Susan Herbst is the 15th President of the University of Connecticut.
Susan Herbst is the 15th President of the University of Connecticut. Photo Credit: Provided

Law Students Question UConn President's Stance On Free Speech

Some University of Connecticut Law students have requested a public apology from UConn President Susan Herbst, who they claim raised questions about a Hartford speech on Islamophobia by Palestinian-American feminist activist Linda Sarsour.

Herbst, who plans to retire this summer, let the April event go ahead as planned after organizers added a panelist on anti-Semitism, according to a university spokeswoman. 

The law students insist Herbst’s office was wrong to intervene after the event was reviewed and pre-approved by UConn police officers and the university’s communications office.

Sarsour, a daughter of Palestinian immigrants, was co-chair of the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. She is a polarizing figure because of her opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also called for a spiritual and political "jihad" against President Donald Trump by fellow Muslims.

Last May, Herbst announced that she will step down as president at the end of this school year when her eight-year contract ends.

She's been at the helm of UConn during a host of other polarizing speakers, from Stamford, CT, native Candace Owens last month to a 2017 appearance by Lucian Wintrich that led to the White House correspondent's arrest. The breach of peace charge against Wintrich was later dropped.

The university previously approved a March 5 Law School program sponsored by the conservative Federalist Society called “Building the Wall: Executive Authority and Use of Emergency Power" with Breitbart Editor Ken Klukowski debating UConn Law Professor Kiel Brennan-Marquez.

Organizers of Sarsour’s speech believe they faced tougher scrutiny by Herbst's administration to have their event go on as scheduled last month.

A week after Sarsour’s speech, a “Campus Clash” event with Candace Owens and Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk drew a capacity crowd to the Student Union at UConn, as well as protesters outside. 

Brenton Tarrant, the white supremacist who carried out the killing of 49 Muslim worshipers in two New Zealand mosques had written: "Yes, the person that has influenced me above all was Candace Owens," as reported by multiple news outlets. Owens responded in this series of tweets: “LOL! FACT: I’ve never created any content espousing my views on the 2nd Amendment or Islam," she wrote in March. "The Left pretending I inspired a mosque massacre in. . . New Zealand because I believe black America can do it without government hand outs is the reachiest reach of all reaches!! LOL!”

In another post, Owens wrote: "To be clear: We played the ‘Candace is Hitler’ game. We played the ‘Candace is anti-rape victims’ game. If the media attempts this ‘Candace inspired a mosque shooting in New Zealand’ bit—they better all lawyer the f*ck up. I will go full Covington Catholic lawsuit. Try me."

In mid-April, the Student Bar Association adopted a resolution critical of Herbst and the university administration for trying to postpone Sarsour’s speech to next fall.

"They have done harm to free speech at the UConn School of Law and raised the specter of censorship through their actions," the resolution said.

The resolution states that Herbst’s earlier public comments supportive of the First Amendment and free speech ring hollow.

"Her words ring hollow in light of her efforts to squash this student-initiated event," their resolution read. "It appears she was attempting to decide what speech was heard."

In 2017, Sarsour spoke at Trinity College. The college in Hartford has faced racial tensions after a black sociology professor’s Easter tweet that "whiteness is terrorism," as reported here by the Hartford Courant.