sandmann was allowed to attend such a college. While we have discussed the intolerance of opposing views expressed in colleges, it appears that Crankshaw does not even want people like Sandman to be allowed into college.
One person who responded positively was Dr. Avery Tompkins, Assistant Professor and Diversity Scholar at the University of Transylvania. He admitted that the university supported various viewpoints but promised to closely monitor Sandmann on campus: "If he caused problems by being disruptive, trolling, or unethical behavior of any kind, I would immediately document (just as I do for would do any student who did the same) … and he would simply be able to file a behavioral report. "
Do the same? Which thing? Speak freely?
Instead of saying that there is no reason why this conservative student should be singled out in this way, Tompkins publicly states, "I understand where you are from." Where would that be? Cranksaw came from a place where an unjustifiably accused Conservative teenager is harassed or targeted for daring to take his views to college.
I appreciate Tompkins who notes that even though this was previously believed, students cannot be denied admission because of their political views. However, Tompkins describes this newbie as part of an anti-intellectual movement and publicly believes that Sandman will reject the core principles of learning. This is a freshman being publicly shredded by a professor at his school. Tompkins then expresses the same uncertainty as to why this student would choose a university devoted to higher education and "the opposite of what he denies and promotes".
Cranksaw described the exercise of freedom of speech by someone with opposing views as unacceptable. Tompkins replies that she will be watching him closely. Both highlight this one student for such an additional exam, and Cranksaw thanks Tompkins for ensuring close monitoring. I have repeatedly defended the views of liberal academics who attack the police, Trump and a variety of conservative grounds. These are statements made outside of school. Here, however, Tompkins speaks as an academic, plays a certain student and promises to monitor his behavior. That is deeply problematic.
Sandman, like all college students, should have more freedom of expression in colleges and should not be closely monitored as someone with dangerous thoughts and ideas. The fact that figures from the ACLU and academia would publicly hold such views on intolerance is a terrifying example of how our confidence in free speech has been undermined in recent years.
The University of Transylvania responded to my request with the following statement:
A college campus is a place where diverse backgrounds, experiences, and opinions from the community – students, staff, faculties, and alumni – meet. Like almost every campus, Transylvania consists of people who represent all points of view. These differences often form the backbone of a vibrant and challenging educational experience. In this place of divergence, we strive to foster dialogue and listen to one another with generosity and an acceptance of goodwill in order to gain understanding.
The goal of a liberal arts education is to provide students with the skills and ability to engage in encounters that may result in them reflecting and thinking differently or understanding and confirming their original belief or point of view. In both cases, dealing with the ideas, individuals and different points of view and the subsequent reflection is the decisive aspect.
There are two things that we as a university cannot discuss: our students (without their permission) and personnel matters. In response to posts on social media and other websites on Labor Day weekend, we'll repeat this point. The responsible university officials will quickly review the situation.
Professor Tompkins has now apologized:
I would like to apologize for my mistake in choosing a student and the resulting misunderstanding. One of my favorite things about working at a liberal arts institution is seeing the university community from different perspectives. All students, faculties and staff are able to have civil discourse with those whose views may differ from their own and to learn about those views in an academic setting. I appreciate and support these conversations with students and I know that students also appreciate these conversations with their peers.