Table of Contents
- 1 Bringing Knowles to Washburn was a process months in the making
- 2 Fury: Washburn sought $30,000 from College Republicans for security
- 3 Washburn stepped in after WSGA denied College Republicans funding request
- 4 Farley singled out College Republicans, chairman says
- 5 ‘Banning Transgenderism’ speech not intended against Transgender Visibility Day
Ahead of a speech hosted by the Washburn University College Republicans titled “Banning Transgenderism,” the organization’s chair says the lecture is meant mostly to bring a different perspective to the campus in a demonstration of free speech.
Additionally, Claudia Fury said the university attempted to stonewall the group’s efforts to bring Michael Knowles, a controversial conservative commentator, to campus.
Knowles’ planned speech, “Banning Transgenderism,” has sparked outrage across the Washburn University community, especially as the event coincides with International Transgender Day of Visibility.
But Fury, a sophomore from Wichita, said the event isn’t meant to target any individual or group but is instead about free speech, which the university has tried to block, she claimed.
“Our goal is to promote free speech and to provide a new perspective, because our perspective as College Republicans is underrepresented on campus, which is why we decided to do this in the first place,” Fury said.
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Bringing Knowles to Washburn was a process months in the making
When she became chairman of the Washburn University College Republicans in October, Fury said one of the group’s priorities was to have a debate with Washburn’s Democratic student organization.
“They weren’t really interested in hosting a joint event together, though, so we went to our plan B, which was to host a speaker that held the same viewpoints and similar opinions to what we hold as College Republicans,” Fury said.
Fury knew about a national organization called the Young America’s Foundation, and she contacted the group in November for assistance in bringing in a national-level speaker.
That organization, she said, got in contact with the conservative media platform The Daily Wire to work out the logistics of bringing Knowles to Washburn. Knowles has given speeches and lectures at other college campuses through the organization as part of the organization’s Logan Family Lecture Series.
The College Republicans in December began working with Washburn University officials to find out what they had to do to make the event possible, and in late January, the student organization got confirmation from the YAF that Knowles would be available to speak at Washburn.
“(Jan. 25) was when we got the first contract to send to the school, because YAF wanted to make sure everything was agreed upon beforehand. Price, security, advertising — all that kind of stuff,” Fury said.
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Fury: Washburn sought $30,000 from College Republicans for security
Washburn University first quoted YAF and the College Republicans $30,000 to comply with YAF’s security demands Fury said, although that amount was later brought down to $780.
“I believe that $30,000 number was trying to deter our organization from bringing (Knowles) to campus,” Fury said. “In talking to a lot of different people about security and cost, that probably wasn’t an accurate number at all for the kind of event we were hosting.”
Washburn University spokesperson Patrick Early said the contract in question is a standard contract from the university that demands “adequate security measures.”
“That, at the request of the speaker, included the use of using wands or magnetometers (metal detectors),” Early wrote in response to questions from The Capital-Journal. “We haven’t had a need to use them and therefore do not own them. However we contacted a vendor who can provide them who quoted the cost at $780.”
Washburn University will also provide police officers at the event Thursday, although Early said the university doesn’t publicly release security details.
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Washburn stepped in after WSGA denied College Republicans funding request
Fury said the organization went through about four or five contract revisions with Washburn, over the next several weeks.
“On certain sections of the contract, it seemed like every time we settled a new one, they had a problem with it,” she said.
Early said there was nothing abnormal about the length of the contracting process.
“As is often the case, there was some back and forth since they also had a ‘standard’ contract they have used elsewhere,” Early wrote. “The back and forth to reconcile the requirements into a single document isn’t particularly unusual.”
Even after the venue was confirmed for 400 seats and standing room, Fury said Washburn a little over a week ago decided to cap the audience at 300.
University president Jerry Farley ultimately signed off on the contract in early March. Then the College Republicans attempted to get Washburn Student Government Association’s approval to use the $3,000 they had already been allocated as a student organization.
That should have been a formality, Fury said. But they were denied the funding because the student government did not want to insert itself into the political realm.
“We left that meeting knowing that we had the contract signed, and we weren’t sure what we were going to do,” Fury said. “So we contacted the school, and the school ended up covering it, because they were under contract. They knew that they would be liable for those funds either way.”
Early told The Capital-Journal that the student government had denied the funding request because it has a limited budget for special activities outside of student organizations’ existing budgets.
However, Fury disputed that, saying the request was simply to use funds the organization had already been allocated.
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Farley singled out College Republicans, chairman says
Fury added that while she and other College Republicans have not had much prior experience with the student funding process, she felt as though the university and student government had “dragged out” the approval process because they disagreed with the group’s politics.
“I personally have not experienced a lot of riff from the administration (previously), just because we haven’t hosted anything very large on campus during my term as chairman,” Fury said.
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“But from the viewpoint of being College Republicans on campus, yes, I do think that there has been quite a bit of backlash just for being a part of the organization itself.”
When Farley sent out a campus-wide email condemning Knowles’ anti-transgender rhetoric, the group’s members felt singled out when he said Washburn University “does not condone the hate and misinformation spread by the speaker and his supporters.”
By that statement, Washburn University College Republicans thought Farley was implying they also spread hate and misinformation, Fury said.
“Tons of people have said to me they were very displeased by what he had to say, and I think people felt a little bit targeted by what he said,” Fury said.
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‘Banning Transgenderism’ speech not intended against Transgender Visibility Day
Fury said neither she nor other College Republicans were aware they were scheduling their event on International Transgender Day of Visibility.
“I actually found this out after the email from Dr. Farley had been sent out,” Fury said. “I had no idea that this was even a national special day, or one that is celebrated, however you may want to say it.”
In working to bring Knowles, the organization had been given four potential speech dates, but spring break and other meetings had left only March 31 as an option.
Washburn University’s Equal Opportunity policies protect against various forms of discrimination, including on the basis of gender identity. Knowles said she didn’t think Knowles’ planned speech, “Banning Transgenderism,” violates the policy.
“What he’s expressing tonight is an opinion that he bases off his own values, beliefs and facts that has come to believe as truth,” Fury said. “I don’t think he’s here to target anyone specifically. He’s talking over a subject matter that is very controversial, and people may agree or disagree with what he has to say.”
Although the Washburn College Republicans are hosting the event, Fury said that shouldn’t be taken to mean the group endorses Knowles’ viewpoints. She said each group member has a right to hold their own opinion, particularly on such a controversial issue.
“We would agree that everyone needs to be respected, that everyone’s opinion should be heard, specifically on this issue,” Fury said. “We all value life — in every aspect, and for every person. We know that everyone has to be remain respectful, especially in differences of opinion, which is super relevant today.”
She said the whole point of hosting Knowles is “to promote free speech, as well as a new perspective.”
“We’re respecting the protesters that will be out there today, because we’re all here to express our freedom of speech,” Fury said. “We have no problem doing that. We’re glad we can host this event today.”
“We’re glad that everyone may disagree or disagree with what (Michael Knowles) has to say, in certain aspects,” the student chairman said. “But we all agree that in the end, we’re all people and we all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Rafael Garcia is an education reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @byRafaelGarcia.