Editorial: Evaluating bias in UConn’s policies for speakers

 Controversial conservative reporter Lucian Wintrich attempts to give a lecture titled "It's Okay to Be White" on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. Wintrich was drowned out by protestors and was subsequently arrested after assaulting a protestor. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Controversial conservative reporter Lucian Wintrich attempts to give a lecture titled "It's Okay to Be White" on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. Wintrich was drowned out by protestors and was subsequently arrested after assaulting a protestor. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Recently, UConn has drawn criticism for a perceived discrepancy in vetting political speakers who appear on campus. It is the opinion of members of groups like the UConn College Republicans that the university has been reluctant to allow conservative speakers and that actions such as making students aware of mental health services prior to the arrival of these speakers indicates a bias against conservative thought. Liberal speakers, they argue, have not had to go through the same vetting process.

UConn’s most recent speech vetting policies were put into place following the invitation of Lucian Wintrich to the university by the College Republicans, a person whose speech title “It’s OK to be White” was a dog-whistle for alt-right/white supremacist groups and who was involved in an altercation with a woman who had grabbed his speech. The new speech review process is for speakers hosted by student groups, so speakers invited by the university are not subject to the same process. Since UConn has invited a couple of “liberal” speakers recently, College Republicans have gone on Fox News and cried foul.

However, these complaints are not comparing apples to apples. The UConn College Democrats invited Nathan Robinson when the Republicans hosted Ben Shapiro, and both speakers were subjected to the exact same review despite the fact one was conservative and one was liberal. So the complaint about an ideological disparity does not hold water. A valid criticism could be on whether speakers hosted by UConn should be vetted with the same level of scrutiny as those hosted by students, although there is likely a similar process in place for university-hosted events.

In addition, the notification of the availability of mental health services is not evidently predicated on ideology. While an email regarding this was sent out before Shapiro’s talk, it probably had less to do with the fact he was conservative and more to do with the transphobic and Islamophobic comments he has made in the past. Someone like Anita Hill or Nathan Robinson hasn’t disparaged groups in this way. The university probably should have made a similar notification in response to Sarsour’s invitation, as there are those who have interpreted her past statements as anti-Semitic, but evidence is lacking that the university thinks students need counseling just because a speaker is conservative.

It is fair to say that UConn tends to invite more liberal speakers. But they by no means shut out conservative ideas, as suggested by one student who claimed they couldn’t remember the last time the university invited a Republican to speak to students. In fact, just last October UConn hosted Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, a Democrat and Republican who were leaders of their respective parties. And even the “liberal” speakers they host like Anita Hill are lecturing on topics like women’s rights and sexual assault, issues that should transcend partisan ideology. Overall, it seems like UConn is doing a decent job exposing students to a variety of views. However, if students think they can do better, complaining on Fox News is probably not the most effective way to bring about change.