Protests over controversial speakers at university campuses have captured national attention and prompted discussion over “cancel culture” — but one such disagreement this week at Utah State University happened so quietly that few locals noticed.
A presentation entitled “How Social Justice & Identity Politics are Negatively Impacting Culture & the University” was given at Utah State University on Thursday, despite student protest.
Speakers Corey Miller and Peter Boghossian were slated to give their presentation, alternatively titled “A Christian and an Atheist Unite Against the Death of Intellectual Diversity at the University,” at USU as part of a tour to four Utah universities.
The tour was sponsored by Ratio Christi, an organization founded by Miller that argues that university campuses are hostile to Christians. The USU Ratio Christi chapter, a relatively new group on campus, hosted Miller and Boghossian.
A student coalition called the USU Anti-Racist Solidarity Group petitioned Noelle Cockett, president of USU, in protest of Miller and Boghossian’s presentation at the university. The petition is now closed, and it is unknown how many students signed it.
The group did not ask the university to cancel the event but instead voiced its opposition and asked that USU “consider and prioritize student well-being and academic integrity for future forums.”
“We understand and appreciate the opportunity to have thinkers and philosophers from all spheres of thought at USU. However, Dr. Boghossian has a history of unethical practices in academia specifically,” states the Anti-Racist Solidarity Group letter. “He actively rallies against cultural relativism and social justice in academia and has committed infractions at his home university that specifically targeted gender studies, queer theory, critical race theory, intersectional feminism, and the fat acceptance movement.”
The letter went on to reference Boghossian’s part in a project with two colleagues, James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose, in which they fabricated 20 academic papers and submitted them to journals to support their argument that scholarly standards are low in minority and multicultural studies. Four of the papers were published.
“His actions further marginalized groups that are already vulnerable and historically, systematically discriminated against, which is both unacademic and unethical,” the letter states. “The implications and impact of this event is unprecedented and we do not condone it taking place at our University. We do not feel supported in our efforts towards student wellness, and we do not feel safe.”
The group’s letter was also reposted to several websites, including both the official Ratio Christi website, arguing that “They essentially claim that viewpoint diversity represents a threat to the inclusiveness on their campus,” as well as on the website Christian Newswire.
Noelle Cockett, the president of USU, wrote a letter to the USU Anti-Racist Solidarity Group in response.
“Like all universities, USU embraces its institutional role as a marketplace of ideas – this variety of ideas is at the very core of our mission as an institution of higher education,” Cockett wrote. “In keeping with the First Amendment, USU does not censor speakers or ideas. However, we do provide broad-scope support, programming and funding for events that reflect our own firm commitment to being an inclusive campus.”
Cockett went on to thank and commend the USU Anti-Racist Solidarity group for its efforts. She encouraged them to lean on one another and the USU Inclusion Center for support, and stated that the group had her support.
“I am personally committed to fostering an inclusive campus where everyone feels safe and feels that they are an important part of our Aggie family,” Cockett wrote.
Representatives for the USU Anti-Racist Solidarity Group have declined to comment on this story.
Miller and Boghossian’s presentation went on as planned and centered on the idea that the culture of “political correctness” at the university keeps students from hearing a full, wide range of ideas, including those they may find offensive. Around 20 people were in attendance.
“I think these kids are really trying to do the right thing, and I think that their heart is in the right place … this is kind of what you do in your youth, you try to fight for what you think is right, but I think it’s very sadly misguided,” Boghossian said. “These are kids who really feel strongly about an issue, and I actually feel strongly about the same issues. But the conclusions that they have come to are leading them away from the goals they want to achieve.”
Miller said USU students expressing opposition to the event undermines their own movements.
“This whole notion of intellectual diversity and free speech is the basis for the letter that they wrote even to be possible,” Miller said. “If they want to cut free speech, they saw off the very branch on which they’re sitting.”