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Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Furman University's Student Newspaper

The Paladin

Tone of CLPs Shifts, But Questions Remain

Debate over the Cultural Life Program reached a fever pitch last spring after a provocative CLP event foregrounded what some faculty saw as problems serious enough to consider suspending the nearly 40-year-old program.
Courtesy of Furman Athletics

Debate over the Cultural Life Program reached a fever pitch last spring after a provocative CLP event foregrounded what some faculty saw as problems serious enough to consider suspending the nearly 40-year-old program.

Not even a year later, that controversy has all but faded to silence in a marked though often unremarked upon shift in the tenor of campus dialogue.

What remains unclear is why the shift took place and whether the program’s problems have been solved. The answer depends on how the problems are defined, a point on which there is hardly consensus among members of the Furman community.

“This year it’s a night and day difference,” said Faculty Chair David Bost, “and I don’t know why that is.”

A number of developments, however, shed light on the changes as Furman’s Academic Policy Committee prepares to review the CLP system in accordance with a recommendation made by the Civil Discourse Task Force last year.

Following the controversy last spring, the CLP Committee reviewed the program and revised its guidelines for the 2012-2013 academic year. The revised guidelines put a greater emphasis on the role of faculty sponsors and make them primarily responsible for judging the academic merit of event proposals.

“It’s an academic program so it should be controlled by the academic officers, the faculty on campus,” said Professor Brent Nelsen, Chair of the CLP Committee.

The revised guidelines specifically require faculty sponsors to attend CLP events and ensure their proper execution. Faculty sponsors who do not feel comfortable moderating panel discussions may draw from a newly introduced “moderator pool” that includes faculty and administrators who have volunteered to moderate events.

Nelsen stressed that faculty sponsors need not agree with the viewpoints expressed in the event but only that those viewpoints are worth considering. The role of the CLP Committee, he said, was “to control the conduct of events but not the content of events.”

Though student organizations may still hold events, they must apply for CLP credit through the mediation of a faculty sponsor. The CLP Committee now communicates only with the faculty sponsor rather than directly with student organizations.

“So if there’s a question, there’s one person who’s held responsible, and that’s the faculty sponsor,” Nelsen said.

Senior Hammad Khan, President of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), questioned whether the new guidelines sufficiently addressed issues with the CLP program. He argued that the guidelines had not changed significantly, noting that even last year event proposals required a faculty sponsor.

Professor Akan Malici, Faculty Sponsor for MSA, agreed with Khan and argued that the fault for poor events in the past was not with the guidelines but the CLP Committee, which had failed to uphold its existing guidelines and properly vet event proposals.

“For me, it was about us as a university, our rules, and us being stewards to those rules,” Malici said.

In addition to revising the guidelines, the CLP Committee implemented a policy of meeting in person each week to consider proposals. In the past, the committee had discussed proposals primarily via email, a practice that they had come to identify as slow and unproductive.

Both Khan and Malici said they believed the CLP Committee, whose membership changed over last spring, has performed better this year.

Another criticism some have raised against the revised guidelines is that the emphasis on faculty advisors makes it more difficult for student groups to get CLP status for their events.

Senior Emily Zinger directed the Pauper Player’s fall production of Spring Awakening and said the organization sought CLP status for the musical but that going through a faculty advisor slowed the proposal process so much they missed the application deadline.

The CLP Committee had required that a faculty advisor attend each performance, which she said forced the club to scramble for sponsors after their usual advisor declined on the grounds of a personal dislike of the musical.

There was some concern among members of the CLP Committee that increasing the responsibility of faculty sponsors would drive down the number of CLP events, but numbers for this year have held constant and are expected to finish in the average range of 200 to 250 events per academic year.

Thus far, the CLP Committee has accepted around 140 proposals and denied one. Around 12 proposals were dropped during the application process. Nelsen said the committee is determined to work with faculty sponsors to bring proposals in line with the guidelines.

“We believe every proposal can be made into an academic event,” he said.

Even as the CLP Committee has revised their guidelines and practices, student organizations seem to have shied away from holding controversial or provocative CLP events this year, making it difficult to determine which cause is more responsible for easing tensions in campus discourse.

Conservative Students for a Better Tomorrow (CSBT) developed a reputation for hosting provocative CLP events over the last couple years but has been, by their own admission, relatively quiet this year. The organization has recently undergone a series of leadership changes accompanied by an attempt to reformulate the organization’s mission and reform its image.

“The current board is less interested in being provocative for the sake of being provocative,” said junior Lauren Cooley, CEO of CSBT.

Last spring, CSBT hosted an event with writer Nonie Darwish that incited controversy for misleading advertising and content that many members of the Furman community deemed Islamophobic. The event prompted a backlash from the Muslim Student Association and other students and faculty, many of whom argued that Darwish did not have the proper credentials to speak on the subject.

The event was discussed specifically during the CLP committee’s presentation at last April’s faculty meeting, the same meeting where the unsuccessful motion was later made to suspend the CLP program for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Senior Marcus Tate, CEO Emeritus of CSBT, said he had mixed feelings about the Nonie Darwish event, acknowledging mistakes in advertising while maintaining that the event was successful insofar as it stimulated debate. He said CSBT remained committed to holding provocative events but needed to tone down the more inflammatory tactics used in recent years.

“Provocation in proper context is key to promote proper dialogue on campus, but I think we’re looking for that equilibrium in how we use our position on campus,” Tate said.

Faculty Chair David Bost suggested that the Civil Discourse Task Forces may have played a role in cutting down on the vitriol in campus dialogue. Bost, a member of the Task Force, said meetings last year allowed opposing organizations to engage in frank discussion about the CLP program that he hopes were cathartic for participants.

“I’d like to think that the work of the Task Force has had a positive and healing impact,” he said.

For now, the future of the CLP program remains an open question. Developments since last year seem to have improved the program’s position in the eyes of many, or at least pushed it from their immediate attention.

Another divisive CLP event, however, could potentially reignite controversy and bring the program back to the forefront of debate. Nelsen expressed confidence that the new guidelines would help defuse controversy should it arise but acknowledged that there have not been any particularly contentious proposals this year.

“The system I think is working well,” he said, “but we haven’t really had a serious test.”

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