Furman ‘culture of intolerance’ prompts alumni to form free speech group
Media coverage of Furman Free Speech Alliance group formation
A series of cancel culture incidents at Furman University has prompted some alumni to form a free speech group to lobby campus leaders to allow — and protect — intellectual diversity on campus.
Jeff Salmon said he was inspired to start the Furman Free Speech Alliance to promote free expression, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity — especially after what he called troubling incidents at his alma mater.
He is actively trying to recruit other alumni to “help Furman make a course correction,” he said.
“Since July I have had conversations with dozens of alumni about the situation and encouraging them to join our effort,” Salmon told The College Fix in a recent telephone interview. “I have had several that have said ‘I’m not giving any money to Furman, I’ve just given up on it…there is no hope.’”
But Salmon said the university is worth fighting for.
“I think people should continue to give to Furman, but give it specifically to things that will enhance education there rather than perpetuate a campus culture of intolerance which has been built up by the administration,” he said.
Salmon, who works in public policy, said his concerns largely began in 2020 after the death of George Floyd.
“I thought there was institutional neutrality at Furman until the George Floyd summer, and then the president wrote a letter, like a letter written by so many other college presidents, in which she asserted that there was systemic racism at Furman,” Salmon said.
President Elizabeth Davis wrote in her May 2020 memo “we uncovered a history of white supremacy among Furman’s early leaders that lasted well into the second half of the 20th century in South Carolina and across the country.”
She continued that the university needed to do more to fight against the “stark, systemic and institutional realities of racial injustice in America that says through words and actions that black lives are expendable.”
In the following years, Furman expanded its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, adding about five-new DEI-related positions, too many needed for a school of 2,500 undergrads, Salmon said.
In the last year, student Peter Paluszak put up a pro-life display and said he was surrounded and verbally attacked by his peers, and then ostracized by the campus community.
A video posted to YouTube of the incident shows Paluszak standing alone with his pro-life signs as a large, opposing crowd of students screamed offensive comments and profanity.
“After the protest, a few students became actively rude to me any chance they got, but for the most part, people just began to ignore me,” he told The Fix in a recent email about the January 2023 incident. “I became a social outcast to most, and many of my good friends became mere acquaintances.”
Paluszak said there is a need to address growing intolerance even as DEI expands at Furman.
“I believe the culture at Furman is one of intolerance, but to only right-winged views,” he said, adding that conservative views are treated like discrimination.
“Most students, faculty, and a large part of the administration propagate this intolerance by pushing left-winged ideals and beliefs, while shunning and silencing right-winged beliefs,” said Paluszak, who graduated from Furman in 2023.
“…In my time at Furman, I believe that the implementation of DEI practices have only caused more intolerance on campus. I believe this is because the DEI practices on campus have pushed for diversity by spreading a message of victimhood and oppression, rather than skill, worth, and merit.”
Salmon said what happened to Paluszak is not surprising given two high-profile cancel culture incidents over the last year there as well.
In one case, conservative scholar Scott Yenor gave a guest lecture at the school in February 2023 that was met with protests by students, the Furman University Democratic Socialists, and others, the Paladin student newspaper reported.
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