When Political Censorship Occurs, Rams Must Speak Out

By Joe Moresky and Matt Johnson

Cornell University’s College Republicans did not endorse Donald Trump and now face backlash from higher-ups. Courtesy of Katrina Koger/FLICKR.

Cornell University’s College Republicans did not endorse Donald Trump and now face backlash from higher-ups. Courtesy of Katrina Koger/FLICKR.

A defining pillar of what makes Fordham such a unique university is its tireless commitment to the ideals of Jesuit education. From our first classes to graduation, Rams are challenged to strive towards achieving social justice. Whether through the academic rigors that allow our hearts and minds to transform with renewed purpose or through the boundless opportunities New York City affords us, we are pushed to “set the world on fire.” We confront difficult issues and offer serious solutions. When faced with tragedy within the world, we are compelled to meet it with compassion. When shown injustice and oppression, we are stirred to right it.

That commitment includes political injustice, even at the collegiate level.

On Sept. 3, 2016, the New York Federation of College Republicans (NYFCR), the governing body responsible for all official College Republican chapters within New York state, voted to revoke the operating charter of the Cornell University College Republicans and remove the chapter’s official recognition as part of the national organization. This blacklists Cornell from participating in Federation-sponsored events, initiatives, academic fellowships and conferences and from receiving financial assistance from the Federation. The offense that merited such a dramatic response was Cornell’s chapter refusal to endorse Donald J. Trump, opting instead to back Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson in the upcoming presidential election out of deference to the majority opinion of its membership.

According to Cornell’s College Republicans’ official Facebook page, the 6-3 vote to revoke the chapter’s operating charter was rushed through the voting process taking place, “before [they] had a real chance to further explain [their] endorsement.” Until the New York Federation’s actions, Cornell was one of the oldest established chapters in the state.

As a current executive board member of Fordham’s own chapter of College Republicans, we are deeply saddened by the New York Federation’s heavy-handed response towards Cornell’s aversion to political expediency. The state leadership has made it readily apparent that a chapter’s intellectual dissent will be met with punishment. During an unconventional electoral cycle that has challenged what it even means to be a republican, the actions taken by the NYFCR have demonstrated it retains an incredibly superficial understanding of the ideological crisis the party faces.

We find it deplorable that any group of college students should be excommunicated from an organization in which they have spent years promoting conservative, not even necessarily republican, values. It is absurd that six members of the Federation’s board, one of whom is a paid Trump campaign staffer (a clear conflict of interest), cannot act with the same maturity as the RNC, instead opting to remove any members who do not mindlessly follow its rules, which were created by fellow college students with no real-world legitimacy or authority.

One might expect such punitive political strong-arming to come out of the legislative culture displayed in Albany, but certainly not from supposedly like-minded collegiate leaders. They serve as the official youth wing of the GOP, and as such have a special relationship with the Republican National Committee. While we understand the NYFCR’s obligation to the College Republican National Committee and the RNC, the actions the state leadership took were wrong. When modern conservatism is at such a flash-point of uncertainty, political retribution is the wrong path to take. It disenfranchises otherwise active millennial voters, and sets a horrific precedent for what local chapters can expect from future state leadership. When it has become almost a politically acceptable norm to not support the republican presidential nominee, the way forward cannot be to send any dissenters to the chopping block. At a time when millennials are not flocking towards the GOP, such a move seems almost an attempt to sabotage its collegiate base, when several universities from across the nation have also not endorsed Trump.

This internal witch-hunt stifles a national intra-party debate that must occur if the GOP is to enjoy a realistic future in American political discourse. As the future of the republican party, members of CR chapters must be allowed to openly participate. The only way to frame the direction the GOP will take is for deliberate discussion to take place in meeting halls on all college campuses, and for the freedom of expression and intellectual pursuit intrinsic to a liberal arts education to remain unhampered.

We urge the NYFCR and its Chairman, Eli Nachmany, to reassess its actions. Other chapters and their chairpersons across the state have voiced their displeasure over the actions taken by the Federation, both publicly and privately. If Mr. Nachmany cannot overcome his professional ties to the Trump campaign in order to govern the state chapters in an impartial and non-vindictive manner, we encourage him to reconsider his role in the organization.

Joe Moresky, FCRH ’17, is a political science major from East Meadow, New York.

Matt Johnson, FCRH ’17, is a political science from Palos Verdes, California.

The opinion stated in this piece does not represent the official opinion of College Republicans at Fordham University and should not be construed as such. It is that of the author’s alone.

There are 10 comments

  1. Joseph Moresky

    Opinions aside, Ben raises a legitimate critique of the piece. However, the fact remains that the appropriate governing body (New York Federation of College Republicans) acted without justification from the bylaws within the state organization’s constitution. If the Op-Ed section contained a more generous word count restriction, we would have loved to delve into the issue of the action’s murky standing via the Federation’s own constitution (which is silent on matters regarding endorsement restrictions), but for the sake of making our larger point accessible it seemed like too much inside-baseball.

    The voting board responsible acted outside its jurisdiction and with the personal interests of its members in mind, NOT the interests of state chapters or the larger NY general membership. The punishment inflicted on Cornell’s chapter was without proper cause and the severity of which exceeded responses by other state delegations in similar situations.

  2. Bright Leaf (@BenArisson)

    @MJ You’re proving my point– those are opinions. Don’t get me wrong, if I were on the board of the NYFCR I would not have voted to disband the Cornell chaper, and personally I agree that neither Trump or Johnson are really “Republicans” but both are conservative in their own ways. I will also admit that I don’t know anything about the precedents set in other cases with CR chapters nationwide. However I will stand by my statement that what counts as an acceptable endorsement should be up to the discretion of the governing bodies that regulate such matters. The College Republicans is a private organization and the NYFCR board has the right to restrict membership however they want.

  3. JM

    ^Which is why the Cornell membership deliberated amongst its members and reached a collective conclusion amongst themselves. The NYFCR’s action contained no constitutional precedent, and the manner in which they went about responding to the Johnson endorsement was dubious at best. Additionally, in comparison to similar instances across the nation the NYFCR’s decision to immediately pursue charter revocation was egregiously severe and betrays the conflict of interest embedded within the State delegation.

  4. Ben G. Arisson (@BenArisson)

    If the rules of the charter stated clearly that each chapter is required to endorse the Republican presidential candidate, then this is good. Chapters should not be able to get away with breaking the rules now any more than they would have before, just because Trump is a big scary “racist.” If endorsing Gary Johnson isn’t actually against the rules of the club then I would agree that they don’t deserve to be disbanded. However, the fact that the author describes the NYFCR’s action as “opting to remove any members who do not mindlessly follow its rules, which were created by fellow college students with no real-world legitimacy or authority.” seems to betray his point. He claims to be arguing in opposition to “political censorship,” but this really seems to be an argument against having to follow the rules of the College Republicans, which is voluntary to join. Despite having no “real-world legitimacy or authority,” the club does have the authority to manage itself as it sees fit, which includes removing members who do not follow the rules. To suggest otherwise would be to suggest that clubs should not be allowed to exist at all. If a group of students at Columbia want to endorse Johnson, they can start a College Libertarians club. Nobody is censoring them at all.

    1. MJ

      The club lost their charter because they did not agree with the personal opinions of the board. The NYFCR’s vote to remove Cornell violated their own constitution, which does not require chapters to endorse a candidate with an (R), just ones that broadly promote conservatism. The rules cannot be changed like a school kid changing the rules to a game in the middle of the game just because he’s losing.

      1. MJ

        @Ben the word “broad” is itself broad. I believe a two-term Republican governor running with another two-term Republican governor on the platform of small government, fiscal responsibility, and the free market, are in every sense broadly promoting conservatism. An equal (likely stronger) argument can be made that Mr. Trump does not promote conservative values, picking and choosing policies and statements is how you would make the argument against Johnson. End international trade, let people use whichever bathrooms they please, federal punishment of the free market and capitalism? Doesn’t sound Republican to me.


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