A perspective on free speech

Matthew Darnell

I want to share with you the story of Dr. Tyrone Hayes, a professor and researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Hayes represented the type of faculty member any research university hoped to have: admired, published, and dedicated to the honest pursuit of knowledge.

In a recent article in the New Yorker and in a segment on the independent news source Democracy Now!, Dr. Hayes reveals how after his research revealed the dangers of atrazine, a chemical common in many pesticides, he was threatened by the company Syngenta to have his funding cut if he did not retract his findings. Syngenta had funded Dr. Hayes’ research on the effects of the chemicals used in their products. Syngenta was also a major donor to the University of California. Dr. Hayes refused. So began a 15-year long battle in which Syngenta threatened to revoke funding, discredit Dr. Hayes, and physically threaten his family. The administration at Berkeley labeled Dr. Hayes a liability and refused to help.

Last semester, a student used her First Amendment rights to publish an opinion piece questioning the need for private donors to be recognized by having their names attached to buildings. In response, members of the administration threatened to have her scholarships revoked, a serious and cowardly threat considering GVSU’s ever-increasing tuition.

To the administration: How dare you! How dare you, whose sole purpose it is to care for your students, threaten one for using her rights as an American citizen and human being to voice legitimate concerns over policies enacted by a school she pays thousands for yet has zero-say over how the school is run.

What has been done about the threats. Have the administrators responsible been punished in any way. Have they made a formal apology to the students and faculty whom they are supposed to work for.

Grand Valley is a public institution. We pay for it. As private donations from wealthy individuals and corporations become more important to the running of the university, it seems that what was once a house of learning has become “a den of thieves.”

Shame on the administration of Grand Valley State University. Shame on you for caring more about the reputation of “the University” than the rights of the students and faculty who are GV’s heart and soul. An administration that cares more about the feelings of private donors and corporations than it does the interests and rights of its students and faculty has no place in a public institution.

Do not let our school fall victim to an administration that cares less about the rights of its students than it does their positions. Do not let our school become Berkeley, an institution that cares more about keeping donors happy than it does about justice and inquiry. We must use our First Amendment rights and voice our opinions over questionable policies! We must assert our rights as students and demand that the administration listen to us and act on our behalf!

Without us, there is no university. Never let them forget that.

Matthew M. Darnell
History/Anthropology, Archaeology