University of Louisville professor Ede Warner has a unique plan to keep the Ku Klux Klan off his campus: He wants the school to ban the group, then argue in court that it’s a terrorist organization.
“Nobody has ever done that,” Warner said.
Klan members started posting fliers on campus early in the spring semester to protest diversity programs sponsored by the school. That stirred debate among faculty and administrators that has taken place on campuses around the country: how far the university can go to keep some groups off campus and how to best deal with unpopular ideas in the academic setting.
What makes the Louisville situation so unusual is the presence of the KKK, said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., which tracks the Klan and other hate groups.
“I cannot think of another situation when the Klan has appeared on campus,” Potok said. “The Klan is quite small, even within the contemporary radical right.”
Free speech issues
Having the Klan banned as a terrorist organization based on its past would be legally difficult, especially given the Klan’s inaction in recent years, and probably unnecessary, said Potok, whose organization has beat the Klan in court over other issues.
“You would run into issues of free speech,” he said.
University officials banned two members of the KKK from campus this month, saying they violated university policy about where fliers can be posted.
That could give Warner his fight, if the Klan challenges the school over access to a public university and its students. Jim Kennedy, the self-described point man for the KKK in the Louisville area, said the Klan is preparing to contest the ban in court.
“They don’t like us too much over there,” Kennedy told The Associated Press. “They’re trying to get around that freedom of speech any way they can.”
The Klan started appearing on campus in the fall after black activist and rapper Sister Souljah gave a speech that some students said was derogatory to whites and received $11,000 for the talk. Others said the main theme was black empowerment.
Afterward, Kennedy demanded that the Klan be given equal time and compensation or the school end the diversity program, which he considers racist.
The appearance by the KKK prompted protests on and off campus. A state representative has asked the FBI to investigate the Klan.
University spokeswoman Rae Goldsmith said the school is cooperating with the FBI, which was tapped after Klan members accused the university of violating their civil rights. The FBI would not confirm a complaint being filed.
Dave King, one of the banned Klansmen, said he’s not a terrorist and that the ban is an attempt by the school to shut down an unpopular point of view.
“They don’t like what I’m saying, so they’re trying to make it so I can’t speak,” King said.
Goldsmith said the Klan can still distribute fliers and appear on campus in one of two designated “free speech zones,” but to speak at a campus function, it would need sponsorship from a campus organization.
Around the 21,400 student campus, with 77 percent white students, 12 percent black students and 11 percent other minorities, reaction to the Klan and Warner’s proposal is mixed.
“We shouldn’t keep them away,” said Raul Zamora, a 24-year-old junior. “We should give other ideas besides theirs.”
But, Maymon “Mona” Nageye, a 21-year-old sophomore, said the Klan shouldn’t be allowed on campus.
“If we wanted to learn to hate, we could just learn from the streets and not come to school for it,” Nageye said.
Policies at other schools
Some schools, such as the University of Texas in Austin, bar all non-campus groups from making presentations on campus unless they are invited and sponsored by a campus organization. At Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where former Klan grand wizard David Duke makes the occasional on-campus appearance, anyone may speak as long as they do not disrupt classes or university business, said LSU spokeswoman Kristine Calogne.
Raul Sanchez, director of human rights and diversity at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, countered a presentation by a minister calling slavery Biblically correct with one of his own featuring the history of slavery and its legacy.
“We were interested in offering a healthy dose of an alternative message,” Sanchez said.
Kennedy said he just wants to present an alternative to the school-sponsored diversity program.
“Diversity means two sides, one on one side, one on the other discussing the problem,” he said. “I just want equal time.”