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Asking for it

It’s been a month since the release of Behind the Carbon Curtain: The Energy Industry, Political Censorship and Free Speech—and there’s been virtually no hostile response or uncivil discourse. The folks with power and money have been eerily silent, despite my having made public presentations in Casper, Gillette, Lander, Laramie, Rawlins, and Sheridan to nearly 400 people.

At the University of Wyoming, my presentation was hosted by the Sierra Club (not the university), although the campus bookstore did have the gumption to stock and sell my book at the event. I’ve sent the institution’s marketing department press releases, but they’ve decided not to distribute these. And so, I was pleased when Wyoming Public Television was able to garner the only official response from UW’s administration regarding Behind the Carbon Curtain.

Chris Boswell, vice president for governmental and community affairs, replied to my concerns by defending censorship based on the assertion that such silencing exists at any university by those who provide money (if something happens elsewhere then it’s acceptable here, which is presumably also the case for institutional racism?). He wrongly suggested that I expected there to be no reaction when faculty broach controversial subjects. That is an absurd reading of my book. Of course there will be a reaction, but it should be in the form of speech—not in the form of financial or physical threats.

Here’s the most troubling part of Boswell’s response: “[Faculty must understand that] if you stand on a chair and shake your fist at Cheyenne [then] the legislature, might not… warmly embrace funding proposals for the University of Wyoming. There’s a give and take.” They give funding and take our liberties. Now consider how this view echoed the perspective of Wyoming’s Senator Mike Enzi.

Enzi recently told a gathering of high school students that when a man wears a tutu into a bar, he should expect violence. As the senator put it: “he kind of asks for it.” This seems to be Boswell’s view of what happens when a faculty member violates a sociopolitical norm and offends those in power—expect that there will be punishment. The UW vice president’s closing line was that faculty must “be realistic” just like the guy whose dress crossed the line. The administrator evidently failed to see that this is a call for self-censorship on campus—and bullying in our schools.

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