Dear President Ransdell:
As a supporter of Hilltoppers for Life, I am deeply concerned at the way its pro-life display was vandalized on April 20, 2012. I am perhaps more concerned with the way Western Kentucky University (WKU) officials have responded to this criminal action. As this story continues to unfold, the facts suggest that at least one WKU official knew in advance this vandalism would occur. Later, several officials did nothing to stop it. This is simply inexcusable in a climate of higher learning.
As you already know, Hilltoppers for Life erected approximately 3,700 crosses in order to commemorate the number of babies aborted every day in the United States. On the morning of April 20th, Elaina Smith, an art student at your university, began placing condoms on each of the crosses. Members of Hilltoppers for Life confronted her peacefully and asked her to stop. She simply refused to do so. This young feminist did not seem to understand that no really means no.
When campus security officers arrived, they did nothing. That bears repeating: The police simply sat there and watched her break the law. That kind of laziness is appalling. It makes me wonder whether your police have tenure. Unbelievably, Ms. Smith told them she was completing an approved art assignment by desecrating the crosses. And the cops actually bought her “my professor made me do it” defense!
Your April 24th statement claims that Ms. Smith’s professor, Kristina Arnold, did not really intend to target the pro-life display. Unfortunately, Dr. Arnold contradicted that when she told WBKO that she did not disapprove of Ms. Smith’s proposed vandalism. She admitted that she knew of it in advance and did nothing whatsoever to stop it. So who is lying? Is it you or Dr. Arnold?
Other comments indicate that Arnold actually condoned Ms. Smith’s acts. For example, she smugly stated, “Learning and debating are not always pretty or polite processes. Critical engagement with ideas can get messy.” But nowhere in her statements did she indicate that “critical engagement” also involves respecting the free speech rights of fellow students. Professors should also know that no means no.
While it is encouraging to hear you say that you and your fellow administrators value free speech, so far WKU’s actions have not demonstrated that it really understands the First Amendment. When student freedoms have been criminally violated, issuing private assurances and holding secret meetings falls short of the mark. You preside over a public university, not a secret society.