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Finally, A Stand-Up University President

November 16, 2020 Frontpage No Comments

By DEACON MIKE MANNO, JD

Over the past few years, this column has been pretty hard on colleges and universities, their administrators, and even their student governments. And it’s easy to see why. Long before I started this column, we’d all seen what modern academia had done to free thought and the free exchange of ideas.
In case after case conservatives and conservative groups, especially religious ones, were being marginalized and pushed off college campuses. In my own state, at the University of Iowa, the university tried to withdraw recognition from a business group of Christian students, Business Leaders in Christ.
On other campuses students could only express their views in college-sanctioned “free speech zones,” often only a few square yards and just as often hidden away in a student center basement while professors were left to pontificate on their own radical beliefs. On one such campus a professor was even allowed to ask students to step on the name Jesus written on a piece of paper and placed on the floor. In other places, professors told students that if they did not accept the professor’s view of politics or religion, they should withdraw from the class.
And, of course, I could go on, and on, and on.
So I was interested in the latest blow-up at the University of Northern Iowa. UNI sits on a 916-acre campus in Cedar Falls, Iowa, a city of approximately 41,000 about 90 miles north of Des Moines. Last year it enrolled about 10,500 students.
Earlier this year a student group, Students for Life, applied for recognition from the university’s student government. Recognition by a college usually provides certain perks for the group; among others: The group can use campus facilities for lectures, meetings, and other events, often with the assistance of student fees; campus advisers can be solicited, and the group can participate in campus-wide membership drives.
The Students for Life group’s application, however, was rejected by the student government because the student members deemed it a “hate group.” A sampling of student responses show the bigotry:
Student Sen. Max Tensen claimed Students for Life “is a hate group, [and uses] hate speech [and] hateful rhetoric that is infringing on basic human rights that is healthcare.”
Sen. Caleb Stekl, who’s also a member of the Young Democratic Socialists, shrugged off concerns that a public institution could not engage in viewpoint discrimination. He said the possibility of getting sued would be something for the university to worry about, not him, and added such a fear is “facile and weak.” “It’s just a complete preference or privileging of money and of admins over student well-being,” Stekl said.
Another student senator, Triet Ngo, said “not all opinions are equal…there are opinions and there are opinions that get people killed. There’s really no middle ground here.”
Others added: “Approving this bill [to allow the pro-life club] is the same thing as approving a white supremacist group that’s trying [to] make an organization on campus.” And another: “You’re basically saying you support them to violate women rights. And, like, I’m sorry but I don’t want a group on campus that’s gonna, like, when I — just an example — if I’m pregnant, they’re gonna try to force me not to abort my child.”
Like most student governments, UNI has a student Supreme Court, which promptly rejected Students for Life’s appeal, saying the appeal was not formed in good faith or with “a lawful purpose.”
Appeal was then made to UNI President Mark A. Nook, who last month issued a nine-page rebuke of the student action. “The basis for Students for Life’s appeal to the president is that, if the decisions by the NISG Senate and NISG Supreme Court are allowed to stand, the rights afforded to Students for Life by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States would be violated. Supporting their appeal on First Amendment grounds is the dissenting opinion of the NTSG Supreme Court. Given the serious nature of this request and the language of UNI policy 3.10, this appeal was accepted for review,” Nook wrote.
“In reference to [university policy], the [court] majority claims that the UNI Students for Life lacked ‘good faith’ in their application because the majority found the UNI Students for Life Constitution to be vague. In describing what they mean, the majority states that the good faith that is needed is ‘evidence of being an equitable, just, and welcoming student organization for our students and community found on the University of Northern Iowa’,” he continued, adding:
“Nowhere in [the policy] is this stated or inferred. No such language is part of the University of Northern Iowa Student Government Registration of Student Organizations Policy and Procedures Document (cite omitted). The majority creates a standard for UNI Students for Life that is not in policy or procedures and has not been applied to other student organizations. It is not to be inferred from this statement that UNI Students for Life is not an equitable just and welcoming student organization, only that it is inappropriate to ask them to prove that they are when this is not part of the university’s policies or procedures. Additionally, the First Amendment makes no such stipulation on peoples’ right to assemble or to speak. The records and materials reviewed fail to show that UNI Students for Life is not formed in good faith for a lawful purpose. As reflected by the NISG Organization and Finance Committee minutes and NISG Senate Resolution the UNI Students for Life met the guidelines for a registered student organization.”
Then his conclusion:
“Based on the review of the documents and recordings, the NISG Senate appears to have denied recognition of the UNI Students for Life based on the content of the student organization’s viewpoint, speech. and assumed potential activities. This decision, if allowed to stand, would deny the student organization with access to University facilities and University and NISG services due to the viewpoint of the student organization and would thereby violate [school policy], Board of Regents [policy], Iowa Code . . . and the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.
“Therefore, the UNI Students for Life appeal . . . is approved. As of this moment, UNI Students for Life is a fully recognized student organization at the University of Northern Iowa, with all rights and responsibilities afforded any and all registered student organizations at the university.”
President Nook is the eleventh president of UNI and has served in that position since February 2017. You can be sure that in today’s climate there will now be calls for his termination. But he should be commended for his upright and straightforward action.

  • + + While we’re on the subject of universities and their animus against conservative and Christian thinkers, the Florida State University’s Student Supreme Court has ordered the reinstatement of Jack Denton to his position as student government president. As you might recall, Denton was removed from that position for defending Catholic doctrine in a Catholic chat room.
    The decision came after a federal district judge ordered the school to continue to pay Denton his salary as president to the end of his term, but had refused to order him reinstated as president. In announcing its decision, the Student Supreme Court said, “A senator who uses his influence in student government to silence the message of a fellow student, simply because of his disagreement with that message, offends the very principles upon which our Republic was founded.”
    Gosh, maybe the message is getting through. Good work, UNI and FSU!
    (You can reach Mike at: DeaconMike@q.com, and listen to him every Thursday at 10 a.m. central, on Faith On Trial at IowaCatholicradio.com.)
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