COLUMN: CMU has no idea how to handle controversy, Westboro v. Satanist is a prime example


Central Michigan University has been doing a lot of things wrong lately. I was able to witness one of those missteps first-hand.

My journalism professor, Timothy Boudreau invited the Westboro Baptist Church and a Satanist to debate in front of my Law of Mass Communication class.

“This is a once and a lifetime experience,” said Andrew Spencer, associate dean of the College of Communications and Fine Arts. An odd thing for him to say, considering he was on the committee that set regulations to keep people out of the event.

The Westboro Baptist Church is an extremely religious, anti-gay group that protests soldiers funerals and said all Catholics are complicit in rape committed by a few religious figure.

The Satanists, on the other hand, were Atheists who fight for separation of church and state.

A committee of six university officials, including Spencer, set the following rules for the event: No students outside the class would be allowed in, no media and students could not film the event. 

Since the university tried to bar media from the event, I can’t help but feel more pressure to tell people what it was like.

For example, the nonsensical garbage said by the church was hilariously ignorant. The Satanist, on the other hand, was well spoken and smart. 

I only went to this event because I had to for the class. I am well informed about the ideas exhibited by the church and had no desire to hear them repeated to me in person.

I can, however, see why people would want to go. The church is interesting, odd and off the wall crazy. 

Ridiculous ideas, like those held by the Westboro Baptist Church, deserve to be ridiculed by the public. 

That’s all I have to say about the church itself. 

The story here is not that a hateful group came to campus. The story is that CMU had no idea what to do or how to handle it.

It was clear the college thought this was a risky event and they did a great job of overreacting. 

While I was waiting for the event in Moore Hall, a coworker and I were talking to our Central Michigan Life adviser. For some reason, we were followed around by someone working for the university. 

Odd, but not as odd as a cop searching someone, patting them down and searching their car for looking through a backpack. An ordeal that someone in CM Life advertising went through that morning.

Walking into the event, the same employee who followed me around began looking in trash cans, desks and other places. I assume for weapons. 

He then stayed in the back of the room the entire time. I know that because when I got up to take photos — something I was told not to do — he began to stare at me. 

After the class, the church met with students in a different room. The university and police yet again had no idea what they were doing in this situation. The ban on media was apparently up to officer discretion. 

While I witnessed several reporters get turned away, including a different CM Life employee, many were let in. 

I can only guess what made this change. 

For example, it could be because I live streamed the entire event on Facebook, and CM Life re-uploaded it. Or maybe because going against free speech in an event for a free speech class is really bad optics on the university.

Those are guesses, but one things if for sure, this was a once and a lifetime event, according to university officials.

For some reason, they didn’t want students to go or even hear about it.