Jerry Kulm graduated from Ritzville High School in 1967, the same year legislators in Olympia decided to create what would be the first four-year college in southwest Washington. He died serving in the 101st Airborne in Vietnam in 1970, a year before classes began at that new institution – The Evergreen State College, here in Olympia. Apparently a Vietnam war protest even accompanied the school’s dedication.
I didn’t know Jerry Kulm, but I spoke of him Monday morning at the Memorial Day observance at the Ritzville Memorial Cemetery, organized by our local American Legion post. He and many others from my hometown were laid to rest there after making the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation and the freedoms we hold dear, including the freedom of speech.
It seems free speech is in danger at Evergreen these days – if a professor feels safer teaching class in a public park because the campus police won’t, by order of the TESC president, shield him from angry students. Students who are angry because the professor had the nerve to oppose a race-related event and, of all things, wrote about the right to speak freely on a college campus.
Understandably, many of us serving in the Legislature take a dim view of all this. But even if we adopted legislation tomorrow to end public financing of Evergreen, it wouldn’t address the immediate professor-safety concern.
How about this: while the professor considers a “hostile workplace” complaint against the Evergreen administration for failing to ensure his safety on campus, the governor could make the short trip over to the Evergreen campus and have a sit-down with the angry students. Explain how the freedom-of-speech thing works both ways, and the value of listening to and learning from voices of dissent (other than their own), and take along a copy of his February 23 executive order that reaffirms “Washington’s commitment to tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness.”
I realize that order was focused on undocumented immigrants, but don’t the civil rights of a public-college professor deserve the state’s protection just as much?