Open letter: Free speech is not conditional

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Open letter: Free speech is not conditional

Jack Kappelman and Marquis Hollingsworth

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This letter was originally sent as an email by Jack Kappelman, a sophomore majoring in political science, to UA administrators, college deans and news outlets that ran stories on the dean of students’ recent resignation. The letter was sent at 8 a.m. on Thursday, Sept. 12 and was signed by 533 students from every college at The University of Alabama. Copied on the email was Marquis Hollingsworth, a senior majoring in general business and political science.

Administrators who received this letter include: UA president Stuart Bell; G. Christine Taylor, vice president and associate provost for diversity, equity and inclusion; interim vice president of student life Kathleen Cramer; vice president for strategic communications Linda Bonnin; the UA Board of Trustees; provost Kevin Whitaker; Joel Brouwer, associate provost for faculty affairs; chief administrative officer Chad Tindol; and Samory Pruitt, vice president for community affairs. 

Kappelman is an SGA senator representing the college of arts and sciences. Kappelman said the letter was sent completely separate from this role in the Senate. 


To whom it may concern:

It has become blatantly obvious to the students of the University of Alabama that this campus is a bastion for conditional free speech. By “conditionally,” we mean that the University only supports free speech as long as it doesn’t bring the school’s controversial racial past into the spotlight.

After tweets from Dr. Jamie Riley (the now-former Dean of Students at UA) resurfaced in a Breitbart news article, the University of Alabama upper administration went into lockdown mode. On Thursday, September 6th, the University of Alabama announced that Dr. Riley had resigned, saying ​“Dr. Jamie Riley has resigned his position at The University of Alabama by mutual agreement. Neither party will have any further comments,” in an email statement to AL.com by a University spokeswoman. The announcement of Dr. Riley’s resignation came less than 24 hours after the publication of the Breitbart news article.

Right now there’s only speculation about whether Dr. Riley’s decision to resign was actually a mutually agreed upon one, but one thing is certain: the University of Alabama has done nothing to reaffirm it’s supposed commitment to protecting the free speech rights of students, faculty, and staff. The simple lack of action on the part of the University of Alabama’s administration speaks measures about the priorities of this school’s leaders. Instead of defending a University employee for exercising his freedom of speech, an action the University has claimed to support in the past, they have remained deafeningly silent, implying that the University only supports free speech as long as it doesn’t criticize institutional racism or call attention to the University of Alabama’s highly charged racial past.

During this past legislative session, Alabama State House Bill HB 498 was passed and ratified into law by Governor Kay Ivey. This bill was specifically designed to protect faculty, staff, and students on college campuses from disciplinary action in response to their expression of opinions under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. The bill ensures that faculty and students are free to take political positions without fear of retribution from the University as, “Freedom of expression is critically important during the education experience of students, and each public institution of higher education should ensure free, robust, and uninhibited debate and deliberation by students.”

We, the Concerned Students of the University of Alabama hereby affirm our solidarity with Dr. Riley and commit ourselves to defend his right to self-expression, as well as that right of all students, faculty, and staff of the University. We encourage all students, faculty, and staff to never fear speaking out for one’s beliefs and encourage Dr. Riley to continue using his voice in his future endeavors to effect change in the world.

We also urge the administration of the University of Alabama to reaffirm their commitment to the protection of free speech and freedom of expression for all faculty, staff, and students at the University. We further demand that the University be more transparent in future conflicts and not hide away in their offices refusing to issue any statements.

We stand with Dr. Riley and wish to express our deepest dissatisfaction with the way the University of Alabama’s administration has handled this whole affair.

Regards,

The Concerned Students of the University of Alabama