The head of a student organization filed a complaint with the Council on Presidential Affairs about the College of Communication after several posters promoting a speaker were removed from the Fairbanks Center.
Senior Jonathan Spear, president of ADrenaline, Butler University’s advertising club, said he felt his club’s free speech rights were being violated by the administration of the CCOM.
“What makes them think that they have the right to tell me I can’t have someone speak to my club?” Spear said.
On Monday, Oct. 4, Spear hung five posters around the Fairbanks Center, promoting a speaker from the Miami Ad School. Katie Lever, admissions advisor at Miami, was scheduled to speak on Wednesday, Oct. 6, about what the field of advertising is like today and the skills it requires of professional practitioners and graduate level programs that the school offers.
They were still up when he left class Monday evening. When he returned to Fairbanks for a class Tuesday afternoon, the posters were missing.
“As soon as I noticed the posters were missing, I called [ADrenaline adviser Donna Gray],” Spear said. “She told me the dean and associate dean had expressed concerns and thought that it was not appropriate that Katie came and spoke.”
Gray, a CCOM instructor, met with both Interim Dean Bill Neher and Associate Dean Ann Savage to discuss their concerns.
“They were concerned that it was a conflict of interest for that particular speaker to come speak to our students,” she said.
As to the specific concerns, there seems to be a lack of consensus within the CCOM faculty.
Savage said she was concerned about a conflict of interest and having a for-profit institution promote its program on Butler’s nonprofit space.
Savage said that no one in the dean’s office knew anything about the program, so she took one poster down to learn more about the school.
A message had been sent over the Butler Connection and the strategic communication listserv in the days prior.
Mark Rademacher, strategic communication program director, said he also questioned the suitability of this speaker on campus.
“The concern I might have is that we value what a well-rounded liberal arts education can provide, so if a program doesn’t deliver that well-rounded education experience is that it offers one set of skills but maybe not the entire picture,” Rademacher said.
Neher, who was part of the meetings with Savage and Gray and Spear, said he was unaware of any conflict of interest concerns.
“We have no mechanism to do that, there is no way for us to prevent the person from speaking,” Neher said. “I’m a radical when it comes to free speech.”
Spear said he remembers their conversation differently.
“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “I stood in a room with [Neher] and [Savage] and talked specifically about the issues they had with the speaker, one of which was the conflict of interest.”
Whether or not the speaker was a conflict of interest, recognized student organizations, including ADrenaline, are governed by the Student Government Association and the Programs for Leadership and Service Education office. The PuLSE handbook states that, “A balance of free speech and community standards will be enforced by the PuLSE office.”
“We ask that the campus community does not go around removing fliers,” Julie Pakenham, associate director of PuLSE, said. “We respect free speech. We want to create a balance of free speech, not just in the fliers but also in the programming that goes on.”
Spear acknowledged that while his posters were stamped by the PuLSE office, he forgot to include ADrenaline’s name in the posting, as is required by the PuLSE office posting policy.
“When I went to the PuLSE office and had the posters stamped, I was told I needed to put ADrenaline on them,” Spear said. “But I went straight to lunch and work and forgot.”
Some of the posters were also posted on windows and painted walls, which violates PuLSE posting policies.
But why, then, weren’t the posters removed and given back to the organization to correct?
Neher said it is likely because they didn’t know to whom the posters belonged. He said he doesn’t know who took them down, but it was probably because they were improperly hung up.
Both Savage and Neher also said they were unaware who was sponsoring the event until Gray spoke to them around 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 5, because the sponsoring group wasn’t on the poster and a room hadn’t been reserved.
But Caroline Huck-Watson, PuLSE director, told Savage at 1 p.m. via email that ADrenaline was putting on the event. It was then that Savage contacted Gray with her concerns, saying that she and Neher had concerns about a conflict of interest between the Miami Ad School and programs offered in the CCOM.
Ultimately, the varied concerns did not stop Lever from speaking to a group of about 10 students. But, Spear said he did not feel better and lodged the complaint with CPA.
“I don’t see why there would be any reason at all for a professor to be apprehensive, worried or threatened for a professional coming to speak to students about how to better their education and further their career,” he said. “As professors and faculty I think it’s their job to want what’s best for us. After our conversations, I’m wondering if some of the people in this building do.”