EAST LANSING—Conservative groups at Michigan State University, under investigation for months for alleged violations of the university’s anti-discrimination policy, have begun to question whether that investigation has political motivations.
“It’s an act of intimidation, pure and simple,” said William Allen, a professor of political science and the faculty adviser to the MSU chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom.
“Whether this is somehow a political hatchet job to get back at people who they might sort of blame for the imposition of the new regime in the state of Michigan, we don’t know,” he said, referring to his public support for Proposal 2, the 2006 constitutional amendment banning affirmative action. “But it’s certainly reasonable to speculate about.”
But Terry Denbow, MSU’s vice president for university relations, said speculation such as Allen’s was “baseless,” and that the university would not target a group or individual for their political views.
“That is not going on, and, if it was, it wouldn’t be tolerated by (President) Lou Anna Simon, (Provost) Kim Wilcox and others.”
The investigation, which is being conducted by MSU’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, also is focusing on the MSU College Republicans and the group’s adviser, journalism professor Fred Fico.
It primarily concerns the events at an on-campus talk in April by Chris Simcox, co-founder of the anti-illegal immigration group, the Minutemen.
Protesters disrupted that talk, shouting and pounding on chairs, preventing Simcox from speaking for 20 minutes.
MSU police cleared most of them from the room, arresting five.
Three were issued misdemeanor tickets, two charged with felonies, though both later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges only.
An Oct. 4 letter sent by the Office for Inclusion says that “a number of students” had filed complaints, alleging anti-discrimination policy violations, including “discrimination and/or harassment” based on national origin, political persuasion, sexual orientation, gender identity, weight, race and religion.
In each of those cases, the letter says the alleged discrimination or harassment occurred “by various means including, verbal and non-verbal conduct, written communications and conduct of sponsored speakers.”
Complaint about police
Doug Schraufnagle, a member of the Young Democratic Socialists, was one of the students who filed a complaint, though it dealt with the actions of the MSU police in removing protesters and others from the Simcox event rather than the sponsoring groups.
Still, he sees the logic of the other students’ complaints and said those under investigation were “playing the victim as conservatives often do.”
“They can hide behind rhetoric all they want, but it can only go so far. Somebody should be responsible for the racist actions that these groups are taking.”
‘Work and soap’
And some on the left have made much of the fact that Jason Van Dyke, a former MSU student associated with the YAF, told protesters, “The First Amendment gives you the right to use four-letter words. So I have two more words for you: work and soap.”
But Allen insists the protesters were not discriminated against.
“They were not prevented from attending,” he said.
“They were not prevented from listening. They had the full rights of everyone on campus.
“So the discrimination consisted only in the fact that they think (Simcox’s) mere existence is an affront to them.”