The faculty senate of Samford University — not Reed, or Oberlin, or some other godless Yankee college, but a Baptist college in Alabama — is refusing to recognize a new chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) because language in its 1960s-era founding charter could be triggering to communists.
No, really. Look:
[YAF organizer Karalee] Geis received an email from a Samford official who expanded upon the specific reasons the application was denied. ““We are looking for the YAF student group to amend or justify the inflammatory language listed in their Purpose,” the email said. “This is the direct statement from the Sharon Statement that, though likely appropriate in 1960, does not hold the same in 2016.”
Phillip Poole, Samford’s Executive Director of Communications, told Yellowhammer that members of the faculty were concerned with “inflammatory language” and wanted to work with students to make the process work next semester. He noted that the same process applied to YAF is the same standard protocol applied to every campus organization.
“Concerns were expressed by some faculty members regarding what they perceived to be inflammatory language in the YAF statement of purpose regarding Communism and Communists,” Poole said in a statement. “Faculty members were seeking to confirm that opposition to a political ideology would be accomplished in a manner that respects the worth of each individual, as stated within the university’s Code of Values. The members of the committee indicated their willingness to further explore these issues with students during their next scheduled meeting in the spring semester.”
YAF was founded in the 1960 by William F. Buckley and 100 young conservatives who gathered at his home. You might recall that in 1960, there was this entity called the Soviet Union, which held the peoples of Eastern Europe in imperial bondage. It had the year before, with the Cuban Revolution, established a beachhead 90 miles off the US mainland. Two years later, the Soviet Union would attempt to place nuclear missiles on that island. So, that was a thing that happened. Now, here’s the language from the Sharon Statement that caused members of the faculty senate to take to their fainting couch:
That we will be free only so long as the national sovereignty of the United States is secure; that history shows periods of freedom are rare, and can exist only when free citizens concertedly defend their rights against all enemies;
That the forces of international Communism are, at present, the greatest single threat to these liberties;
That the United States should stress victory over, rather than coexistence with, this menace; and
That American foreign policy must be judged by this criterion: does it serve the just interests of the United States?
The existence of these lines in this 56-year-old statement from an organization founded in the Cold War is a reason why the faculty senate of Samford University will not allow YAF to establish itself on campus. A campus that is not in San Francisco, or in Boston, or a Prius-driving cultural precinct inhabited by scholars who consider NPR’s Terry Gross to be a latter-day Pasionaría … but in Birmingham, Alabama.
What’s up next for Samford? The disbandment of patriotic student groups because the Declaration of Independence might hurt the feelings of British exchange students? The banning of Christian student groups because of these words, spoken by Christianity’s founder and recorded in its foundational document — Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? — are too unkind to Pharisees?
It’s worth pointing out to the faculty senate of this Baptist university that the Soviet Union alone mercilessly persecuted Christians, murdering millions of them, and sending countless others — including Baptists — to the gulags because of their faith. In Romania, which was seized by communists near the end of the Second World War, the Marxist government went on a savage campaign of torture against Christians. One of those imprisoned and tortured was the late Father Gheorghe Calciu, an Orthodox priest. He recalled that time many years later, in his American exile:
They wanted to break the people, the whole country. Romania was not a primitive country. We were connected to European culture.
We believed in Christian values. Therefore, they wanted to do this special experiment with the young people, to create a gap between the children and the older generation, to make this generation of students a communist one. They wanted to build a new world – a communist world; a new man—the communist man and so on. Se the arrested the young people – the students – and put them in a special prison for this very experiment.
They took very distinct steps. The first was to destroy the personality of the youth. For example, the guards would come together with a group of young prisoners who had converted to communism in a cell where there were perhaps twenty young students and try to intimidate them. They would beat without mercy. They could even kill somebody. Generally they would kill one of them – the one who opposed them the most; the most important one. Generally he was a leader. They would beat him and even kill him. Thus, the terror began.
After that, they began to “unmask.” They wanted to force you to say: “I lied when I said, ‘I believe in God.’ I lied when I said, ‘I love my mother and my father.’ I lied when I said, ‘I love my country.’” So everyone was to deny every principle, every feeling he had. That is what it means to be “unmasked.” It was done in order to prove that we were the products of the bourgeois, and the bourgeois are the liars. We lie when we say we are virgin, we are Christian, and when we try and preserve our bodies for marriage.
They tried to say I was a prostitute, a young man that had connections with the all the girls. We would be tortured until we denied everything we believed before. So, that is what it means to be “unmasked.” It was done in order to prove that Christian principles we not principles, that we lied when we said we loved Jesus Christ, we loved God, mother, father, and so on. It was to show that I lied when I said that I was a chaste man, when I held the ideal of nation and family. Everything had to be done to destroy out souls! This is the second step
After this came a declaration against everybody who was in touch with us, everybody who believed as we believed. I was to make a declaration against everybody who knew about my organization or my actions, to denounce everybody—even father, mother, sister. We were to sever completely any Christian connection and moral people.
The final step was to affirm that we had given up all the principles of our faith and any connection we had with it. With this we began to be “the new man,” “the communist man,” ready to torture, to embrace communism, to denounce everybody, ready to give information, and ready to blaspheme against God. This is the most difficult part, for under terror and torture one can say, “Yes, yes, yes.” But now, to have to act? It was very difficult.
It was during this third part that many of us tried to kill ourselves.
The memory of the people who did this to the Christians of Romania (and other dissenters from communism) are the people whose sensitivities the Samford faculty senate wishes to protect. What a complete moral disgrace those professors are. The university community ought to be ashamed of them.
A triggered Samford alumnus who reads this blog sent me this story today, and forwarded this letter he sent to the Samford official quoted in the story. I edited it to protect his privacy:
I’m a Samford graduate (’90) and my wife ([name], ’02) is a Cumberland grad. I’m saddened to see that liberal faculty members are now running the ship. Please remove my wife and I from your communications list until further notice. I’m hopeful that we can eventually add Samford back to the list of schools our children will visit. I trust you will take the necessary steps between now and then to restore our faith in the University and what it stands (or stood) for.
UPDATE: This just in:
Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland issued the following statement Nov. 30 to employees and students regarding the establishment of a Young Americans for Freedom chapter at Samford:
I’m writing to provide you with a few facts related to a proposed new student organization on our campus which has received media attention over the past 24 hours.
On November 10, the Campus Life Committee of the Faculty Senate met with a group of students who seek to establish an affiliate chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) at Samford. The Faculty Senate committee followed the regular process for reviewing and approving student organizations, which includes approvals at meetings of the Student Senate, the Campus Life Committee, the Faculty Senate, the University Faculty and, eventually, the Board of Trustees. The process offers the opportunity for faculty members to ask student representatives questions regarding their plans for a proposed organization. During the meeting in which the YAF chapter was under consideration, some members of the committee asked questions regarding the planned activities of the group, ideas for promotion, and the YAF statement of purpose. I believe that the statement of purpose for the national organization and affiliate chapters is tied to a document known as the “Sharon Statement,” written in 1960 by William F. Buckley Jr. One of the specific elements of the dialogue within the committee meeting, which seems to be at the core of much of the current attention in social media, relates to a provision of the Sharon Statement which called for “victory over, rather than coexistence with” Communism. Herein lies much of the confusion, as the students and faculty involved in the meeting had different understandings of the exchange. The students believed they were told that this element of the Sharon Statement would need to be amended in order for the chapter to receive recognition; members of the faculty believed that they were only asking hypothetical questions in order to clarify the statement. Following the session with the students, the Campus Life Committee elected not to grant immediate approval for the organization and instead provided the students with specific feedback related to their application, expressing the intention to reconsider the students’ application when the committee next reconvenes.
Throughout the past 24 hours, media outlets have misrepresented some of the facts related to this situation. Among the errors is that the request for a YAF chapter at Samford has been rejected. Rather, the approval process for the organization remains in effect, pending additional information from the students at the next meeting of the Campus Life Committee. The media has incorrectly reported that the university is sympathetic to Communism and even inferred that we have now or at some time in the past had a “Communist Club” on campus. As you might guess, we have never had a Communist Club at Samford. Finally, as I highlighted above, the differing understandings of the dialogue regarding the Sharon Statement have led to such headlines as “Samford is a Haven for Marxists.” In fact, the Campus Life Committee requested technical improvements and clarification of the purpose statement in the proposed organizational constitution submitted by the students.
Earlier today, students, faculty and staff who are involved in this matter visited via conference call with a national YAF representative to more thoroughly explain the issues and to dispel misconceptions. I’m told that it was a positive exchange and that everyone is hopeful for a smooth process as the consideration of the YAF chapter moves through the prescribed system for review. Both Karalee Geis, the proposed president of the YAF affiliate chapter, and Shannon Ashe, the chair of the Campus Life Committee, were involved in the conference call and each of them agreed with the plan for moving forward.
Because of the rather bizarre comments that have been made regarding Samford in social media over the past 24 hours, I feel compelled to offer a few personal observations. First, I defend the rights of all people, even those within what many may view as the cloistered environment of a private university, to write and to speak. It is a First Amendment right and, I believe, a basic human right, therefore I think that it is not advisable to attempt to insulate either students or faculty from expressing or hearing opposing views. That being said, I can say with confidence that Samford is not a bastion of support for Communism. I think we have overwhelming agreement throughout the campus that Communism is a failed system. Even so, I am faced with the truth that, as Christians, we are compelled to show the love of Christ to all people, regardless of political ideology or any other factor.
And I can’t help adding that I am a thoroughgoing Capitalist.
Any questions or concerns you have about this issue should be communicated to Dr. Phil Kimrey in the Division of Student Affairs, which has administrative responsibility for the establishment of new student organizations on our campus. Any media inquiries related to this matter should be referred to Philip Poole, Executive Director of University Communication.
And that’s all I know, at least for the moment.
The professor who forwarded that statement to me adds:
Replace “communism” with Nazism, anti-Semitism, or White Nationalism and see what happens.
“Love all people” claim is just so much bullsh*t. He would never extend the same deference to a group that took a stand against racism and racists, Nazis and Nazism, but Communists and Communism, that’s a different kettle fish, since the president knows that so many “respectable” people were drawn by its allure.
UPDATE.2: Great comment by a Samford alumnus:
I’m a graduate of Samford, Rod. You’re right to be calling attention to this, but not quite for the reasons you think. Let me provide a little context here:
Samford has never held itself out as a freewheeling “marketplace of ideas” environment. Oh, they throw out the usual boilerplate about that stuff, but the administration always made it crystal clear that for them, “free exchange of ideas” came with a giant asterisk. When I was there, the administration was very clear that certain things would not be tolerated. For example, they pretty much banned the distribution of any pro-abortion literature on campus. “Banned” might be too strong a word — I mean, if you went to the library, you’d have no problem finding pro-abortion books or magazines; what I mean was they wouldn’t allow any student groups, and definitely no outside groups, to distribute literature or advocate for pro-abortion causes on campus.
Pro-abortion stuff is just one example; there were other taboos, not all of them explicitly spelled out. Now I love Samford, but there was no mistaking the fact that in many ways, it was kind of a totalitarian environment. A soft, comfy totalitarianism, but totalitarianism nonetheless. When I was there, no demonstrations or protests of any kind were permitted without explicit permission from the administration. Heck, a professor who wanted to put on a mock “protest” just to show students what protesting was like had to get permission! Back in the 70s, the school actually shut down the student newspaper over some petty dispute that basically boiled down to the staff being insufficiently conformist.
Even the design and location of the campus underscores their mindset. Look at some photos of the school; it’s quite intentionally designed to stand apart from the surrounding community, and the school is fronted by a large wall and gate. And unlike virtually every other college I’ve seen, there is absolutely nothing within easy walking distance to allow students to escape the school’s atmosphere — no bars or restaurants or clubs catering to a college crowd.
That Samford might have misgivings about YAF doesn’t surprise me. It has nothing to do with YAF’s opposition to communism. Samford doesn’t particularly like ANYBODY to make a scene or cause trouble, even if they’re sympathetic to the cause — and I assure you, they’re probably VERY sympathetic to anti-communism.
Now the reason for this is that Samford is, or was, an explicitly conservative Christian school. They see themselves as having a distinct theological mission. Anything that detracts from that mission is suspect.
What’s funny to me, though, is that Samford’s ideological intolerance was always the butt of jokes by outsiders. Thing is, over the years, as PC culture has become increasingly militant, I’ve watched supposedly “enlightened” liberal schools move closer to Samford’s totalitarian model. Some — Oberlin comes to mind — seem to have surpassed it. Yet still they mock Samford, and schools like it, oblivious to the fact that they are slowly morphing into left-wing versions of the same thing. Leftist-dominated schools are turning themselves into almost perfect mirror images of a college where, at least when I was there, we had professors of biology who openly questioned the theory of evolution. Yet still they look down their noses at Samford, fancying themselves as wide-open arenas for intellectual combat.
It turns out, the joke’s on them: Want to see what the natural end-point to “safe space” PC hysteria is? IT’S A BIBLE-THUMPING SOUTHERN BAPTIST COLLEGE. Seriously, the “safe environment,” with all that implies, is a huge part of Samford’s sales pitch to conservative Christian parents. They were into “safe spaces” before safe spaces were cool.
It’s hilarious, really. I’ve long told people that when I lived in California, I discovered that some of the more intolerant leftists I encountered reminded me a lot of the intolerant fundamentalists I’d known back in Alabama. Well, this is EXACTLY what I was talking about: Campus PC madness has now reached such a peak that when somebody hears about a conservative Christian school in Alabama stomping on free expression, they IMMEDIATELY assume the threat must be from SJW fanatics — because that’s where all the intolerance comes from these days, right?
I’m sure a lot of leftists probably hate schools like Samford with the fury of a thousand suns, but Samford is the embodiment of their SJW utopia, staring them right in the face. They should take a long, looooong look and decide if that’s really the example they want to emulate.
BTW, I know this post sounds very critical of my alma mater, so I should reiterate that I actually loved my experience there. I knew exactly what I was signing up for when I went, and I think there’s definitely a place for schools that want to provide that experience, as long as they’re clear about it, which Samford was. What I object to is schools that essentially try to be “Samfords of the Left” while holding themselves out as something different and more noble, while implicitly or explicitly mocking a school like Samford simply because it’s more upfront about its biases.
If the left wants its own Samfords, they should have the courage to own it.
UPDATE.3: This just in from a source inside the university:
Despite this recent controversy, Samford is on a more conservative trajectory. Samford now has an endowed chair in Western intellectual history and all undergraduates must now take a 2-semester course in Western intellectual history. The undergraduate liberal arts school (where most of the liberal professors are) recently underwent a change in administration. The Faculty Senate (stocked with liberals) recommended three candidates to the president: a very liberal African-American woman, another liberal Episcopalian woman, and a conservative Christian straight, white man (the horror!). Despite pressure to pick one of the more liberal candidates, the administration selected the more conservative, Christian candidate.
All this to say, Samford is not becoming a school controlled by SJWs. There are signs of renewed Christian commitment across campus. So instead of following the trajectory of most other schools, Samford is heading in the other direction.