Oglethorpe University: Not Safe for LGBT Students (?)

5 Mar

Have a Koch and some Hate

I did my undergraduate work at a small liberal arts college in Atlanta, Georgia, Oglethorpe University. While I was there, I found a group of friends and professors who were not only accepting but often would encourage young people to find their voice and use it to do good in a larger society. Unfortunately, there did not exist a Gay/Straight Alliance and there was no safe place to go if you were part of the LGBT community. That was 21 years ago. I would have thought things at Oglethorpe would have improved exponentially. Alas, just the opposite has occurred.

Oglethorpe which calls itself a “liberal arts college” seems to have lost the identity and meaning of that illustrious concept. One friend, Brad Fairchild, a local playwright/artist and gay alum of Oglethorpe sent me some very disturbing news about a lecture series taking place at our alma mater.  Matthew Franck, the leader of a right wing think tank and a notorious homophobe who hides his bigotry under a very thin patina of academic legalese, was  invited by tenured Professor Joe Knippenberg (who equates homosexuality with incest), to deliver the lecture on March 7, 2011 from 4-5 in the Talmadge Room. I feel the need to underscore here that this particular lecture series is being funded by the Koch brothers, the same very uber-wealthy Koch Brothers who continue to fund Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union activities in Wisconsin as well as a long list of anti-gay Tea Party Candidates.

I immediately picked up the phone to investigate what was going on at Oglethorpe. I was informed that University President Schall is out of town and would not be back until March 8. I explained to his assistant, Terry, “I’m sure he has a cell phone and I would appreciate it if he could call me as soon as possible.” Terry was quite nice and responsive. Within five minutes I received a phone call from the acting Provost, Dr. William Shropshire. I remember Dr. Shropshire from the mid 1980’s as a kind and avuncular man.  Here is our interview:

The Solipsistic Me (TSM)–Are you disturbed by Matthew Franck coming to Oglethorpe to spread hate?

Dr. Bill Shropshire (BS)–I don’t think it is hate. It has not disturbed me. This is a series of  talks about the constitution. For example there is also another talk on Health Care and the constitution and other talks all of which are based on constitutional issues.

TSM–You do realize these talks are being funded by the extreme right wing Koch Brothers Industires?


TSM–Are you not afraid of the message this sends to all of the LGBT Youth at Oglethorpe, not to mention the message it sends to any LGBT faculty?

BS–These people should be able to come here, but they can be shut down by reason from the student body.  You should be proud for having an open forum for discussions and ideas.

I wish I could share Dr. Shropshire’s optimism in the face of a not so transparent agenda. Given that the lecture series is funded by the Koch Brothers Industries, and organized and promoted by a powerful faculty member ,we are not on a level playing field.  There is a power dynamic that I was disappointed Dr. Shropshire missed.  Students may protest, but at the end of the day it is people like Professor Joe Knippenberg who decide grades and write (or do not write letters of recommendation. Dr. Shropshire pointed out that he himself has volunteered for Georgia Equality, for which I commended him. However that does not justify inviting a purportedly academic speaker to spew venom with a transparent agenda under the guise of academic inquiry.

I must also acknowledge that Dr. Shropshire was quite respectful during the interview, but not wholly aware of his status and privilege as a white heterosexual male, with the power and OBLIGATION to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.

I also questioned Dr. Shropshire on the tenured Dr. Joe Knippenberg’s  equating homosexuality with incest. Click here to see Knippenberg’s own words as he articulates his bigotry towards the LGBT community. One should also note that aside from the ties to the Koch Brothers, Oglethrope also has two board members that are tied to Chik-Fil-A, yet another HATE group. The overarching question is, how can we rely or count on any type of integrity or objectivity from organizations that have a proven record of bigotry toward the LGBT community? As I asked Dr. Shropshire: “How can any one in the LGBT community feel safe at Oglethorpe?”

Impact on LGBT Alumni: Jonelle Thomas, “I’m so disappointed that OU is allowing this stain on its reputation to persist. I’m really quite baffled by it…”  Julian Draven, “As a private institution, is it within the bounds of OU to become an ultra-conservative right wing school? Is that what they are aiming for? Perhaps I am remember my collegiate experience with rose-coloured glasses, but I do not think such a thing would have flown 20 years ago. I shudder to think that one day I might be seen as a neo-con because I attended OU.”  Madeleine Picciotto, a former O.U. faculty member on Matthew Franck: “We should not be taken in by faux-intellectualism, and Franck’s insistence on playing the victim card.”

For me, this reminds me of the FRC being offended that the SPLC called  them a hate group. Sorry, Franck, you don’t get to be both the persecutor and the victim at the same time. Finally, faculty and administrators need to realize that what they look at as lofty academic discourse is involving real people’s lives–the personal is political. From the perspective of a  young LGBT student it would appear that these academicians hide behind “intellectual” discourse without regard to the real impact on people’s lives.

I would like to thank, Brad Fairchild, Troy DeGroff, Jonelle Thomas, Julian Draven, and Madeleine Picciotto for their help and inspiration in creating this article.  As long as Olgethorpe continues to make choices that endanger LGBT students I will not donate any money.  Furthermore, I encourage all people that support equality to protest Matthew Franck appearance and STOP DONATING MONEY TO Oglethorope. I welcome comments on this blog and am still waiting to hear from President Schall.

71 Responses to “Oglethorpe University: Not Safe for LGBT Students (?)”

  1. penguinlad March 5, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    It sounds like your alma mater could really use the services of EqualityWorks, NW to help them build a safer environment for their LGBT students.

  2. Jennifer March 5, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    I’m just thinking of a young Michael in his college days, riding his dinosaurs to school or driving his Flintstone-eque foot operated vehicles…

    In all seriousness, though, I can see the point of the Provost that it is important to bring all perspectives and genre of speakers to an institution of higher learning. I’ve gone to see speakers whose perspectives I found abhorrent – seeing them in person helped to reaffirm my opinions. Perhaps this will be a catalyst for student activism on campus or highlight an apathy that should be addressed.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 5, 2011 at 11:08 am #

      What precludes me with agreeing with the actually very kind provost, is that there is such a power dynamic in place. This is not fair and balanced, given the Koch Brothers are funding this lecture series and using academia as a guise for intellectual discourse. It is also unfortunate that one of the professors there, Dr. Knippenberg who has published and said blatantly homophobic comments holds a position of power. How can LGBT students or colleagues feel safe in that environment?

  3. Madeleine Picciotto March 5, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    Jennifer, your point is well taken. But I’m irked by the pretense that the four-part lecture series being kicked off by Matthew Franck is a disinterested academic inquiry into constitutional issues; the announced topics certainly seem to suggest a preoccupation with the bete-noirs of the right. I really am eager to learn who the subsequent speakers will be.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 5, 2011 at 11:15 am #

      Forgive me for speaking so candidly, but this lecture series mirrors the two year attack by the Koch Brothers on a black President and to undermine any and all progress Obama has made and all under the pretense of an intellectual discourse on the constitution.

      • Debbie Mix March 5, 2011 at 11:30 am #

        Madeleine has it exactly right–this series cannot be presented as an open-ended conversation or even as a genuine effort at inquiry given its funding. Furthermore, the ostensible subject of Franck’s talk–the ways that charges of “hate speech” or “bigotry” function to shut down conversations about marriage equality–is bogus at best, designed to gin up yet more feelings of self-righteous self-pity on the parts of the bigots themselves while effectively shutting down conversations about the ways in which talks like this *do* in fact function as hate speech.

  4. Jenny68 March 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    Too disgusted to form coherent comment….
    The parents need to answer with their money and get their kids out!!!

  5. webwordwarrior March 5, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    What a disappointing thing to learn about one’s alma mater. Congratulations, Michael, for taking this issue on directly and for taking the time to communicate directly with the university. I find it distressing that they are hiding behind academic freedom rather than taking responsibility for a very questionable decision.

    In the abstract, I agree with Jennifer that the academy is a place to exchange ideas of all sorts and that hearing opposing viewpoints can be beneficial. This case, however, seems very different.

    From what Michael has uncovered, Oglethorpe is taking money from a reprehensible source to fund a demagogue with a bigoted agenda. Worse, the speaker was selected by a professor with a clear, biased agenda. This removes any academic validity from the lecture series and from the speaker.

    A quick search of Franck’s work online also clearly shows that he is a dogmatic crank, not a legitimate scholar. He uses a very narrow moralistic lens to strip LGBT people of their humanity and then demands not to be labelled a bigot. (He also attacked Justice Sotomayor for her views on abortion, just to round out his odiousness.)

    Oglethorpe could have found a real legal scholar to discuss the constitutional issue. Alternatively, Franck could be part of a panel so he would not have a solo platform and the exchange of ideas would be real rather than implied. Instead, students will be subjected to a narrow opinion paid for by powers with a shadowy agenda. Bad show, Oglethorpe.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 5, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

      Beautifully stated, Lex! I have invited the administration from Oglethorope to comment, but I have only received private emails instead. I again invite Oglethorpe to contribute to this thread of comments.

  6. combscp March 5, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    This is some fantastic reporting, Michael. Thanks for digging deep on this one and investigating so thoroughly. This kind of behavior has no place in a college setting, liberal arts or not. I’m proud that my college, James Madison University, has a very active LGBT community and the overall tone and atmosphere is incredibly accepting and encouraging. It makes me sad to think that so many other campuses are not as open and even tolerate such hateful messages.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 5, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

      Thanks, Cory. My hope is to expose Oglethorpe, but for the purpose of creating safe college campuses for LGBT students and faculty alike.

  7. Mark March 6, 2011 at 8:57 am #


    I too am an Oglethorpe alum, and while I agree with your overall message, I don’t agree with the exaggerations. Doing so doesn’t help anyone.

    Let’s point out that the university itself has done nothing to promote this event. The only reason it’s entered our consciousness is because of the student-driven protest behind it, which says something about the campus climate. When I was a student, some lectures brought by Dr. K only had 2-3 students (then he started requiring his classes to attend). Monday, rest assured the room will be packed with purple-clad students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends because of the actions of the supportive community on campus.

    Last week, OUtlet (the LGBTQ student group) hosted their annual drag show in Conant. The theatre was packed, the energy was high, and nearly $1,500 was raised for CHRIS Kids. A great show for a great cause put on by the gay community. (And, while the event was not promoted by the university, the Oglethorpe blog did a write-up of the show afterwards.)

    Neither of these events are university-wide or directly university-sponsored, but a look at the attendance should help give those not in close contact with the campus some context.

    Is Oglethorpe safe for LGBTQ students? Yes. Do the lectures brought by Dr. K lend their support to that community? No, but the community’s strong enough to play defense. Do I wish equality weren’t some game we had to play? Absolutely, and maybe that day will come soon.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 6, 2011 at 9:07 am #

      Thank you for your comment, Mark. I do wonder if perhaps you missed the overall point of the article. As a gay man, I am very uncomfortable with Dr. Knippenberg taking part of this lecture series being funded by the Koch Brothers (and, at least anecdotally, requiring student attendance). May I ask if you are still connected to O.U. in any official capacity? Again, thank you for participating in this conversation.

      • Mark March 6, 2011 at 9:54 am #

        I’m not connected in any way other than being an active alum who can provide some context to the “Is Oglethorpe safe” question. As a gay man, I understand your fight against Franck, Knippenberg, and the Koch brothers very well, but your writing appears to have taken a different target. As to fighting for equality, let us all live up to our alma mater’s motto – “nescit cedere” – and not give up.

    • webwordwarrior March 6, 2011 at 10:28 am #

      Mark, it’s great that you are responding to this as an alumnus, but as someone with outside perspective, I find your comment a bit disconnected from the post.

      I’ve re-read the post and all the comments and cannot see the “exaggeration” you refer to. I infer that you mean the title, but please note that it includes a question mark. An event of this sort merits the sounding of an alarm.

      It may be literally true that the event is not “directly” sposored, but it is promoted very prominently on the University’s home page. That is implicit sponsorship, as is the use of University property.

      The drag show and the probable protest are great additional context for the broader Oglethorpe community. That context, combined with the active concern expressed by other alumni, makes my observation in a previous comment even more stark. Why bring in a clear partisan who tarts up his bigotry in academic robes rather than a true Constitutional scholar?

    • brad fairchild March 6, 2011 at 10:46 am #

      mark, just for specificity’s sake, could you tell us what you think the exaggerations in the blog post are? i didn’t notice any myself, but I would be interested in knowing what you thought. thanks!

      • Mark March 6, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

        The only real exaggeration is the headline, which gets reiterated in the first paragraph. The exaggeration I meant was more in the sake of the arguments themselves. Little gets accomplished when both sides speak from the extremes.

        As Jennifer said above and Devon echoes below, universities are “special” places, in that they ought to allow for academic discourse from multiple perspectives (which one speaker or one series may not do, but with student participation and counter-programming can be achieved).

        One other aspect of their “specialness” is that universities are not run like businesses. Not all speakers are chosen or approved by the president or any one body (really unless there is a “president’s lecture” or something, there’s no approval process generally). Professors can bring in speakers, student groups can bring in speakers, speakers can rent space on their own. So to me, the title’s exaggeration rang a false alarm which called for some clarification.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

        That’s why there was a ? at the end of the title.

  8. brad fairchild March 6, 2011 at 9:12 am #

    Thank you so much for helping to spread the word about this! What I’d like to know is if Prof. Knippenberg is also bringing in a speaker at some point that is on the record of in favor of same-sex unions. Otherwise, I am convinced that he has a particular agenda and not just a desire for an open forum and free exchange of ideas.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 6, 2011 at 9:21 am #

      Very good point, Brad. I know that Oglethorpe has you to thank for helping found an on campus support group for LGBT students.

      • brad fairchild March 6, 2011 at 9:29 am #

        yes, many years ago! troy degroff was the instrumental figure in bringing it about, and i was the advocate on the student senate that fought to get it approved.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 6, 2011 at 9:45 am #

        Brad, thank you to you and Troy. Because I have always experienced Oglethorpe as a wonderfully nurturing and supportive environment, I was shocked and disappointed to learn that the well-known homophobe, Dr. Knippenberg, was able to secure a dubious speaker through the tainted money of the Koch Brothers.

  9. penguinlad March 6, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    Those defending Matthew J. Franck on academic grounds should get to know a bit more about him and the company he keeps. The Witherspoon Institute, of which he is the Director, has direct connections with the SPLC-listed hate group the Family Research Council.

    It seems that Franck’s thesis for this lecture will parallel his logic-impaired editorial in the December 17, 2010 Washington Post. Anyone interested in rebutting Franck at Oglethorpe (if such an opportunity is presented), might want to read this wonderful dissection of that editorial: http://thedv8.wordpress.com/2010/12/19/matthew-j-franck-is-a-bigot-and-a-liar/

    The core of the rebuttal and a good summation of Franck:
    “Lying is what these people do. Because they have no rational basis for denying LGBT people equality under the law, and because their religious superstitions don’t have any constitutional weight, lying is really the only avenue they have for advancing their program of bigotry. Franck complains that we’re just pretending no refutation of their rational arguments is necessary. On the contrary. We will be happy to address their rational argument if and when they can produce one. They have yet to do so, and all their attempts have been shown to be failures. So they lie about that, too.”

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 6, 2011 at 11:20 am #

      Thank you, Penguinlad. I hope people will take the time to read the link you provided!

    • Madeleine Picciotto March 6, 2011 at 12:00 pm #

      Penguinlad, thanks for the link! A very useful and informational post from DV8, definitely worth reading!

  10. Madeleine Picciotto March 6, 2011 at 12:41 pm #

    Here’s another useful response to Franck – detailed and thoughtful – written by Wilson Huhn, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Akron.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

      Madeleine, thank you for the additional link to more information about this absolutely nefarious man.

  11. Devon Belcher March 6, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    This speaker is indeed odious in the extreme.
    However, I urge you to consider the potential downside to allowing the University administration the power to determine what speakers may and may not come. Administrators by nature dislike controversy. Much of value, content that we’d be interested it, would probably be out the window.

    I’m currently negotiating to bring Dan Savage on campus. I am sure that the administration would quash that if it could.
    I believe my colleague Dr. Nardo put it most eloquently:

    “A university is a special entity, and it has certain cherished ideals that govern it. One of those is academic freedom. We do *not* censor speakers, and we do *not* censor ideas. We *do* give an open forum to discuss and debate. No matter how much we disagree with this speaker, we must allow him to come to our campus. I be…lieve that how we reinforce our fundamental principles in difficult times shows if we truly believe and honor our ideals.”

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 6, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

      Devon Belcher, may I pose two questions to you?
      1. Since you disclosed that you are trying to obtain a speaker for Oglethorpe, what is your connection to the university?
      2. Are you able to share with this audience exactly how speakers are vetted? I seriously doubt that the university endorses any speaker proposed by any faculty member.

      • Devon Belcher March 6, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

        I teach Philosophy at OU. One of my colleagues and I have been flirting with the idea of bringing this speaker (Savage) for some time, and this seemed like a good spur.

        As far as I know, any faculty member can bring any speaker. No one’s told me otherwise. Whether there’s funding for that is another matter. This speaker (Franck) is not being funded by the University. it’s being funded by the extreme-right-wing Koch foundation.
        If “Oglethorpe Presents” the speaker, I honestly have no clue. I guess this is some sort of official university lecture series. I really don’t know anything about how that works. These would be good questions to ask Dr. Shropshire.

        For my part, I don’t think I’d have the chutzpah to invite a speaker and presume or state that Oglethorpe was presenting them. But then again, maybe this is an “official” lecture series.

        Tell you what. I will look into this and get back to you.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 6, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

        Dr. Belcher, I truly appreciate your candor and willingness to engage. Thank you. I am also rather sad though. While you seem to be an academic who is willing to engage in difficult conversations and you don’t seem to hide under the cloak of academia, your peers are operating from a very different agenda. Dr. K has made that quite clear in his hate speech about the LGBT community and in his blueprint to wipe out liberals in academia: http://www.ashbrook.org/publicat/oped/knippenberg/04/blueacademy.html

        I have referred many former students of mine to Oglethorpe. In fact, the university just accepted another former student of mine for next fall. I am saddened that I no longer feel comfortable recommending my alma mater, although I would like to have them have you as a professor. Matthew Franck just released a press statement over two hours ago referring to his “good friend Joe Knippenberg.” The fact that the Koch Brothers are paying for this lecture series should have been a huge red flag for the admin team.

        Please do let me know what you find out.

    • Madeleine Picciotto March 6, 2011 at 3:55 pm #

      Devon, more power to you if you can manage to bring Dan Savage to OU!

      • Devon Belcher March 6, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

        Apparently, Dan Savage is pretty active on the college circuit. It took me a while to find the official channel for inviting him (it’s https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=127784205423 )
        My office neighbor, in the Psych department, is also a huge fan of Dan’s. We’d been idly talking about having him come here, loosely in conjunction with her Human Sexuality class. This fracas sort of kicked our collective tail into action on the matter.

  12. Devon Belcher March 6, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    Incidentally, I have a student in Dr K’s Core 3 class. (or maybe it’s Core 2). The student says lecture attendance is not required, but will earn extra credit. FWIW.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 6, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

      I find this action of Dr. K’s to be reprehensible–giving extra credit for this particular lecture sends a clear message that LGBT students are not safe around Dr. K.

      • Madeleine Picciotto March 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

        I think it’s legit for K to give extra credit only if he does so for attendance at a wide range of university lectures offering different perspectives. Though really, I have to admit that extra credit at the university level seems rather lame to me!

  13. webwordwarrior March 6, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    Mark, just an observation regarding “specialness”. If it is true that the practice at Oglethorpe is that anyone will be permitted to speak on campus, that certainly puts Franck’s visit in a different light. Forgive me for being skeptical that it is quite that freeform, but let’s accept it in principle for the sake of argument.

    That leaves me with two further points:
    First, part of that specialness is the protest that is being mounted. As long as it is a respectful protest, it is part of the counter-argument and is a valid response to Franck’s message. You don’t seem to disagree with this, but I think it is worth articulating clearly.

    Second, and more importantly, it says something insidious about the culture of Oglethorpe’s specialness that anyone wanted to bring Franck to campus. That tenured faculty would take this person seriously enough to consider his message valid is something that LGBT students need to know about the larger fabric of the school. Even if “everyone is welcome,” smart academics know how to play the campus game and are very aware of what they can (and cannot) get away with.

    • Devon Belcher March 6, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

      Please let me speak to “the practice at Oglethorpe is that anyone will be permitted to speak on campus”, and alleviate your skepticism.

      I arrange faculty talks (The “Table Talk” series for two years now), campus-wide Core movie nights. I have brought the conferences of the Georgia Philosophical Society to the Oglethorpe campus twice now.

      I haven’t brought any holocaust deniers or homophobes, or anything like that. I have aired a few controversial movies, but nothing like this.
      That said, I’ve never been second-guessed by the administration, or even so much as asked.
      Core Movie Night is done under the auspices or the Core program. I did it for about a year before the Core director decided to give me a small stipend to arrange it. Before that, it was simply a presentation; after that, the Core director has NEVER asked for any sort of accounting. In theory, if he disapproved of my movie choices, he could stop paying me, (and believe me the pay is NOT a motivating factor here!) but I’m pretty certain he could not force me to stop showing movies.

      Table Talk is a series of presentations by faculty for faculty. It’s funded by the provost’s office. Said funding is in the form of free lunch for faculty and staff who attend. It’s a forum for the professors to share their research with each other. No one in the administration has ever even remotely questioned the content of these talks. I’ve been given complete freedom, as far as I can tell. And honestly, if a faculty member wanted to give a Table Talk on this, I’d let him. I have the utmost confidence that my colleagues would rip it to shreds in a brutal fashion.

      As for the GA Philo Society – well, Philosophers are a strange lot, and papers about the “Logic of Vagueness” aren’t going to ruffle any feathers. On the other hand, we do like to push the boundaries, and I have seen papers defending infanticide or incest. The point is, the OU philosophy department hosted these meetings, with talks open to the public and advertised, and no one “vetted” me. I was never so much as asked. I simply went online to event management services and reserved a room. I used a small amount of my department’s funding (which is miniscule)to have the food service people bring us coffee and muffins.

      So that’s the view, as I see it. We’re pretty free to do as we wish, which is a good thing, I think.

      As to the insidious culture of Oglethorpe’s specialness: there are about 50 tenured or tenure-track faculty here. I won’t pretend that there’s only one bad apple. But there are very few. The vast majority of my colleagues are people that I love and admire, and you would, too. I reside on the top floor of Hearst, surrounded by people I look up to, every one of whom is on our side, shocked, stunned and angry about this speaker. The person that invited him is, simply, an anachronism.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 6, 2011 at 6:21 pm #

        Because I am not sure I wholly agree with this process, nor do I believe it takes into account power dynamics, I need to ponder this further before responding. My initial perspective is that of the administrator. I shall revisit this.

      • Madeleine Picciotto March 6, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

        Ah, Devon, the top floor of Hearst. Brings back memories! Glad to hear that the bad apples are in the minority now; time marches on, I suppose, even at OU, and the arc of the moral universe bends ever towards justice. I hope that all fair-minded folks will keep an eye on the rest of this four-part speaker series, and call out specious arguments wherever they rear their ugly heads.

  14. Brittany Weiner March 6, 2011 at 5:34 pm #

    Hi Michael (and Everyone),

    I, the creator of the “Peaceful Protest” event, think it’s important to make something clear, at least from the perspective of a current Oglethorpe student. I am a little concerned about your statement refusing to financially support OU while they continue to “endanger LGBT students.” Obviously, what you choose to do with your money is completely your choice but I would advise you not to base it on this incident.

    I’ve been a student here for 3 years now, and I can honestly say that this is a wonderful and accepting school (all things considered). Dr. Knippenberg makes up an extremely small minority of people at OU who are anti-gay marriage and other things associated. And to be real, roughly 50% of the population is anti-gay marriage, so the fact that our school is probably 85% pro-LGBT is saying a lot! Our school deviates from the norm! I think it’s too much to expect (at least at the present time) that our faculty and student body will be 100% pro-gay marriage; it wouldn’t be a representative sample and it’s not realistic for this decade.

    In addition, although I am aware of ONE anti-gay marriage professor here (Knippenberg), I have heard from dozens of faculty, administration members, old and present, that have rallied behind us. For example, one professor here (he will remain anonymous) has officially invited Dan Savage to come speak to OU, because he was so enraged at this incident. In addition, another professor continually and consistently keeps me updated on related articles that he finds and thinks might be useful for our wall (in fact, he sent me your blog and made me aware of it).

    Long story short, I don’t want your perceptions to be skewed. There are a number of amazing and accepting faculty, administration, and students here and they represent the opinion of the majority. There are a few intolerant individuals, but they make up the minority of individuals.

    Through all this, I am still extremely proud to call myself an Oglethorpe student. All the more because I can create something like this with the support of over 100 Oglethorpe individuals!! I think you all should be too. This school is not anti-LGBT in the least. In fact, warning: personal disclosure, I came out at this school because I felt so comfortable in doing so. I felt extremely fortunate then, and I still do, that I have amazing and supportive friends and faculty beside me. They helped to make a potentially rough transition, a remarkably easy and uneventful one.


    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 6, 2011 at 6:17 pm #


      I take some hope away from your thoughtful and needed comment. It is remarkable the differences in geography. You talk about the 50% anti-marriage equality and it is obvious you are in Georgia, for the same can not be said here in Oregon. While I am sad to say that Georgia has moved backwards in the past 25 years, I am hopeful that leaders such as yourself, will be the agents of change needed. Please do report back on the lecture tomorrow and never allow bigots like Dr. K stand in your way.

      • Madeleine Picciotto March 6, 2011 at 8:55 pm #

        Brittany, many thanks for sharing your perspective. I think that folks like me, who have bittersweet memories of OU in the ’80s, may tend to conflate the OU of those days with the OU of today. When we hear that a prof who had an outsized amount of influence during our time there is still up to his old tricks, it’s upsetting, and makes us think that the pain felt by ourselves and our friends 20 years ago is still present. It is so good to hear from you and from others — and to see, by the support that’s being given to your peaceful protest — that the university has moved forward.

      • Jess March 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

        I wanted to let you all know that the protest went very well. A huge number of students, faculty, and staff came and supported us during Franck’s talk. More than half of us were wearing our purple shirts and probably 90% of people were wearing our rainbow stickers. We listened intently, and when Q&A came around, we presented our points clearly, and he started dodging our questions. We caught him off-guard and we obviously showed him that his viewpoint was in the minority. It was great to have a discussion and show him that not everyone shares his view.

        Thank you for your publicity regarding the event, and I hope you are proud that our school has stood up to conservative, unfounded ideas.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

        Jess, not only am I profoundly proud of you and your peers, but I am enormously happy to know that OU has a student population that is serving as a collective voice of social justice. I also hope that for LGBT students that don’t share your confidence will be inspired to find their voices. Well Done!

  15. Madeleine Picciotto March 6, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    There’s been some discussion about whether Franck is an official university speaker, whether he is being “presented” by the university, etc. It should be noted that in the university calendar, as well as all the other announcements of the talk I’ve come across, it’s listed this way: “The Division of History, Politics, and International Studies presents…” In other words, Franck is being hosted by a specific academic division of the university.

    • pred3000 March 7, 2011 at 6:11 am #

      As an OU alum myself, I want to make it clear here and now – this speaker is an anomaly and is most certainly not what the campus stands for. The drag show mentioned in another comment has become a very famous campus event, with almost every student planning their calenders around it (and saving up whatever money they can to donate). In fact, the protest scheduled around this event is quite large. I would not be surprised if this man ended up speaking only to protesters. I cannot speak for the climate of the university 21 years ago. Today, it is quite open and welcome.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 7, 2011 at 6:17 am #

        This news is quite heartening, but does not make Franck’s appearance any less odious.

      • webwordwarrior March 7, 2011 at 6:46 am #

        As an outsider, it is good to hear that so many people feel that this event is an anomaly. I do find it interesting, however, that a drag show is used as proof that a campus is gay-friendly. (The charity, in this case, while worthy, is not specifically for LGBT youth if my research is correct.) Drag is spectacle, rendering the gay element “safe” for the viewer.

        I have not attended the shows; perhaps the environment is very gay-positive. Simply pointing to a successful drag fundraiser as proof of an LGBT-supportive campus, however, is like pointing to a fashion show raising money for a homeless shelter as evidence of feminism.

      • Madeleine Picciotto March 7, 2011 at 8:38 am #

        Webwordwarrior, thanks for pointing out something that’s been bothering me, too, about the repeated mention, on this blog and other venues, about the drag show as evidence of a gay-friendly environment at OU. I am more heartened by what I hear regarding real students’ lives and how much more possible it is to be out at OU today than it was 20 years ago.

      • Jess March 7, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

        I am an alumna of OU and a current staff member and I helped organize the protest with my partner, Brittany. I am thinking that the drag show is mentioned only because the OU Drag Show is put on by OUtlet, our LGBT student group on campus. OUtlet also does other things on campus; for example, we have a national coming out day in October (usually with a picnic and so on) and we also celebrate National Day of Silence. As a student, I walked around with a notecard saying that I was not speaking today, and every professor I had understood and allowed me to not verbally participate (and subsequently, it did not affect my participation grade for the course).

        I am very glad to be in such an accepting environment at Oglethorpe, especially given the fact that we have been able to raise so much student, faculty, and staff support in the peaceful protest against Franck speaking.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm #

        Jess, your voice here carries great gravitas. Thank you for chiming in on this thread.

    • Devon Belcher March 7, 2011 at 1:56 pm #

      In fact, from what I’ve learned, the history dept. was sandbagged by this and several members are quite unhappy.

      • Madeleine Picciotto March 7, 2011 at 5:37 pm #

        Hmm. Some things never change.

  16. J March 7, 2011 at 1:34 am #

    I think Brittany provides a much needed counter here, emphasizing the many positives that contextualize this event: Franck and Knipp are clearly a minority, and the majority has rallied around the LGBT community. When Westboro came to Atlanta, a massive (800+ people) counter-protest ensued. Any initial outrage among the counter-protesters quickly subsided, though – indeed, Westboro was practically forgotten; instead, community pride and fellowship took root. The counter-protest proved to be a potent bonding experience: although a message of hate drew all of us counter-protesters together, it was quickly consumed by an even greater message of tolerance, acceptance, and community. Westboro, in a lot of ways, actually did Atlanta a favor. Perhaps Franck is Oglethorpe’s Westboro…

    It’s easy to get worked up over Franck and Knipp’s bullshit – I’m still worked up – but I can’t deny that something more positive might result. Personally, though, I’m still conflicted about the whole situation: I’m not at all comfortable with the false sense of legitimacy, authority and academic merit that speaking at Oglethorpe lends Franck’s position. Already others have talked about how Franck’s position is “valid”, even if they don’t agree with it – “valid”! That makes me nauseous.

    Free exchange of ideas, yeah, yeah…

    • Madeleine Picciotto March 7, 2011 at 8:42 am #

      Yes, J, that’s the key issue here: “the false sense of legitimacy, authority and academic merit that speaking at Oglethorpe lends Franck’s position.” OU has the responsibility, as a university, to invite speakers who will generate an academic dialogue that will be intellectually productive. Franck – well, I think he was a very poor choice from an educational standpoint.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 7, 2011 at 8:48 am #

        Madeleine, thank you for perfectly articulating my concern. It is in fact, the responsibility of the Admin Team to ensure the integrity of academic dialogue that will be intellectually productive–I think the Admin Team has failed on this count with this particular speaker.

        Lex, thank you for calling out the absurd “drag show” as evidence that LGBT students are safe and welcomed–it was starting to feel like OU had plants to comment on the blog!

  17. Devon Belcher March 7, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

    Michael, I suspect you and I are just going to fundamentally disagree about who should control the process. As you say, your “initial perspective is that of the administrator”, and you think an admin team should have control. My perspective is as a faculty member, and I think any faculty member will *insist* that faculty have final say over matters intellectual and academic. It’s our job, after all!

    Of course, the power dynamic is always an issue. But faculty often, and everywhere, give extra credit to students to attend talks they think will enrich their intellectual lives. Again, that’s our job – teaching doesn’t end at the classroom. If the “Admin Team” takes over vetting of such events, this will still happen. And an administrator can make a bad decision just as easily as a faculty member.

    There is a vetting process, ultimately – it’s the faculty you hire. You hire faculty to manage the intellectual life of the campus, and then you trust them to do that (or you have a very dispirited faculty, that doesn’t buy into the university, and doesn’t do the many wonderful things that my colleagues do).

    As an aside: I can recall one instance of censorship at OU. About four years ago, my colleague Simon Sparks (who isn’t with us now) was asked to do a core movie night presentation for JEO weekend. That’s when they fly in the ‘best and brightest’ of our applicants for a weekend of seminars and interviews. (It’s a terrific thing). Simon, a philosopher, wanted to show “The Matrix”. A great choice, I thought – the first Matrix was a movie with a ton of philosophical “meat”.
    Well, the President said “No”. Now this isn’t really a counterexample to my claim that Faculty aren’t vetted – the movie was officially being presented by the admissions department, and so I accept that if they are presenting it, it’s their call. It was nonetheless a stupid decision (“too violent” was the rationale, I think). There’s a perfect example of the fear of controversy driving intellectual decisions. I can’t recall what happened, but they wound up going with some movie and presentation that weren’t nearly as engaging as the one Simon had planned.

    What happened afterwords? Simon grew incredibly frustrated. He’d been doing “Core Movie Night” all on his own initiative, even buying pizza and soda out of his own pocket. He basically quit, and the project died until I picked it up a few years later. I assure you, if administration tried to pull that on me, I’d simply drop the program. The faculty here do an incredible amount of extra work for the students because we really care, and it’s already a huge drain on our personal resources. If we had to battle with administration, we’d feel all the more belittled and mistrusted, and that would stop. And OU would not be the special place it is.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt March 7, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

      Devon, I want to underscore that the point you are making about the process is not the thesis on which my blog post was created. With that being said, I will ask you to help me on this one. So the Admin Team was able to veto the movie the Matrix because of violence, but had no power to have any say about Franck coming as a speaker on behalf of OU? Your comment, “I think any faculty member will *insist* that faculty have final say over matters intellectual and academic. It’s our job, after all!” seemed rather snarky.
      I hope my reply is not equally pugnacious, but I will point out that the job of the Provost is to maintain and ensure the integrity of all academic and intellectual discourse. I would presume a good Provost would do this in concert with the faculty in a collaborative model. As a member of the LGBT community, I have to take issue with your comparing Simon’s movie choice to a speaker funded by the Koch Brothers with a hidden agenda. The LGBT community is already targeted in Georgia; I have several examples I can cite.
      Perhaps I’m not reading your comment correctly, if that is the case, please do help me. As a member of the LGBT community, Dr. K’s offering extra credit for those students to attend a lecture that is offensively homophobic and falsely within the realm of academia is just plain wrong! I’m not sure how you are defending this. I wonder if your frustration would be better directed at those paving the way for bigotry under the guise of academia, rather than an alum calling out bad behavior?

      • Devon Belcher March 7, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

        Michael, I’m not defending Joe’s choice at all here. And I’m not at all comparing Simon’s choice with Joe’s choice. Let me put it unequivocally: This talk was bullshit, of no worth whatsoever. That’s not my issue; we’re in complete agreement here. What troubles me is the issue of who gets control over academic matters.

        I brought up Simon’s movie incident not by way of comparing it to this case. Rather, I use it as an example of why we ought not to trust the administration with making these decisions. In fact, why we ought not to trust any central authority with that. I do not wish the *administration* to determine what’s within and without the realm of academia. I have only worked at a few academic institutions, but my experience has been that the administration – who are not hired on, after all, as experts in matters academic – will always try to squash controversy. And ultimately that hurts you and I, since we oppose the status quo.

        I didn’t mean to be snarky. Faculty are hired, presumably, to be the academic and intellectual direction of the campus. We should be trusted. We shouldn’t have to constantly answer to administrators who are by nature averse to controversy.

        As for the “Admin Team” vetoing Simon’s movie, but not this: There simply is no “Admin Team” (thank god!)
        Simon was asked by the dept of admissions to put on a movie. It was their production. They didn’t like his movie. No one said he couldn’t show the movie; just, it wasn’t going to be the JEO weekend movie. Similarly: If I wanted to show a movie as the official “division of communications, fine arts, and philosophy movie series”, I’d damn well better talk to my colleagues in the division, and if they nix it, I damn well better not present in their name. That’s common courtesy, I think (and was ignored in the case of Today’s talk; the Dept of History is pissed off about the matter, and is not letting it go).

        I don’t know what to say. I feel incredibly frustrated. One douchenozzle has blackened our eye, and now his stain has tainted my whole university, unfairly.

      • Madeleine Picciotto March 7, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

        Oh, Devon, Knipp has been at it for two decades, and all of a sudden the rest of his division is shocked – shocked I tell you! – to find out that he’s bringing in his right-wing buddies as speakers under the division’s explicit imprimatur?

  18. Alexandra March 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    I’ve been reading through the comments here, and I’ve become saddened and disheartened by the references to the “absurd drag show,” which I believe has been misunderstood.

    As an active member of both OUtlet and the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance in 2002, when I was a freshman at OU, I spearheaded an effort, along with a fellow student, to institute various fundraisers for community non-profits doing important feminist and LGBT work.

    The drag show was our idea, along with a concert series that sadly was not able to continue. The very first drag show was put on as a fundraiser for a community youth LGBT organization (forgive me, I forget the name of the org now). The event has always been organized by OUlet, and was initially seen as a way not only to raise money for LGBT youth, but also to encourage varied gender expressions — to reveal gender as the performance that it is. (It is also, it should be noted, a way to let off steam during the year — proof that fundraising can be fun.) We brought in community drag stars, many of whom are, in their own rights, LGBT activists and role models.

    I cannot speak to the organizations now being fundraised for, but I’m sure that OUtlet has good reason for choosing the orgs they do.

    I believe the drag show is of note because it is a long-standing tradition and one of the most popular campus events. OUtlet has scored a major victory in keeping the event going from year to year — a feat that is, let’s face it, extremely difficult in a setting where the population completely changes over every 4 years or so.

    As noted by Jess above, OUtlet also hosts a National Coming Out Day picnic and participates in Day of Silence every year. These are, again, long-standing traditions that have taken place for at least 8 years now. All these events taken together speak to a hard-working and dedicated group on campus working diligently for LGBT acceptance.

    (I’d be interested to hear from any current students if our “Safe Zones” stickers — organized by OUtlet also in 2002 in response to a harassment episode and posted by faculty and staff to connote LGBT support — are still up around Hearst and the other offices?)

    For what it’s worth, I agree that bringing Franck to campus was biased and discriminatory. Also, I am not in any way connected with the university anymore. But I did want to step up and try to clarify the repeated references to the drag show, which is among the OUtlet activities I am proudest of from my time at OU.

    • webwordwarrior March 9, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

      That is very good context and history for the drag show, Alexandra. As the author of one of the earlier comments questioning the use of this event to support how gay-friendly the campus may be, your clarification is very helpful. As I observed, drag is not in and of itself an LGBT event. It does sound like OUtlet has tried very hard to make it as much so as possible. (I also congratulate the group on building a long-standing campus event; that is quite an accomplishment.)

  19. Dr. M. B. Neace, Professor Emeritus July 21, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    Hello to All – Just came across the fracas about the OU speaker program and LGBT. I may be very late in the discussion but it involves a dear friend, Dr. William Shropshire, My name is Bill Neace, Professor Emeritus, Mercer University, Macon,GA, Which during my tenure there was similar to OU. Dr. Shropshire and I were teaching colleagues at Emory University for many years, prior to his joining the faculty at OU. Even though retired, I remain very active in research, writing and publishing. A few months ago while researching for a project ran across a paper written by Dr. Shropshire that was relevant to my project. I referenced his work in my paper. The point is – OU was very fortunate to have a person of Dr. Shropshire’s intellect, dedication for education and compassion for students. A remarkable person few can match. Not surprising he was elevated to chair and then provost. His remarks to inquiries from concerned students was, in my opinion, appropriate under the circumstances. Academic freedom cuts in several ways. Does not mean you, I, or Dr. Shropshire would agree with the outcome of a particular event. Ask Dr. Shropshire about ‘God is Dead’ controversy at Emory many years ago. Wow. Based on the comments I’ve read regarding this issue, Bill would probably fall on your side. This does not mean the University should not be sensitive about who is ‘allowed’ to speak on campus or under the banner of OU. Bottom line, Dr. Shropshire was most professional and respectful in his comments and protected the concept of academic freedom. OU should have many more on their faculty and staff of his caliber. Good luck in your efforts to build an OU that not only respects of academic freedom but also diversity of individual perspectives.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt July 22, 2013 at 7:13 am #

      Dr. Neace,
      Thank you for sharing your comments here. I would just remind everyone that the article is not about Dr. Shropshire, but about the homophobic guest Matthew Franck, as a part of a series paid for by the Koch Brothers. I’m sad that you really did not address the main part of the story and am left wondering why you did not address that, just as I am left wondering why Dr. Shropshire did not recognize his own power in this situation and thus colluded with a white hetero dominant discourse.

    • Jess July 22, 2013 at 7:22 am #

      I believe Dr. Shropshire is an excellent man, Provost, and advocate for the LGBT community at Oglethorpe. I attended Oglethorpe when he was Provost, and I always felt safe with him.

      I noticed that Michael mentioned that you did not address the main point of the article; however, I wanted to address your comment as is.

  20. M August 10, 2015 at 9:37 pm #


    This is a reply that is very, very late to the conversation, but I came across this post while searching for something completely unrelated. I currently attend Oglethorpe, entering my third year. I hoped to tell you that I do feel safe as an LGBT student in 2015. OUtlet, which is Oglethorpe’s Gay-Straight Alliance, continues to make waves on-campus and in the Atlanta community, raising awareness about LGBT+ issues and creating a space for LGBT+ students and allies to connect. The Office of Residence Life also does monthly Safe Outlet trainings, wherein students and faculty learn LGBT+ terminology, how to respectfully speak about issues and to LGBT+ students, and so forth. Students, faculty, and staff who have completed this training also have a sign they can put by their dorm or office to indicate that they provide a safe space.

    That being said, Dr. Knippenberg continues to teach here and maintains his problematic views. However, none of my classmates take him or his viewpoints seriously.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt August 11, 2015 at 6:57 am #

      Hi, M. Thank you for your comment here. I am so very glad to know you feel safe as a member of the LGBT community. Yes, it is my understanding that OU has made progress in creating a culture that supports LGBT students. What I found seriously problematic was the systemic and structural homophobia that was supporting Dr. Knippenberg’s homophobia. Again, thank you for chiming in here. Peace, Michael.

  21. Hunter Paul Drake August 8, 2016 at 8:52 am #

    I had the same experience at Oglethorpe University in 1991 and 1993. Dr. Shropshire (at that time) seemed to be a passively aggressive homophobe. The experience of hostility at the university coupled with a serious illness prompted me to leave the university and never return. This had been the school of my dreams, and it revealed itself to be nothing but a nightmare.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt August 8, 2016 at 9:05 am #

      I am very sorry to heart that! I have heard from friends that the Queer culture and climate have significantly improved in the past 5 years. Peace, Michael.

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