Sunday, May 7, 2017

A Bouchard-ski view of free speech

Having witnessed a handful of letters-to-the editor supporting State Senator Anthony Bouchard’s conduct at the University of Wyoming, it seemed a contrary point of view was appropriate.

Who elected Anthony Bouchard to oversee the University of Wyoming? No one except Anthony Bouchard. The single-issue gun-rights candidate took it upon himself to threaten at least one faculty member as he flaunted his faux-power recently on the UW campus. The leadership of the Wyoming legislature needs to reign him in, assuming they want to and that is a major assumption.

UW has experienced numerous attempts to deny academic freedom. There was a McCarthy era witch hunt to censor textbooks at UW. Powerful legislators once attempted to close the law school when they didn’t like a book by a law professor proposing removing cattle from public lands. The then-president of the state senate felt UW should screen faculty to assure they would teach only “Wyoming values.”

Then there was “Carbon Sink,” a sculpture created to make a statement about climate change. The Wyoming Mining Association and their legislators felt it unfairly criticized the mining industry. They persuaded the then-UW President to destroy the sculpture.

Censorship is nothing new at UW. But this incident is different. Coming onto the campus to berate students and threaten faculty is a step too far.

Bouchard claims to know all there is to know about the 2nd Amendment but knows nothing about the First. Memo to Anthony: The First Amendment comes just before the Second. It’s the one guaranteeing free speech and academic freedom even when you don’t like what you hear.

It seems the freshman Laramie County state senator showed up during the recent Shepard Symposium on Social Justice. He saw a notice online, decided he didn’t like what he read, and headed for the campus to make a nuisance of himself.

The presentation was the work of a couple of UW students exploring unique threats faced by African-American males by those carrying concealed weapons. Even before he heard the presentation, Bouchard decided it was “race baiting.”

Following the presentation, which Bouchard reportedly interrupted frequently with irrelevant assertions about the 2nd Amendment, Bouchard became disruptive. He made it known he was a state senator before engaging the students and a faculty member in a bizarre conversation. Seemingly related to nothing, Bouchard complained about the response time of campus police. According to witnesses, he said he thought about detonating “an explosive device” on the campus to test their response time.

Then he turned his venom on the students and their academic work, telling their instructor, “I vote on funding for this school.” It was his way of threatening her as he asserted that he attended because, “I think I should know what I should vote against.” Bouchard told the media he intends to take a closer look at what is being taught at the University. “Why are we spending money for a teacher to teach this kind of stuff,” he said.

Well Anthony, taxpayers spend money on teachers like her for much the same reason we spend money on legislators. We spend that money in the hopes of hiring people with the ability to think critically about the problems that confront our state. In the case of the faculty member you attacked, we are getting our money’s worth.

So, Senator, you know whatever it is you think you know about the 2nd Amendment. Here’s a brief lesson on the First Amendment and how it protects students and faculty from bullies. Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case titled Keyishian v. Board of Regents. Justice William Brennan wrote, “Our nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us, not merely to the teachers involved.”

In other words, your election to the state legislature gave you no authority to threaten students and faculty. Indeed, it gave you the responsibility to protect their rights as vehemently as you seek to protect the rights of gun owners.

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