Samford University accused of being “communist safe haven”

BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) — Samford University is disputing headlines claiming that the campus is ‘safe for communists, not for conservatives’ after a November faculty senate committee meeting ended in controversy.

A group of students came to the meeting with a proposal; hoping to organize a Young Americans for Freedom (or YAF) chapter on the Samford campus, but the committee elected to not grant immediate approval for the organization.

“Having been there, I can attest to this–as well as every student that was being asked this question–she asked, what would the communist club say to this?” remembered Karalee Geis, who is one of the student leaders attempting to bring YAP to campus.”Something to the effect of, well this is not kind to the communist club, and this is inflammatory language in the Sharon Statement.”

The Sharon Statement, Geis explained, is an important part of YAF’s mission.  It was written in 1960 by William F. Buckley Jr. in Sharon, Connecticut at the creation of the Young America’s Foundation.  Geis said it is a seminal document of the Conservative Movement, and that it remains a foundation for all YAF chapters.

On Wednesday, Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland released a statement about the situation, reading in part,

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.

Westmoreland went on to write that he felt compelled to release the statement because of “rather bizarre comments that have been made regarding Samford in social media over the past 24 hours”.

Those comments included statements and headlines like “Samford University Becomes a Safe Space for Communists”, “Samford’s decision to black list the conservative group demonstrates a lack of historical and political literacy”, and “Samford will remain a safe space for Marxists”.

“Some of the reports that have appeared in various communication outlets have, I think, misinterpreted or misrepresented the facts of what actually happened,” explained Samford’s Executive Director of University Communications, Philip Poole.  “It’s really unfortunate.  I think Dr. Westmoreland’s statement yesterday clarified what really did occur in the meeting, and we’re using that to try to help get the correction information out about what really did happen in the meeting–both from the students’ perspective and the perspective of those who were in the committee meeting.”

Poole explained that it’s not out of the ordinary for a student group to go through a lengthy process before being recognized on campus.  It’s also not unusual for the Faculty Senate committee to ask for additional information or clarification before approval.  “That pushes the process back–where the students clarify that information and then continue the process,” he said.  “It does happen.  This is not the first time it has happened.”

On Wednesday, students, faculty, and staff involved in the matter met again for a conference call with a national YAF representative.  “I think over the last couple of days, the administration and the faculty members have continued to work with the leadership of the student organization,” Poole said.  “There’s been a lot of clarification about what was discussed so that everybody understands what the expectations are, and what the process will be going forward.”

Despite those open lines of communication, YAF’s national organization posted an article on Thursday afternoon, titled, “Samford U Not Off the Hook”.  One line from the article reads, “We wish to see the university as a natural ally for our cause, but will not allow it to misrepresent the actions of its faculty in order to repair a public relations crisis”.

Geis explained that she learned about YAF over the summer, and believed that it would be a great fit for the campus.  “The group’s purpose is to promote conservative values,” she said, “but not in a disrespectful way.  Not in an offensive way.”  YAF acts as a national network that could bring speakers and other educational opportunities to campus.

When asked about the headlines and quotes that accuse Samford of being pro-Communism; Geis, who is a senior at the school called them “a little extreme”, but went on to say, “When it gets to the heart of what happened in the meeting, the fact still remains that someone was saying, there is a communist club–and our club would be offensive to them.”

There is not a communist club on campus, according to both Geis and Westmoreland’s statement.  Geis and other students said they were initially misled at the committee meeting.  “It’s just sad that a few people’s concerns had to be such a representation of the campus and in the media of the entire university,” she said, “because the administration has truly been instrumental in encouraging our group and really helping us.”

Geis said that the group has been asked by the committee to add an amendment to their chapter constitution that will refer back to the Sharon Statement.  They won’t change the actual document, but believe that the committee wants them to justify some of the language of the statement.  It’s a process that they are currently working on.

The Samford YAF chapter will be able to go before the committee, again, with their amended proposal in February.  In the meantime, Geis said that they are still a provisional organization that can have interest meetings and meet with their advisor to talk about goals.  Currently, there are around 80 provisional members.

“I think we’ve got to let our process work forward,” said Poole, “and I have faith in that process, and I hope the students do as well.  We will keep the lines of communication open with the leadership of the organization, and they will be communicating with the other members.”

As for Samford’s response to the accusations that they support communism, Poole said, “Anyone who knows Samford University knows that we are unapologetic in our Christian mission.  We’re apologetically a rigorous academic institution that is here to make the world a better place.  It’s unfortunate that some have chosen to characterize us as otherwise–and falsely.  So we are not going to back down from who were as as an institution.”

To read Dr. Westmoreland’s full response click here.

To read the most recent response from the national YAF organization, click here.


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