Dem Lawmaker Threatened To Withhold University Funding Over Conservative Speakers, Watchdog Argues

(Screenshot/Speech First)

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Alexa Schwerha Contributor
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Democratic Pennsylvania state Representative La’Tasha Mayes requested that University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Patrick Gallagher cancel three upcoming conservative speaker events, which a free speech watchdog alleges could be a threat to withhold funding.

The UPitt Turning Point USA chapter invited Daily Wire Senior Editor Cabot Phillips and former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines to speak on campus this month, while the College Republicans will host a debate between Daily Wire commentator Michael Knowles and transgender professor Deirdre McCloskey in April. Mayes asked for the events to be canceled and said that the speakers “crossed a line of free speech over into hate speech.” (RELATED: University Shells Out More Than $26,000 To Host Trans Activist)

“How does this keep transgender students safe?” Mayes asked. “How does this keep LGBTQ+ students safe at my alma mater, and how does this align with the stated values of the University of Pittsburgh and its commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity, making sure that it’s an inclusive place for students?”

Cherise Trump, executive director of free speech advocacy group Speech First, alleged that the request could threaten the university’s ability to receive state funding if it does not comply with lawmakers demands.

“This is a situation where the state is saying that if the university doesn’t violate its students’ First Amendment rights, then their funding could be at risk,” she said in a statement sent to the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Said more plainly, this is obvious state-coercion. Lawmakers shouldn’t be using veiled threats to hold funding over universities simply because they don’t like a person who was invited to speak.”

Gallagher told Mayes he has a responsibility to uphold the free speech rights of the speakers and the student organizations. By doing so, he said that the university is also upholding its commitment to DEI.

“It almost looks like these two values are in tension, but I always view it as ‘you’re right, they’re in tension but if you cut the rope, they’re both less stable,'” he explained.

The university cannot define what it stands for by dictating “who’s allowed to speak on campus,” he said.

Mayes accused Knowles of calling for the eradication of transgender people, a misconception that was peddled shortly after his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this month.

“By twisting Michael Knowles’s comments to fit her narrative and inciting outrage, Mayes is purposely exacerbating an issue that simply isn’t there,” Trump said. “Furthermore, she is clearly targeting speech that is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as in the Commonwealth’s State Constitution.”

The LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, led by two Democratic Pennsylvania lawmakers, issued a statement last week demanding the university cancel the events. A petition to hold the university “accountable” amassed more than 10,000 signatures at the time of publication.

“We will not be bullied, there will be consequences for censorship, and that starts with holding lawmakers and administrators alike accountable for their actions,” Trump said.

Mayes and UPitt did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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