Last Friday, just after President Donald Trump announced a campaign stop at Eastern Kentucky University’s Alumni Coliseum, emails started flying around campus.
Professors emailed each other, students emailed professors and lots more people emailed President Michael Benson, some in support of the event, but many in opposition.
That discussion ended with an open letter signed by 120 faculty and staff opposing Trump’s visit.
Their opposition was not, as English professor Gerald Nachtwey explained, to Trump’s appearance in general, as faculty appreciate that free speech on campus includes those with whom you disagree.
“But a number of us thought a collective statement from the faculty was really in order to express the idea of a campaign that has done so much to undermine the values of higher education, particularly scientific inquiry, to say nothing of a campaign that has worked to shut down the free speech of those who oppose it,” Nachtwey said. “What also motivated us almost immediately was messages from students saying they were scared and confused about why this is happening.”
The letter was sent Wednesday to Benson and the EKU Board of Regents.
“As a group, we among the faculty subscribe to a diverse set of political beliefs which mirror those of the student body and the Commonwealth as a whole, and we are fully committed to encouraging the expression of that diversity of beliefs,” the letter reads. “Yet we must object to this campaign which has consistently, openly, and unambiguously attacked the values of inquiry, learning, and free speech which lie at the heart of higher education and form the core mission of this University.”
Benson has already sent campus-wide emails and a letter to the faculty senate, in which he said EKU will remain non-partisan throughout the event.
“The rental of EKU facilities for a political campaign rally has certainly evoked strong feelings and opinions,” he wrote. “As a public institution, EKU’s freedom of speech policies and mission for public access necessitate fair and open use of our campus facilities. And a decision to NOT rent a campus facility cannot be made based on content of speech. “