After the group invited a speaker from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to Main Campus, Student Affairs reprimanded it.
New student organizations face a slew of challenges during their first year. Distinguishing themselves from similar organizations, building a solid membership base and getting their names out around Main Campus are among some of those challenges. But for Temple University Purpose, the greatest first-year challenge has been conflict with Student Affairs.
The organization’s propensity for hosting attention-grabbing programs landed the group in trouble with Student Affairs several times this year. On April 14, Director of Student Center Operations Jason Levy notified the organization that, effective immediately, it was on probation for a planned event.
Led by its president Alvaro Watson, a senior social work major, TU Purpose aims to create an open forum for those passionate about social and political issues to exchange ideas and opinions freely. Guided by its motto, “Socially driven, politically aware,” the organization has not shied away from controversial issues.
“We’re not afraid of tackling issues that other organizations might be afraid of,” Watson said.
The grudge between TU Purpose and Student Affairs began last fall. Main Campus was in an uproar in October when controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders was invited to speak in Anderson Hall.
After paying an initial Student Center-assessed security fee for the anticipation of any safety risks, the organization was charged an additional security fee that TU Purpose members said they felt was unnecessary and unfair. When attempts at resolving the issue on their own failed, the organization reached out to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for assistance. The Student Center eventually dropped the additional fee.
TU Purpose’s latest grapple with Student Affairs revolves around a security issue as well. On April 14, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff came to Temple to speak about political correctness and student censorship. In the paperwork submitted to secure space and resources for the event, TU Purpose did not identify Lukianoff as a political or controversial figure because organization leaders said they believe he is neither. Doing so, however, would have necessitated a security officer’s presence during the event.
On the morning of the event, Watson received the e-mail informing him of TU Purpose’s probationary status.
“It said that the content of the speech had not been submitted to them,” he said. “But we scheduled the event back in February. Why did they wait that long to contact us?”
According to the e-mail, published online at TheFIRE.org, Levy said, “a follow up contact was made by our office requesting that information and it was not provided.”
Watson said the e-mail also stated that Student Affairs made many unsuccessful attempts to reach him and other members of the executive board, and although no one requested security presence at the event, it would be provided free-of-charge. He said the former statement is an outright lie.
“No one tried to contact myself, or anyone else in Purpose about this matter. But even if they had tried to contact us and failed, the next point of contact should have been our faculty advisor. No one contacted her either,” Watson said.
In the e-mail, Levy continues that, “Unfortunately, our office did not do as good a job as we should have in following up with you and we take responsibility for that – but you and your organization also bear some of the responsibility in the process.
“Please note that we will not charge your for tonight’s security,” he continues, “but that we will be adding TU Purpose to the student org. probation list for the remainder of the semester [sic].”
Watson said he believes that the probation is yet another attempt by Student Affairs to place a roadblock in front of the organization and dissuade them from sponsoring controversial events in the future.
“We’ve done everything required of us for our events. We’ve made sure to dot every ‘I’ and cross every ‘T’. Yet, Student Center Operations continues to throw obstacles in our way to shut us up,” he added.
TU Purpose again turned to FIRE for assistance. Adam Kissel, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense program, has been heavily involved in trying to resolve this matter. Kissel said this latest probation issue raises both due-process and freedom-of-speech issues, and that other student organizations should be wary of the implications of TU Purpose’s treatment.
“We have asked Temple to explain their seemingly random decisions and actions, but they haven’t. This is a danger to every student organization’s freedom of speech rights on [Temple’s] campus,” Kissel said.
Kissel agreed that Lukianoff posed no security risk to the campus and said requests to the university for policy information in regards to organization probation criteria and/or guidelines had been ignored.
Moving forward, Kissel said he and FIRE plan to raise public awareness about what he said is a gross violation on Temple’s part.
“Public attention is always a check on unconstitutional actions so we plan to spread the news about the way Temple treats their student organizations. It’s up to them whether they want that information spread in a positive way, or in a critical way,” Kissel said.
Levy declined to comment, but Assistant Vice President for University Communications Ray Betzner issued a statement on behalf of Student Affairs, saying:
“Student Affairs supports Temple groups and regularly works with hundreds of student groups each semester to hold meetings and events on campus. There have been times when some groups have not followed the university’s procedures when having events. When this happens, Student Affairs staff let the groups know there have been problems and meet with them to discuss the concerns.
“The purpose of these meetings,” Betzner continued, “is educational, and the goal is to eliminate problems so the group can continue to use campus facilities.”
There is no word on whether any such meeting has been planned for TU Purpose.
In the future, Watson said he’d like to see better communication among the different divisions of Student Affairs and between the Office of Student Affairs and student organizations. He also said he hopes for fair and equal treatment for his organization.
“If anyone should be on probation, it should be Student Activities because they have not done their job,” Watson said. “It’s ironic that an organization such as ourselves who aim to give a voice to controversial issues is basically being silenced.”
Angelo Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.