The University of Iowa College of Dentistry will start introducing changes to its mass emailing practices, particularly for faculty members sending politically-themed mass emails to students. This decision was made after the college sent a mass email to its students in October 2020 condemning an executive order by former President Donald Trump which prohibited federal contractors and other entities from engaging in “blame-focused” diversity training.
The situation took a turn when dentistry student Michael Brase hit reply-all to respond to the mass email, disagreeing with the stance the college took. The Daily Iowan explained that his reply also triggered several responses against the mass email.
Brase was subsequently called to a disciplinary hearing from college administrators for “unprofessional behavior” and chose to ask for help from Iowa legislators due to the violation of his First Amendment rights.
Lawmaker Reacts to Mass Email
In an interview with The Daily Iowan, Rep. Bobby Kauffman (R-Wilton) expressed his belief that the college should not be sending out emails “against or for Trump executive orders, or against or for Biden executive orders.”
“I mean, the goal of the university is to educate, and so if they want to send out both sides and let students decide for themselves that’s one thing, but saying, ‘Hey I criticize this particular political notion’ … they said they would no longer be sending out emails like that.”
“The ultimate irony is the inappropriate conduct was responding to a mass email with political opinions when the initiator of the mass email with political opinions was the university,” Kaufmann added.
Freedom of Speech in Campus Discussions
Adam Steinbaugh, director of the First Amendment advocacy group the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said university leaders should not limit campus discussions about political issues, especially when they have opened up the discussion themselves.
“Unfortunately, we’ve too often seen ‘professionalism’ used as a pretext to investigate, discipline, or chill student speech on matters of public concern,” he explained. “Even if a student is not ultimately punished, summoning a student to a disciplinary hearing may have continuing consequences, as applying for licensure may require disclosure of investigations, as Iowa law appears to do.”
FIRE rates educational institutions according to a “traffic-light” system based on how well their school policies protect free speech. A green light indicates that the institution does not have any policies that clearly restrict free speech, while a red light means that there is at least one school policy that seriously restricts free speech.
The University of Iowa currently has a yellow-light rating, which means that the school has at least one policy that is ambiguous in its effects on free speech.