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Utah legislative leader says U. faculty supporting protesters is ‘nonsense’

Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, says the university should “get back to the basics” and “not pushing political agendas.” But there’s no rule stopping faculty from voicing their personal opinions.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah House Speaker Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, says a few words during a news conference in the Gold Room at the Capitol on Monday, Feb. 12, 2024. On Monday, May 20, 2024, Schultz posted a video speaking out against faculty at the University of Utah standing in solidarity with the campus pro-Palestine protesters.

Utah House Speaker Mike Schultz criticized the more than 200 University of Utah faculty members who have signed onto a letter supporting the pro-Palestine protests on campus — calling it “nonsense” and “not what our flagship university is about.”

“And that’s not what Utah is about,” he added in a video posted on social media Monday evening.

The comment from the top House conservative lawmaker is the latest in a string of responses from state leaders praising the response by the University of Utah to quickly shut down the peaceful protests by sending in police dressed in full riot gear. That includes Gov. Spencer Cox saying last week that he was “just so proud” of that decision to forcibly disband the encampment less than six hours after it started.

But Schultz is the first to speak out against the faculty who are standing in solidarity with students and demonstrators.

He claims in the video on X, formerly known as Twitter, that those faculty members are defending “unlawful behavior.” The U. has said it chose to bring in law enforcement because camping on campus is prohibited under state law and university policy (though it has previously been allowed for sporting events).

“I’m not afraid to call out and push back against this kind of nonsense,” said Schultz, R-Hooper, about the faculty letter.

As of Tuesday, 159 faculty had put their name on the letter and an additional 84 have done so anonymously, for a total of 243 signatures. There are roughly 1,500 faculty members at the U., so that represents about 16%.

In their message addressed to U. President Taylor Randall, the faculty demanded that future student protests “not be met with police violence” after 21 attendees were arrested for their involvement in the April 29 rally calling for the school to divest from Israel and weapons companies profiting off the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. They say those arrested should be granted amnesty by the school.

And they ask for encampments to be allowed on campus for protests as “a valid form of free expression.”

There is no rule against faculty stating their personal opinions.

In his post, Schultz says that quickly shutting down the encampment allowed thousands of students across the state “to celebrate their hard work alongside classmates, friends and family” at graduation ceremonies, including his daughter. The video then shows a photo of him and his wife standing next to their daughter, who is holding a Utah State University diploma.

There were student-led protests at USU, in Logan, held for three days. But those were much smaller — with about 50 students participating — than the main rally at the U. And the USU protests didn’t disrupt graduation, despite going on at the same time, and weren’t broken up by police. In fact, there was no police presence there, according to coverage from FOX13.

Additionally, a few student protesters at the University of Utah did rally outside during the main commencement ceremony there earlier this month and a few went inside to shout. But it didn’t significantly impact the event.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Krystan Morrison joins fellow demonstrators outside the Huntsman Center in solidarity with Palestine after leaving commencement ceremonies when University of Utah President Taylor Randall began his opening remarks on Thursday, May 2, 2024.

Schultz’s video starts by showing videos of police disrupting the pro-Palestine rallies that have been organized at campuses across the country. He said the protests have turned schools into “campsites and riot centers.”

“College campuses are not arenas for disruptive and unruly protests,” he added.

Then, the video turns to Utah footage from the April 29 protest as police came in with shields, knocking down protesters and carrying them off by their arms and legs.

When a demonstration interferes with learning or threatens safety, Schultz said, “We must act decisively, and that’s exactly what we did in Utah.”

Echoing Cox, Schultz then said he is “proud” of Randall and how he responded to the protests.

The nearly two-minute video ends with the House speaker vowing to help “our universities get back to the basics by teaching core academics and not pushing political agendas.” Nearly all of the early commenters on the post pushed back against Schultz, particularly over that line.