By Stephen Neukam and Megan Lupo
Barbara Franz, the chair of the political science department, has been the recipient of hostile verbal and written remarks following a March 5 article on the national conservative website Campus Reform, criticizing her decision to not advertise Rider’s chapter of Turning Point USA’s (TPUSA) April event, “White Privilege is a Myth.”
The article featured critical comments from individuals on the executive board of TPUSA at Rider, suggesting she did not want to promote political events with which she disagreed.
But in a March 8 interview with The Rider News, Franz said, “We shouldn’t have to [advertise the event] because we are a political science department. Our [department] is based on empirical, quantitative science. There is no science behind that [white privilege is a myth] statement. Actually, the science points quite in the opposite direction.”
Franz likened the prospects of her promoting the event to an astronomy department promoting a “flat-earth” event.
In the Campus Reform article, Rider’s TPUSA president and junior accounting major Joshua Aminov described Franz as an “avid socialist.” Sophomore political science major Ting Wei, the club’s secretary, characterized her classroom as “a cradle of conservative self-censorship.” Club faculty advisor Larry Newman, associate professor of marketing, scolded Franz for not promoting views that were not complementary to her own.
The story also provided a link to Franz’s information page on Rider’s website, containing her email and phone number.
“[I’ve been] getting emails from nutjobs. I’m not picking up my phone anymore,” said Franz.
The Rider News exclusively obtained copies of some of these emails.
“[You] f–king Libtards are destroying America, I’m glad the dean told you to shove it,” read one of the emails, sent from a non-Rider email account. “As someone who believes in [white privilege], that makes you — explicitly — an anti-white racist,” said another.
Aminov condemned any threatening sentiments sent to Franz.
“There are no exceptions for hate mail and threatening messages regardless of who it is being directed to,” said Aminov. “That being said, many faculty members are subject to many positive and negative reactions from the public outside of Rider as a direct result of their actions for any given matter and it’s moments like these that should be a moment of reflection.”
In December 2017, the club was initially denied recognition by the Student Government Association (SGA). Then-SGA President John Modica raised concerns about the club’s potential participation in the “Professor Watchlist,” which encourages chapters to publicly post the names of professors promoting “radical agendas.” However, Modica said there was an agreement between himself and Aminov that the chapter at Rider would not participate.
“Josh [Aminov] told me verbatim that they were not going to [participate in the watchlist],” said Modica. “I had told [Aminov] that was one of my major concerns. I felt that it was literally a form of surveillance which would then allow for people outside of the community to send threats to Rider faculty.”
Franz felt that there was “not much” of a difference between the Professor Watchlist and what TPUSA did in the Campus Reform article. Matthew Boedy, a professor at the University of North Georgia, reached out to Franz to show his support.
“I see Campus Reform and Turning Point are making you a target,” wrote Boedy via an email that Franz shared with The Rider News. “I’m with you. I am on that stupid watch list.”
Boedy’s Professor Watchlist page features a photo of him and lists his salary. The page claims Boedy believes “universities would be more dangerous if they had students legally carrying firearms.” The only citation on the page for information is a Campus Reform article.
Aminov denied any relationship between Campus Reform and TPUSA and urged The Rider News not to bring up the Professor Watchlist.
“It is, of course, an interesting position that I personally am in because I am a Campus Reform correspondent and the president of [TPUSA at Rider],” said Aminov. “That being said, there is no relationship between the two.”
Campus Reform is a project of the Leadership Institute, which Aminov disclosed paid the speaker fee for a number of their speakers, including Cabot Phillips in October.
Modica empathized with members of the Rider community that “fall at the margins of our society.” He explained that he thinks one of TPUSA’s main objectives is to falsify the feelings and beliefs of those individuals.
“[Marginalized peoples] experiences are greatly formed by discrimination, oppression and being disadvantaged in our society,” said Modica. “I think that Turning Point’s motive and the political rhetoric that they put out is explicitly to make those experiences feel invalid.”
This is a sentiment that is shared within portions of the student body. In particular, many said they feel uncomfortable with the “White Privilege is a Myth” event.
“I feel like this event is giving a voice to those that have always had a voice and platform to speak,” said sophomore theater major Cymere Nobles, who is a member of the Black Student Union. “It’s doing nothing but taking away the progress we’ve made as a community.”
While this feeling was prevalent, Nobles, who plans on attending the event, and some other community members felt that it was important to let the event happen. She said that she would attend because it is “important to show up at this discussion and take initiative to voice how we feel.”
SGA president and senior environmental studies major Olivia Barone said, “We encourage all student clubs and organizations to do events and promote their organization. I think it is a little unfortunate that the political science department does not want to promote [TPUSA’s] event but I think that is [the department’s] prerogative.”
Although junior political science major Charles Palmer, who is also in SGA as the senator in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said that those opposing the event should attend in order to engage in a debate and hold the hosts accountable. However, he believes the political science department should promote the event and urges SGA to issue a statement.
“I think SGA should respond on behalf of the students. SGA is an organization that represents students’ concerns,” Palmer said. “With that said, SGA should be inclusive in supporting different ideas. However, we need to acknowledge the facts and this event simply does not do that.”
In a statement to Campus Reform, Associate Vice President for University Marketing and Communications Kristine Brown said, “[Franz’s decision] was inappropriate and does not reflect the university’s values regarding free speech and open dialogue. Turning Point USA’s event is happening as planned.”
Brown said she was unaware of the hateful emails sent to Franz and recommended that “any university employee who receives emails that are of concern to contact Public Safety immediately to file a report.”
However, Brown said that other offices and departments throughout the university are also receiving a “significant number” of negative phone calls and emails, including the Information Desk.
Franz emphasized that she never made an attempt to stop the event from happening. However, she was disappointed in the university’s response to her decision. She explained that if the university supports TPUSA, its values must include antisemitism, racism and xenophobia.
“If the university stands behind this kind of exclusive ideology, [I think] it is sad and quite unfortunate,” said Franz. “In my opinion, the university should support inclusivism and genuine discourse. That is not what Turning Point does; it instigates stuff. It is not interested in debate, it is interested in conflict.”
Aminov remained excited about the April 2 event.
“I think it is going to foster discussion on Rider’s campus that doesn’t happen amongst students very often,” said Aminov. “I think many people will come out of it surprised with how the opposing viewpoint is a viable viewpoint.”
Palmer, also, said he is hopeful the event will foster a healthy exchange of ideas.
“I would feel more comfortable if the event was called ‘Is White Privilege a Myth?’ as opposed to ‘White Privilege is a Myth.’ I think the dangerous part is if we allow the event to happen and do not hold them accountable,” Palmer said. “There are facts that prove white privilege exists. TPUSA is attempting to promote an ideology that is based on lies however, it is up to the Rider community to hold them accountable and push back on the spread of clear and blatant lies.”