Republican Rep. Tom Reed met with Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger and BU College Republicans on campus last Tuesday to express free speech concerns regarding previous on-campus student protests.
Reed is a U.S. representative for New York state’s 23rd congressional district, which spans a considerable portion of New York state’s Southern Tier. His district does not include Binghamton University’s campus or the city of Binghamton.
According to a press release, Reed sent a letter to State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor Kristina Johnson following a student protest of a speech featuring economist Arthur Laffer in November. In his letter, Reed questioned whether SUNY and Binghamton University were adequately protecting free speech on campus.
“A free and democratic country depends on a well-informed, educated and opinionated public free from concerns that their speech or beliefs will be constrained or prohibited,” Reed wrote. “A country where speech, especially political in nature, is infringed cannot thrive.”
Reed also wrote that he was “deeply disturbed” by reports of bullhorns being used during the speech.
Student protests began in November at BU following a pro-gun tabling event held by BU’s chapters of Turning Point USA (TPUSA), a conservative group known for its attention-grabbing tactics at colleges and universities across the nation, and College Republicans on the Spine. Hours before the protest, a shooter opened fire at a high school in Santa Clarita, California. In a statement released by BU College Republicans on Nov. 17, they said they were also promoting Laffer’s speech. Members of TPUSA and College Republicans did not reserve space on the Spine for the tabling event, as required by Student Association (SA) and University policies. After officers with Binghamton’s New York State University Police (UPD) began separating the groups, some of the protesters turned their message toward UPD, asking, “Who are you protecting?”
Protesters later demonstrated at the event with Laffer on Nov. 18. At the sit-in protest, participants with red armbands read aloud stories of police brutality. They were met by approximately 10 UPD officers, who were dispatched to the event “to maintain order,” according to a statement from Brian Rose, vice president for student affairs. Two protesters, a student and a community member, were arrested, and Laffer was escorted out of the room.
Reed has not been the only conservative politician to criticize protesters and Binghamton University’s response to the demonstrations. President Donald Trump responded to the incidents on Dec. 21 at a TPUSA student action summit, where he invited Lacey Kestecher, president of BU’s TPUSA chapter and a freshman majoring in business administration, to the stage and condemned the protesters. Trump also falsely suggested that protesters used clubs and bats while demonstrating.
After meeting with Reed, Stenger said their conversation was productive.
“I am glad that Reed came to campus today so that I could explain in person how we handled the events of last November,“ Stenger said in a public statement. “He left with a better understanding of what happened and appreciated my ability to explain to him the University’s response. In the current climate across the globe, where incivility erupts at a moment’s notice, we must promote a dialogue that is intellectual, civil and inclusive. [BU] is a place where that can happen.”
Reed said the meeting did not appease all of his concerns.
“Today is just the beginning,” Reed said in a news conference after the meeting. “I can’t declare that I’m satisfied. I’m still appalled that this type of behavior occurred here just outside our district. Time will be the test of whether or not I’m satisfied with this result. As long as this continues to go on, this attack on free speech, hopefully we can take care of it here at [BU]. But, I know this is a battle that we have to continue elsewhere too.”