Academic Freedom and the Life Issues: Assistance for Pro-Life Students Facing a Hostile College or University Environment

Abstract:  This workshop not only addresses various assaults on free speech rights of pro-life students in higher education, but also, more importantly, suggests ways that pro-life students can work within the academy to secure their free speech rights and advance the interests of the pro-life movement.  Suggestions made in this workshop are given from the perspective of an academic who has worked in higher education for nearly thirty years as a faculty member and as an administrator for various academic departments.

          First, I must express my gratitude to convention organizers for allowing me not only to hear the work of the new generation of pro-life activists (David Daleiden, Ann McElhinney, and Bobby Schindler), but also to present some ideas to assist students who must navigate the politically-correct waters of academia.  I trust that what follows will change some minds about pro-life opportunities available in higher education and perhaps inspire many young people to consider a career at the college or university level.

          [slide two]  This presentation has eight sections.  First, it may be good to know something about the credentials of your speaker.

Second, I would like to briefly review some points about the dire situation in which academia has placed itself, especially important because our students have to obtain degrees for their various careers through institutions beset by strident anti-life political correctivity.

Third, I will discuss tasks which affect the mindset of any college or university administrator.  This may be helpful so that pro-life students, eager young people that they rightfully should be, may understand how to interpret what they may conclude is hostility when it really may not be.

Fourth, since I like to think positively always, I will reverse the traditional SWOT formulation that Business students know into TWSO, an acronym that will not catch on, but which will help me to identify the threats that pro-life students face in academia, the weaknesses that college and university officials suffer, the strengths that pro-life students can offer those college officials, and the opportunities that pro-life students have to impact their academic culture.

Fifth, there are many unique resources available to pro-life students, and I will highlight some of them.

Sixth, the penultimate part of this presentation involves audience participation.  Specifically, I will pose four scenarios and ask the audience how they would resolve the controversies described.

Seventh, I will offer some final suggestions.

Finally, the eighth section is reserved for questions and answers, or, to keep this session lively and humorous, utterly hopeless deer-in-the-headlight stares.

[slide three]  I.  Credentials Reviewed

Who am I that you should care about what I have to say?  I am a professor of English who has held many teaching and administrative positions.  I obtained a master’s degree in English from Cleveland State University in 1991 and earned a doctorate in English at Kent State University in 2001.  I have taught English courses as an adjunct instructor at various community colleges and universities in the metropolitan Cleveland, Ohio area since 1989.  I obtained my first full-time teaching position at Clark State Community College in Springfield, Ohio in 2002.  I advanced to a full-time administrative position at the Columbus, Ohio Campus of the for-profit University of Phoenix in 2005, where I was Campus College Chair for the three Colleges of Arts and Sciences (the College of Humanities, the College of Natural Sciences, and the College of Social Sciences).  Returning home to Cleveland in 2011, I became associate professor of English for two years at the Cleveland Campus of South University, another for-profit institution.  Thanks to the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, I was able to obtain early retirement in 2014.  Now, enjoying the benefits of retirement, I continue to teach part-time at various Catholic and secular colleges and institutions in the metropolitan Cleveland area.

Throughout these years, I have always identified myself, not as a mere English professor, not as a mere full-time faculty here or there, and not as a mere administrator, but as a pro-life English professor.  I have published one monograph, one smaller book (a collection of poems on my favorite topic, Niagara Falls), and over eighty papers on some aspect of the life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia (available on various websites like and in print).  I know that I was denied full-time positions in years past because of my pro-life interests.  However, the pro-life writing always came first.  While others may have been circumspect about broadcasting their pro-life views in some colleges when they had to maintain a household and feed their children, I was more open about what I said and wrote on behalf of the pro-life movement, the greatest benefit that early retirement can give anyone.

[slide four]  II.  Discussion of Current State of Affairs

          I think that every pro-lifer can testify to the dire situation that the academy has placed itself in—I use the reflexive pronoun because I believe the politically-correct, anti-life enclosure in which many academics are trapped is largely their own doing, not a result of exterior political forces.

          Here’s a most curious thing.  If one were to enter the keywords “student”, “pro-life”, and “group”, delimiting for full text and scholarly, peer-reviewed articles with open dates in Academic Search Premier, one result appears.  Adding the keyword “censorship” with no delimiters yields no results.  However, searching merely for “student”, “pro-life”, and “group” with no scholarly or peer-reviewed delimiters yields more than twenty items, nearly all written by pro-life sources.

What does this mean?  Either anti-life scholars are not interested in the struggles that pro-life students have in organizing, maintaining, and promoting their pro-life activities and groups on campus, or they are concerned about more important matters.  Search for “feminist” and “Trump” in the database and—voila!—you will find nearly eighty entries, such as Wendy Weinhold and Alison Fisher Bodkin’s article “Homophobic Masculinity and Vulnerable Femininity: SNL’s Portrayals of Trump and Clinton”, published in the June 2017 issue of Feminist Media Studies.

          Although anti-life scholars may have either no interest or no desire to address the problems that pro-life students face in the academy, others are interested.  Four examples from scholarly databases since 2000 sufficiently illustrate activism on behalf of contemporary pro-life students.

          [slide five]  In an April 2000 issue of The Report/Newsmagazine (Alberta, Canada), Shafer Parker states:

New pro-life groups arise when students make them happen, as did first-year University of Calgary student Helen Gardner last fall.  Miss Gardner, 18, found herself on a campus with no pro-life club and knew immediately that she had to start one.  “So many people have never heard a scientific discussion of what the fetus is,” she explains.  “Until now the campus has been dominated by feminists.” (28)

          [slide six]  After citing examples of educational bias, Rachel Zabarkes Friedman offers what she classifies as one “of the most heartening acts of courage” in an October 2004 issue of National Review:

Carolina Students for Life, an anti-abortion group at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, was intentionally excluded from activities planned by the campus Women’s Center, which also refused to post a link to the group’s website.  So group president Stephanie Evans sent a stern but measured letter to the center and copied it to UNC trustees and administrators.  In response (to the letter and the media attention that followed), members of the group were invited to a meeting with a high-level administrator and the Women’s Center director.  They got a link on the website.  The center also posted links to a pregnancy-support service and a site promoting abstinence.  Finally, Carolina Students for Life was invited to participate in future abortion-related events.  “I don’t think we struck any extraordinary deal,” says Evans.  “I think we got what we deserved and what every other student group had gotten.”  (48 and 50)

          [slide seven]  John Jalsevac of the prestigious had this to say about student pro-life groups in the fall 2010 issue of The Human Life Review:

In 1996 a sobering Gallup Poll was released that confirmed what many pro-life activists already suspected, but nevertheless hoped wasn’t true: while 47% of women said they were pro-life when they entered college, by graduation, a whopping 73% said they were now pro-choice.

          Frighteningly, the pro-life movement was losing 26% of all female students who went through a university program.  Clearly, if the movement had any hope of survival in the long run, more needed to be done to reach out to students.

          At that time there already existed a group whose mission was to create a pro-life presence on campuses—American Collegians for Life.  But without a full-time staff, and without a significant source of funding, there was only so much that the Collegians for Life, which was entirely student-run, could do.

          In 2006, all of that changed.  In that year American Collegians for Life received a sizable start-up grant, changed its name to Students for Life of America (SFLA), hired a professional staff, opened its first national headquarters in Arlington, VA, and launched its historic Pro-Life Field Program.

          Since then, Students for Life has gone on to become one of the most active, and most successful, pro-life organizations in the country.  (104)

          [slide eight]  Finally, Andrew Guernsey confirms the value of assertive student action in his commentary in the fall 2015 issue of Intercollegiate Review:

In April the Johns Hopkins University student government voted to ban Chick-fil-A from campus, arguing that the restaurant would create an “unsafe space” and subject gays and lesbians to a “microaggression.”  Why?  Simply because the CEO of Chick-fil-A supports traditional marriage.  [….]

          Earlier that month, the Johns Hopkins Spring Fair had attempted to ban Voice for Life, a pro-life student group I founded, from displaying models of fetuses in various stages of development.  The committee in charge of the fair said the models would be “triggering and disturbing” to students.  But when our group fought back—and Fox News and other media outlets began reporting on the story—the committee relented.

Voice for Life almost didn’t make it off the ground. In 2013 the student government denied our group recognition as an official student club. But we fought that, too, and the student judiciary committee reversed the decision.

Johns Hopkins recently created a Task Force on Academic Freedom to reassess the university’s policies relating to freedom of speech, owing in no small part to our campus activism. You can fight back.  (Guernsey 24-5; italics in original)

[slide nine]  III.  Analysis of the Administrative Mindset

          How does one account for the above varying instances of censorship?  Are all college administrators evil anti-lifers, seeking every opportunity to frustrate the tsunami of pro-life students?  What is the mindset of a typical college or university administrator?

Perhaps contrasting the typical day of a professor vs. an administrator may help.  A faculty member, whether he or she is adjunct or full-time, goes to his or her office, teaches some classes, may assist in committee meetings, grades papers in his or her college’s online learning management system, and goes home hopefully before traffic is heavy.

          An administrator, in contrast, has several other functions which occupy his or her mind.  He or she may have teaching duties, but these teaching assignments are usually beyond his or her other duties such as: reviewing college policies for accuracy and timeliness in accordance with new federal and state regulations or board directives; obtaining candidates for faculty positions; hiring qualified faculty; training faculty on college systems, most notably the learning management system where students will upload assignments and papers; assigning courses on a regular basis, usually per semester or quarter, but looking ahead at least one year; handling student complaints against faculty; handling faculty complaints against students; managing faculty complaints against other faculty; firing faculty; serving on college committees; establishing college committees for tasks not covered by other committees; presenting papers at conferences; publishing papers and other items (articles and books).

          Given all of the above, do not be disconcerted if you think that a faculty member or any college administrator is necessarily antagonistic towards you, towards the pro-life movement, or towards your goal of starting a pro-life group on campus.  He or she may simply be just too busy.

[slide ten]  IV.  SWOT Reversed: TWSO

Business majors know that SWOT is an acronym which stands for analyzing the strengths of a business proposal, weaknesses of that proposal, opportunities that the proposal can address, and threats to those opportunities.  However, I will reverse that order so that pro-life students can understand the threats they face, the weaknesses which college faculty and administrators may manifest, the strengths that pro-life students possess, and then opportunities available to pro-life students.

First, the threats.  Granted, pro-life students face the immediate threat of politically-correct faculty squelching their pro-life views if expressed in the classroom during discussion or in written assignments.  I am primarily thinking about papers submitted for English courses or courses in the social sciences, but any subject area can pose threats to pro-life students if the faculty member is stridently anti-life.  It is my experience that attending an institution previously-thought “safe” or “friendly” to the pro-life movement (such as a Catholic college) no longer applies.  For example, I was told by one administrator in a presumably Catholic college in the metropolitan Cleveland area that the college “does not necessarily follow Catholic dogma” when it comes to the pro-life issues.  Consider, also, this LinkedIn message exchange with the president of yet another ostensibly Catholic college in the metropolitan Cleveland area:

Hi Jeff, good to hear from you.  Here at ***, our focus is more on staying true to the word of Jesus, less about being orthodox.  Are we staying true to helping those less fortunate than us; are we serving the underserved?  Are we helping students to be prepared for the challenges of living a faith-filled life?  Are we helping prepare our students to be successful in life after ***** ****?  I’d be happy to talk with you[r] colleague.  The world of Higher Ed is, as you know, filled with challenges.  Being true to the mission of the school is one of the most important.  Take care.

To which my response was:

Thanks for replying.  Hmmm…you make it sound like being orthodox is not the same as “staying true to the word of Jesus.”  May want to reevaluate that.

It is no surprise, then, that this ostensibly Catholic college hires as its English coordinator an open lesbian who is hostile to the pro-life movement.  That Catholic college has surrendered its Catholic identity for the sake of an ambiguous “inclusion” or “diversity”.  Maybe this is just a problem that Catholic colleges in the metropolitan Cleveland, Ohio area have.  However, I suspect that is not the case.  In my estimation, attending a secular institution, such as a community college or state institution, may be much better regarding life-affirming values—as well as significantly less expensive.

How to address this threat?  Always appeal to the justice of your position, making the expression of your pro-life view a matter of equity.  Argue—always politely, yet assertively—that a diversity of opinion requires the pro-life or life-affirming perspective to be included.

Second, the weaknesses.  All colleges and universities, especially for-profit institutions, depend economically on students.  While some in higher education may hold their jobs because they love to share knowledge and learning, the American reality is that colleges and universities are money-making ventures, and this holds true for non-profits as much as for-profit institutions.  Students bring not only their eager minds to the classrooms, but also their dollars to college bank accounts.

How is this a weakness?  When students leave an institution which is so politically correct that it insults their pro-life beliefs, that college loses the student’s money, whether from Mom and Dad, from the student him- or herself, or, perhaps more importantly, from federal education dollars.  If a sufficiently large drop in the student population occurs, then that college may face serious economic challenges.  Pro-life students should be aware of this weakness and vote not only every two years, but also with their feet to a friendly college if that politically-correct anti-life college does not accommodate their pro-life views.

Third, the strengths.  Pro-life students have several strengths about which they may be unaware.  Pro-life-students are young, and any young person invigorates those around him or her.  Whom would you want to have around you, an old man droning on about the Aristotelian concepts of ethos, kairos, logos, and pathos, or a young person able to illustrate how those four concepts apply to the drama surrounding the defense of the Fresno State Students for Life Group, which the national Students for Life organization is assisting by circulating an online petition?  Even if a pro-life student does not have a chronological advantage, he or she has passion, a characteristic which may have died in his or her professor, stuck in the stifling politically-correct atmosphere of an anti-life institution.

Moreover, pro-life students bring a new perspective to the life issues that older anti-life academics chose either to ignore or to minimize.  For example, in the heyday of aggressive feminism of the 1970s, no one would have thought that being a feminist was compatible with pro-life beliefs.  Now, that connection is well established.  Around the 1980s, no one would have thought that anyone other than Catholics were pro-life; now, thanks to support from other denominations, only the most ridiculously biased MSNBC commentator would think that pro-lifers are all Catholic.  In this century, no one would have thought that the movement would shift from the position that legislation had to have exception clauses to allow abortion for rape and incest.  Now, thanks to young pro-lifers, who question the standards of their elders and speaking on behalf of those conceived by rape and incest who should not be killed because of the crimes of their fathers, major pro-life organizations are altering their legislative agendas to include those human beings conceived in less-than-perfect circumstances.

These strengths will help to convince academics that pro-lifers can be feminist (still a dominant buzzword in the academy), non-Catholic (academia still harbors a strong anti-Catholicism), and inclusive (perhaps the most recent and enduring buzzword added to the list of what constitutes an academic).

Finally, the opportunities.  Pro-life students may find two significant effects from their pro-life activism on campus.  First, a pro-life student may find that he or she is not alone.  One pro-life student is only one pro-life student.  Two such students make a group, and three pro-life students form an academic trinity that can change a college.  Second, after identifying themselves, these pro-life students may find that several faculty are pro-life.  Not every academic is a strident lesbian who attacks pro-life views or who thinks the only way to handle the pro-life policies of President Trump or Congressperson Karen Handel is to “resist” them.  Pro-life students may find that many faculty are pro-life and cheer pro-life students (albeit on the sidelines), yet keep silent about their pro-life views because they either must keep their jobs or because they are on the path to obtain tenure.  This is an example of the proverbial two-edged sword: pro-life faculty certainly need to encourage you, but you also can encourage these pro-life faculty to stand up for their beliefs.

V.  Resources for Pro-Life Students

Fortunately, this is a golden age of pro-life educational resources, and I will highlight some of them.

Preeminently, every pro-life student must be aligned with recognized chapters and affiliates of national pro-life organizations, especially the National Right to Life Committee.  This is not to relegate any other national pro-life group (such as the American Life League, Feminists for Life, March for Life, or others).  This simply recognizes that the most powerful national pro-life organization needs every pro-lifer aligned with it so that pro-life action is concentrated, coherent, and effective on Capitol Hill and beyond.

Secondly, every pro-life student should be a member of several pro-life groups designed for special interests within the movement.  While the following is an alphabetical listing of my own interests, many have a universal appeal:

[slide eleven]

40 Days For Life

All Girls Allowed

American Association of Pro-Life Physicians and Gynecologists

American Life League

Americans United for Life

Birthright International – 800-550-4900

Campaign Life Coalition

Coalition on Abortion Breast Cancer

Consistent Life

Culture of Life Foundation

ECLJ • European Center for Law & Justice | Jay Sekulow

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International News and Information News and Information

Feminists for Life

Healing the Culture

Heritage House ’76, Pro-Life Supplies for the Pro-Life Movement

Human Family Research Center

International Center on Law, Life, Faith and Family

John Paul II Stem Cell Research Institute

Life Decisions International 343 companies


LifeTech Conference

Lutherans For Life

[slide twelve]

March for Life

Michael Fund

National Catholic Bioethics Center

National Right to Life

National Right to Life PAC

Nurses for Life

Ohio Right to Life

Ohio Right to Life PAC

Pharmacists For Life

Population Research Institute

Pro Vita Advisors

Prolife World Congress

Right to Life of North East Ohio

Sisters of Life

Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC)

Students for Life

Teachers Saving Children

Teens For Life

Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation

University Faculty for Life

University Faculty for Life blog


Women’s Rights Without Frontiers

Your Life Counts

VI.  Audience Participation: Case Studies

Now, the fun part: audience participation.  Four scenarios follow, illustrating controversial aspects of pro-life student activism and college or university administration censorship.  You will not be graded on your responses.  You may use pencil or pen.  No electronic devices are allowed so that no one will text a colleague within this room for an answer.  In fact, since there are no correct answers, enjoy the slides.

[slide thirteen]  First scenario.  Dr. Miroslav Hyperbole (pictured here) teaches Biology.  You like him a lot, especially since he complimented you on your fine research work on stem cell research in your last paper.  Should you ask him to be the adviser for your campus pro-life group?

a.  Maybe.  Consult first to get others’ opinions.

b.  No.  Anybody who is this old must be a reject from the sixties, probably a hippie.

c.  No.  During class, he mentioned the cons and the pros of embryonic stem cell research.

d.  No.  His car’s bumper sticker reads “Bernie for President.”

e.  Yes.  Another bumper sticker reads “Trump for President.”

f.  Yes.  He supports various free speech causes identified on his left-wing blogs.

g.  Yes.  The door to his faculty office has a “Hillary for Prison” sticker.

h.  None of the above

[slide fourteen]  Second scenario.  Dr. Heidi Metaphor (pictured here) is dean of Liberal Arts and a professor of feminist studies.  She opposes your pro-life group’s request for funds to bring anti-Planned Parenthood speakers to campus for a lecture on civil rights.  What should you do?

a.  Ask Uncle Guido to make her an offer she can’t refuse (he makes the best cannoli).

b.  Begin an online petition, asking people to flood her inbox with nasty messages.

c.  Begin an online petition, asking people to urge the college to uphold students’ First Amendment free speech rights.

d.  Ignore her; there are other votes on the faculty committee which disburses student activities funds.

e.  Picket her house.

f.  Request a meeting with her to discuss the benefits of having the speaker come to campus.

g.  None of the above

[slide fifteen]  Third scenario.  Dr. Ouagadougou Synecdoche (pictured here), an adjunct faculty member, is pro-life; he began a pregnancy support group in Burkina Faso.  You want to bring Alveda King to campus to discuss the extreme abortion rate among African Americans.  Should you ask him to intercede with the administration to support the effort?

a.  Don’t even try to invite Alveda King, especially if members of your group are all white.

b.  Maybe.  Ask Synecdoche if he will lose his job over this.

c.  No.  The administration will view you as racist, since you are obviously appealing to mere identity politics.

d.  Yes.  The administration will not reject a request from a person of color.

e.  Yes.  The administration would appreciate anything to assist minority students faced with untimely pregnancies.

f.  None of the above

[slide sixteen]  Fourth scenario.  The LGBTQ group on campus wants your college’s administration to declare your pro-life group as a hate group.  What should you do?

a.  Consult the appropriate code in the student handbook for guidance on how to respond to the charge.

b.  Contact a pro-life lawyer immediately for guidance.

c.  Gather all group communications (emails, newsletters, etc.) to refute the charge.

d.  Hold an ad hoc dialogue with the LGBTQ community to compare how the unborn, the handicapped newborn, and the elderly are just as vulnerable (if not more so) as persons with same-sex attraction.

e.  I wouldn’t touch this with the proverbial ten-foot pole.  Don’t even answer here in this workshop!  This is too hot an issue.

f.  Post online petitions on Facebook, Gab, LinkedIn, and Twitter among others, asking the college to support your free speech rights.

g.  None of the above

[slide seventeen]  VII.  Final Suggestions

My six final thoughts are simple.  First, some of you may want to consider being an academic in your field of interest.  Consider: it is not only the anti-life opinions of today’s anti-life professors which are intellectually tired, worn out, and old, but the professors themselves.  When the anti-lifers retire or go to their eternal reward, who will take their place?  I trust that many of you will investigate this career opportunity so that the half century of academic bias against the first civil right to life can be corrected.  Second, strive for excellence in your academic activities and your scholarship; earn all As.  Third, take advantage of internships not only with companies or organizations in your field, but also with pro-life organizations.  Fourth, aim for the highest degree you can obtain in your field.  Having a certain abbreviated title (like “Dr.”) before your name or certain letters (like “Ph.D.”) after your name substantially increases your credibility when speaking or writing.  Fifth, donate money now to pro-life groups.  While students are traditionally poor, it will not hurt to establish a donation pattern of five, ten, twenty, or more dollars per month to a pro-life organization of your choice.  Sixth, keep the communication lines open.  How can we older pro-lifers help you negotiate the turbulent academic waters so that you will be ready to take our places?

[slide eighteen]  I hope that this presentation and your comments during the case studies have helped to encourage you to devote your energies further for pro-life activism in your colleges and universities.  Thank you for your attention and participation.  I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Works Cited

Friedman, Rachel Zabarkes. “The Good and the Bad (Plus Some Ugly).” National Review, vol. 56, no. 19, 11 Oct. 2004, pp. 48-50. EBSCOhost.

Guernsey, Andrew. “Dare to Eat a Chicken Sandwich?” Intercollegiate Review, Fall 2015, pp. 24-25. EBSCOhost.

Jalsevac, John. “Hundreds of Pro-Life Student Groups Sweeping Across U.S. College Campuses.” Human Life Review, vol. 36, no. 4, Fall 2010, pp. 104-106. EBSCOhost.

Parker, Shafer. “From the Mouths of Babes.” Report/Newsmagazine (Alberta Edition), vol. 26, no. 52, 24 Apr. 2000, pp. 26-29. EBSCOhost.

Weinhold, Wendy M. and Alison Fisher Bodkin. “Homophobic Masculinity and Vulnerable Femininity: SNL’s Portrayals of Trump and Clinton.” Feminist Media Studies, vol. 17, no. 3, June 2017, pp. 520-523. EBSCOhost.

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