MORGANTOWN — Four local state senators are among the 16 Republicans who signed on to a letter that Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, sent to the presidents of WVU and Marshall University regarding recent expressions of political speech.
“I find it very disturbing that West Virginia University and Marshall University resources are being used to promote the very same hate speech that is inciting deadly and destructive riots, assassination of police officers, and denigration of our Republic,” Tarr wrote to WVU President Gordon Gee and Marshall President Jerome Gilbert.
Tarr is referring to Black Lives Matter stickers some WVU football players have placed on their helmets, and to disparaging comments Marshall biology assistant professor Jennifer Mosher made during a virtual lecture.
In a Twitter clip, Mosher talked about a recent indoor pro-Trump rally where, she alleged, no one wore masks.
She commented, “I’ve become the type of person where I hope they all get it and die. … You can’t argue with them. You can’t talk sense into them. I’ve said to somebody yesterday, ‘I hope they all die before the election.’ That’s the only saving hope I have right now. … Definitely boot lickers.” She stopped herself there and told the class, “I really should not be talking politics,” but the Twitter clip cuts off there.
Tarr refers to the public funds both universities receive and says, “A great many of those taxpayers whom I represent in the West Virginia Senate detest that those very hard earned dollars are used to promote a domestic terrorist group on the helmets of West Virginia University athletes. Even further, it appears Marshall University professors are so brazen as to use Marshall’s technology systems to call for the death of supporters of the President of the United States.
These behaviors are inherently disgusting, but the use of law abiding tax payers’ money against their very country, especially in light of the violence these movements have displayed, is beyond any excuse. … I ask that you, as university presidents, take a very public and very demonstrable stand against such use of taxpayer resources that are meant to provide a better life for the citizens of West Virginia.”
Tarr is vice chair of the Finance Committee and suggests possibly reducing funds to the universities: So “I expect that the people that have charged me with the responsibility to represent them would rather see those tax dollars either returned to them or used for a more honorable purpose.”
Among the signatories were Sens. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, and Mike Maroney, R-Marshall.
Smith said it was Mosher’s comments that prompted him to sign on. “Anybody that agrees with the professor – whether they’re Democrat, Republican, Independent, whatever – it’s just immoral.
I don’t know how anybody could support that.”
Regarding the BLM stickers, Smith said, “I believe in the right to protest. But when they go to looting and burning and beating and killing, I just don’t know how you could support something like that. I realize a lot of the people that are supporting this are peaceful protesters. … I’m all for the peaceful protests. A lot of people are doing it for the right reason. They believe they want to see change and there need to be some changes.”
But the riots and violence aren’t the right way to seek change, he said.
Clements said he doesn’t agree with all the letter’s points, particularly the comments about returning tax dollars.
“People have been very upset with me about the sticker on the helmets,” he said, One man told him he burned his Mountaineer paraphernalia. “Some things don’t go over well with the general populace.”
While the BLM movement is largely peaceful, he said, “I just think the far left has come together and taken over some of this movement.” People see the negatives and associate that with the movement as a whole.
He takes a generous view of Mosher’s comments, saying they probably sprang from her emotions and were a bad mistake. “They just need to make sure the people know they shouldn’t be doing that. … She’s influencing a lot of young people and I think she has to watch that, and anybody does.”
Sypolt said in a message exchange, “It is a shame that public institutions of higher education have strayed so far away from basic educational training, to delve into making statements on divisive political movements. Based on the response I have received from some constituents, I am seeing a push back from those who believe the university is crossing a boundary from the academic to the political. I’m certain this is not the first time that boundary has been crossed, but this is the first time I have witnessed such a visceral reaction.”
BLM, WVU and Marshall
Tarr called BLM a domestic terrorist group possibly in reference to such things as Chicago BLM organizer Ariel Atkins calling looting “reparations” and characterizing the concept of criminality as racism. Or incidences of protesters who align themselves with the BLM movement beating people and destroying property.
The national BLM website this week took down a statement that had generated controversy. The statement said, “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.”
Following Mosher’s statements, Marshall placed her on administrative leave pending an investigation.
In response to Tarr’s letter, Gilbert issued this statement: Marshall University will not tolerate its employees using the classroom or other platforms to express hate toward individuals or wish harm on them because of their political beliefs or other opinions. I personally abhor the actions of individuals who spew hate, intolerance, and incivility.
“As a university, we believe in respect of all ideas and all people,” he said. “In terms of this particular situation, as is our practice as a state entity, an investigation has been launched and the faculty member is on investigative leave. I can assure you that at the conclusion of the investigation our chief academic officer, Dr. Jaime Taylor, will make a recommendation to me and I will take appropriate action.”
WVU issued this statement: “West Virginia University and its athletics department must ensure a safe and equitable environment for our students and staff. We have an obligation to peacefully stand up against hatred, intolerance and racism. Our student-athletes and staff are united to bring about a positive and peaceful change to our great country. As Mountaineers, we would not have it any other way.
“It’s important for our fans to know that this helmet sticker is not advocating for any organization or any political stance, violence, rioting, looting or destruction. The sticker is a call for unity, safety and equality.
“No state taxpayer dollars were used relating to these stickers. It is also important to note that each individual student-athlete voluntarily chose to participate.
“We have student-athletes who want to bring an end to the social injustices using peaceful and positive ideas. Our student-athletes take great pride in representing West Virginia University and the state of West Virginia and are impressive in their maturity and caring attitude.”
WVU said the stickers cost $217.49 and the money came from the football equipment budget. The Athletics Department is self-sustaining.
The Dominion Post posed a few follow-up questions regarding the statement but WVU chose to stand with what it released.
Senate president responds
Senate President Mitch Carmichael was one of three GOP senators who didn’t sign the letter.
“I felt like WVU and Marshall handled the situations appropriately,” he said. Marshall is taking action against Mosher.
And WVU’s statement balances respect for diversity and social justice with condemnation of violence, and acknowledges that peaceful recognition of injustices is appropriate.
Carmichael said he has no criticism for those who signed the letter. “It’s an outgrowth of the violence that’s been perpetrated across America and those type of things should be condemned.”
But a peaceful symbol of those advocating for social justice is not a bad thing, he said. Some may believe the BLM stickers symbolize hate. “I don’t think that’s the intent of that symbol at all.”
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