The coronavirus and recession and anti-racism protests and recent high winds notwithstanding, the big story here in Wichita is about Ivanka Trump.
The First Daughter and White House senior advisor was invited to give a “virtual commencement address’ at Wichita State University Tech’s “virtual graduation ceremony,” then was disinvited after hundreds of students and faculty and alumni objected, and since then other alumni and some major donors have raised such a fuss about the dis-invitation that the WSU president found himself facing the Kansas Board of Regents Wednesday with his job on the line. For now Jay Golden remains president of the university, but the city remains divided about that.
We’ve not heard any explanation for why Trump was invited to virtually speak at the virtual ceremony in the first place, but guess it had something to do with her attention-grabbing appearance at the school last year with Secretary of State and hometown boy Mike Pompeo, which was in her tole as a member of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which has something to do with WSU Tech. The outcry that led to Trump’s dis-invitation was more easily understood, given how Trump’s and her father’s policies offend liberal sensibilities.
The offense felt by the city’s many Trump-loving Republicans was also understandable, and some of them have considerable sway with the university, as well as the Board of Regents. There are no doubt many students and more than a few faculty at WSU who like both Trump and her Dad, but at this point they’re less likely than the anti-Trump types to sign petitions and make angry phone calls and send angry e-mails, and what put the university’s president in front of the Board of Regents were threats that many well-heeled donors might stop donating to the suddenly cash-strapped university. Early reports in the local media warned that might include Koch Industries, owned by local multi-multi-billionaire and philanthropist and free-market activist Charles Koch, who annually donates more than $10 million to his hometown university.
A Koch spokesman quickly clarified that the company intended to honor all of its commitments to the university, politely added that Koch’s very libertarian beliefs call for free expression of all points of view, but further explained that Koch did not involve himself in the university’s personnel matters. We were not surprised, given that Koch’s classical conservatism never cared much for President Donald Trump’s trade wars and immigration extremism and deficit spending and other governmental intrusions into a free market economy, and that given his far greater wealth he wasn’t much impressed by Trump’s business acumen. He didn’t give a dime to Trump’s campaign, and said that choosing between Trump and Hillary Clinton was like choosing either a heart attack or cancer. So long as the university’s Wheatshockers basketball team keeps winning at Charles Koch Arena, we figure he’s not likely to abandon WSU nor its president because Ivanka Trump’s feelings were hurt.
The dis-invitation of Ivanka Trump got a lot of play in the national print and electronic media, which is always exciting for us usually ignored Wichitans, and her complaint that it was a result of a “culture of cancel” set off some interesting debates. The rest of the country won’t concern itself with what becomes of our local university’s president in the aftermath, and it’s probably for the best we work that out here in Kansas.
Being from around here and having a rooting interest in the ‘Shockers we’re forced to take sides, although we prefer our usual seat on the sidelines. Even here in conservative Wichita modern academia does tend limit debate to the leftward side, which offends our homegrown conservative sensibilities, but we’re no more inclined than Koch to involve ourselves in WSU’s personnel matters. We also have our principled free-market objections to many Trump policies, and although we’re not nearly so rich as Trump we’re not nearly so indebted and therefore also doubt his business acumen, and we too care little about the feelings of the rich and pampered daughter and her nepotistic position in life.
This Golden guy hasn’t been president of WSU for very long, so it’s too early to assess how goo he is, but until this controversy he’d not been controversial. All in all, we think he’s handled it pretty well. WSU Tech is a technical school that trains workers for the local high-tech aerospace industry, and although it’s on the WSU campus it’s technically a separate entity from the university, so Golden could have plausibly passed the buck on both the invitation and the dis-invitation, but instead he said “I own it,” which we thought impressive in this day and age. He removed Ivanka Trump from the official “virtual graduation ceremony” but didn’t censor her, adding a link to her videotaped “virtual commencement address” for anyone who wanted to hear it, which struck us as a reasonable compromise.
WSU is a crucial component of our humble prairie hometown, which is reeling along with the rest of the country from coronavirus and recession and racial tensions and all the rest of it, and we wish it the best. It’s right across the street from Kirby’s Beer Store, and we know many of its students and faculty, and have watched all construction and activity going on there with great interest. Our liberal friends grouse that Koch and the local aviation industry are driving everything to have a capable workforce, but so long as the fuzzier disciplines are funded we don’t share their concerns about that, and despite a slew of transfers a strong recruiting class should make the ‘Shocks competitive if there’s another basketball season next fall.
Free speech will persist, and Ivanka Trump’s feelings don’t matter, so go Shocks! If This Golden guy is the right guy to make that happen, we hope he lasts.
— Bud Norman