Cooke Questions University's Support for Free Speech

Denver – Colorado State Senator John Cooke (R-Greeley) today made public the following letter, which he wrote to University of Northern Colorado President Kay Norton in response to a media report raising questions about that school's commitment to protecting free speech and open debate on campus:

Dear Kay:

I am both astonished at and disappointed by what is happening at my alma mater the University of Northern Colorado. It appears UNC leadership has decided that so-called "tolerance and diversity" is justification for intolerance and intimidation. I am referring to the recent poster campaign, your chilling "Bias Response Team," and your willingness to censor free speech on campus.

The beauty of higher education is the free exchange of ideas and speech. Unfortunately, UNC seems to have fallen victim to the same political correctness industry that has plagued other once great educational institutions.

From where I sit, I think you’ve lost site of the purpose of the University – education, teaching and stimulating students to be critical thinkers, not stifle free speech through intimidation and corrosion through threat of "Biased Response Team."

God forbid someone say something offensive! But if someone does, have faith that young adults can handle, discuss, and debate the comment. Foster an environment that gives confidence to respond. That's how you can help them become intellectually stronger. Instead, you choose to treat them like infants who need the "Bias Response Team" to parachute in to the rescue based on some anonymous compliant.

Further, I was appalled to learn that the "Bias Response Team" has the authority to tell professors what they can teach and/or say in class, again, based on nothing more than an anonymous report. Isn’t the point of tenure to protect professors so they can teach subjects openly?

Kay, I’m also extremely disappointed in your comments regarding a poster you described as "defaced" with derogatory and demeaning comments (email memo from you dated March 31, 2016). Apparently the poster was "defaced" with frightening phrases such as “Free Speech Matters” and “All Lives Matter.”

To label these words as derogatory, demeaning, and hate speech is unconscionable coming from a person in your position. I ask you – does free speech matter? Because I think it really does. Generations of men and women have taken a bullet for the First Amendment. For you to label it as "derogatory" is an insult to those who have in the past and still do put their lives on the line so you and I can debate it in a free and open society.

Also, I ask you – do all lives matter? Black, Brown, White, Yellow, Red, Blue (law enforcement)? Because, again, I think all lives do matter regardless of color. Life is precious – all life is precious. Period.

You also said the university is promoting "inclusive language" through the use of these posters. That statement is incredulous. Your own program proves that UNC isn’t interested in inclusive language or conversation. It will tolerate only language UNC leadership and the "Bias Response Team" don’t find offensive.

I have a lot of questions regarding this program.

First, I'd like to see the invoices for these posters and how were the invoices paid – through taxpayer money or student fees?

Second, in an email dated April 26, 2016, you announced the hiring or promotion of three new administrators for the following positions: VP of Community and Climate; Equity Officer and Assistant VP for Equity and Inclusion. I’d like a full accounting of the total cost of each of these positions including salary, benefits (including but not limited to health insurance, cell phone, auto allowance, travel allowance), payroll taxes, and any other costs not already mentioned.

Third, what exactly are you trying to accomplish with all of this? What is the end game? Does UNC strive for cultural hegemony, where everyone thinks and speaks exactly as the "Bias Response Team" dictates so no one is ever offended? Because if that is the case, I’d say your goal is horribly misguided.

The speech we find the most offensive, is the speech we should protect. Why? Because the First Amendment is one of the rights that makes America the greatest nation on earth. And because it's how young adults learn to be critical thinkers. You cannot be intellectually strong without the free exchange of ideas or being able to evaluate and challenge comments some may find offensive.

Lastly, as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I am concerned about and question the legality of your attempt to regulate speech on the campus of a publicly funded institution of higher learning.

If the attempt to regulate free speech is this egregious at UNC, I can only image how bad it must be at the University of Colorado, Colorado State University and other state institutions for higher learning. Therefore, I will be sending the links below, your emails to the UNC community (obtained from a student), along with this letter to some of my Senate colleagues so they are aware of what is occurring at UNC.

I welcome a dialogue about this and look forward to hearing from you.

College ‘Bias Response Team’ Targets Free Speech With 680 Signs

University of Northern Colorado's handling of speech deemed offensive raises questions, concerns

Senator John Cooke
District 13

Committees:
Agriculture Natural Resources & Energy
Judiciary
Transportation

Please contact Sean Paige at 719-337-0355 with any media inquiries.

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