CU Boulder to support alternative event to Milo Yiannopoulos talk

After student petitions gained momentum and more than 200 faculty signed a letter to CU Boulder administration, the university announced Wednesday night that it would support alternative events in addition to the Milo Yiannopoulos talk slated for Jan. 25.

“Campus leadership has committed to meeting with faculty and students to fully develop these plans in the near future,” the announcement in the CU newsletter said.

Two petitions calling for CU to cancel hosting the alt-right speaker, whose events have been canceled at multiple universities this year, had gathered more than 1,700 signatures as of Wednesday. Both were started by CU students. Another petition signed by more than 200 graduate students, according to the newsletter, asked for administration to support alternative events to the Yiannopoulos talk on the same day.

A group of university faculty referring to themselves as Faculty Committed to the CU Mission wrote a letter to administration that was signed by 225 members as of Wednesday morning, a member of the group said. That letter also asked for administration to support an alternative same-day event to the Yiannopoulos talk, which was organized by the CU College Republicans and the CU chapter of conservative activist group Turning Point USA.

It also asked for ongoing support for events like teach-ins — extended forums for lecture, debate or discussions — about diversity, race and inclusion to take place on campus.

“Mr. Yiannopoulos has a history of denigrating members of protected classes,” said the faculty member, who wished not to be identified. “Hate speech should not be normalized.” The member said the group is asking for a “positive, inclusive” event.

Yiannopoulos, who was banned from Twitter in July for inciting racist remarks against actor Leslie Jones, has written for far-right outlet Breitbart News and is a prominent figure of the alt-right. Yiannopoulos has been accused of sexist and anti-transgender rhetoric. The alt-right political movement has been described as a mix of racism, white nationalism and populism, according to the Associated Press.

Two letters by Chancellor Philip DiStefano and other university leadership responded to the faculty letter and the petition signed by graduate students. They lauded the faculty’s effort to uphold the Colorado Creed, a set of values on CU’s website emphasizing respect and acceptance of others.

They also responded to concerns that administration had inadvertently normalized Yiannopoulos’ inflammatory speech.

“Certainly, it was not our intention in the communications to ‘encourage’ members of our community to listen to Milo Yiannopoulos nor to normalize the type of vitriol or personal attacks he has evidenced in prior speeches,” the response to faculty said, addressing its criticism over the chancellor’s initial response to concerns he received about the event.

One petition by students asked for the administration to offer funding support for an alternative event — it is not explicitly clear if that goal will be met, but the chancellor has promised CU’s “full support” and to “personally participate and help plan the events.”

The response to graduate students said university leadership will meet with the students and faculty to plan the event.

“Additionally, we have been looking at security and safety for the campus overall during this and other events,” the response said.

The open letter from faculty also called for CU to work with them to improve the campus climate and inclusiveness in an ongoing way.

“[We] wish to stress that these issues are much bigger than any one speaker,” the letter said. The administration appeared in its responses to also throw its support behind ongoing events surrounding diversity and inclusion.

The administration’s responses did not comment on the student petitions asking for CU to cancel the Yiannopoulos event.

They also did not respond to the faculty’s concern over Yiannopoulos’ event’s connection, by way of CU student group, to Turning Point USA, a nonprofit conservative group that maintains the website Professor Watchlist. The site has accused professors of “leftist propaganda” and “anti-American values.” One CU professor appeared on the list in November. The faculty’s letter characterized the site as “McCarthyist” and in conflict with Article 5 of the Board of Regents’ Laws and Policies.

Ken McConnellogue, a CU spokesman, denounced the site in a Daily Camera interview in November.

The faculty’s letter was delivered to the chancellor at his office on Wednesday and was sent to other university leadership electronically. The faculty member who wished not to be identified said the group is trying to better the campus climate of diversity and inclusion, which has been an issue the university has been developing a plan to address, and hosting forums to discuss, over the past year.

In supporting an alternative event to the Yiannopoulos talk, CU goes down a similar path to Texas A&M University, which allowed white supremacist Richard Spencer to speak but organized a separate event on the same night Dec. 6. The crowd for that event drew more than 1,000, according to the Houston Chronicle.

“[It] is important to clearly demonstrate our values as defined by the Colorado Creed,” DiStefano said in the response to students.

Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Ellis Arnold at ellis.arnold@colorado.edu.

CU Independent Copy Editor Jake Mauff contributed to this report.

Ellis Arnold

Ellis Arnold is the CUI's editor-in-chief and a journalism and political science student. He writes about diversity issues, politics, student government, music and (sometimes) life advice. Is he qualified to do that? You'll never know. He's a senior from Aurora, Colorado, who's been with the CUI for eight semesters.

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