The art of illiberalism

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When asked what surprises me about attending Lawrence, with its reputation for aggressive activism and irritating downtown protesting implied by the right-leaning questioner, my answer has long been, “Lawrence, the faculty especially, is far more classically liberal than one might think. Ninety to ninety-five percent of the student population are brilliant and have little interest in politics, mostly going along to get along—more than reasonable. That said, a small minority of the student population is an activist/lobbyist class. And it is this bunch who make life miserable for those they disagree with, and honestly, everyone else.”  

I think we’ve all been in a class where one such speech policeperson sat enthroned, and the ten weeks were essentially a waste as no one wanted to speak and risk the ire of that individual.  

The lobbyists’ most recent crusade has been a pressure campaign against the formation of a pro-life student group (Appleton Pro-Life Students; formerly LU Pro-Life) gaining LUCC recognition as an official student organization.  

Now that LUCC has finally approved the group—and to you, LUCC, I applaud your resolve and rescind the accusations of pusillanimity I leveled against you some time ago since this action required admirable fortitude—the lobbyists have used what can only be described as an “abortion clause” to reverse LUCC’s nascent decision.  

Should the majority of students and faculty vote in favor of disenfranchising APLS, the matter squishes onto the desk of President Carter like the bag of manure it is. She then has two options.  

Either she approves the referendum—risking not only the fury of alumni donors who were under the impression the school functions as a place for free and open discourse but also the specter of legal review and action by free speech groups— or, she rejects the referendum and has to live with an activist class who will no doubt make her life deeply unpleasant for years to come on campus while less liberal alumni are outraged. It’s a no-win situation for President Carter, and responsibility for this shameful welcome for our president lands squarely on y’all lobbyist types. I despair of you, and I hope your Lucky Charms never again have marshmallows. 

For those open to debate on the matter, I have organized some of the arguments against APLS’s enfranchisement below and then offer a rebuttal to each. For time’s sake, I will summarize or parse quotes from the opposing view and provide a link to the full articles, so you can verify if I’m being fair to my peers. 

Miri Villerius ( 

Summary: APLS should not be allowed enfranchisement on substantive (APLS does not have a “sustainable purpose”) and procedural grounds (APLS did not mention on posters that their organization was on a trial period). Also, Miri attended an APLS-sponsored abortion debate and there weren’t pro-choice advocates there (despite invitations by APLS for them to take part). 

Response: APLS has stayed well within the normative and substantive lines of conduct—student organizations are often loose with their adherence to LUCC guidelines, and APLS has adhered better than most. While I admire Miri’s affection for bylaw adherence, this is a weak argument, further undone by the renaming of LU Pro-life to APLS—a fairly strong testament to the group’s willingness to alter fundamental aspects of the club if it means recognition from LUCC.  

By my lights, the sustainable purpose of APLS is the protection of the defenseless and the support of mothers in need, an eternal purpose if ever there was one. But I’ll let the group speak for themselves. On their Instagram, APLS posted the following: “Through a broad education and inclusive discussion about abortion and other Pro-life topics, we aim to promote the belief that life begins at conception, and that the human rights of all, regardless of one’s stage of life, should be protected. We will invite students with multiple perspectives and from multiple backgrounds to engage in these conversations.” I cannot conceive of a more benign, liberal and charitable mission statement and purpose. 

As for the abortion debate’s attendance Miri offers as an indictment of APLS, it is hardly the fault of APLS that pro-choice folks failed to show up. Observing Shoutbox comments in the past 24 hours, it’s certainly not for a lack of pro-choicers at Lawrence. Perhaps the pro-choice folks find it easier knee-capping their opponents at a distance instead of engaging them in debate. It certainly does not reflect well on the average pro-choice Lawrentian’s confidence in their views if they can’t manage a touch of discourse. 

Dana Abbo 

Quote: I completely respect APLS’s right to meet on campus and discuss whatever they see fit. However, based on what I have observed and read about the club’s current structure and activities, I struggle to think of any scenario in which they would use LUCC funds productively. I believe it stands against the ethos of LUCC and the Lawrence community as a whole for school funding to go toward any activity that shames or degrades anyone at all, but especially anyone in our own community, who makes a health decision that should be entirely their own. 

Response: Of all replies, I think Dana’s is the most cogent. She maintains a receptiveness to disagreement while paring the emotional brambles of what’s central to this discussion: abortion, access to it and the thorny ethical dilemmas it presents personally and politically.  

Thankfully, there’s precedent for such controversial funding. Enter here Appleton Students for a Democratic Society. Deeply critical of Israel, Ukrainian sovereignty and the American way of life, I’m not real hot on funds we pay being allocated to pseudo-socialists. But pay I do for them to march up and down College Ave., shouting their say and shaming supporters of various countries and economic systems.  

What’s more, if we codify the “shame standard” (the suggested requirement that funded campus groups cannot shame or question others for personal decisions) Dana suggests, its application invites absurdity. Logically, the environmental clubs would be next, would they not? Every time I reach for a paper towel, I’m reminded of the great forests leveled for efficient metacarpular drying. Hyperbole? Sure. But the point holds. With abashment do I reach for that next paper towel, even though lumber products are a renewable resource. 

To the “health decision” part, I suggest that it’s telling that pro-lifers are not worried about your annual physical, nor your bunions. As for the distinctly, biologically other human being in the womb? Yeah, ’cause that’s now a health decision with two people involved, one of whom is mute and powerless to defend themself. There is no parallel to this relationship elsewhere in the human experience, nor will there ever be. It is a unique conundrum, this life within another. Perhaps we should sponsor some talks about it, and have some guest speakers in. I’ll bet APLS would love to use their funds on such a thing. 

The recognition of APLS as a student organization will not end abortion access. The money will not be spent screaming on sidewalks at expectant mothers near Planned Parenthood. Let APLS’s recognition be, and then go tell them why they’re wrong. There’ll probably be doughnuts and everything, and maybe y’all can learn from each other. God forbid a school permit a free and open discourse among equals with a few measly dollars. 

Agree? Disagree? Let me know at Or just growl at me in the hallways.