Lawmakers come to Iowa student's defense after he stands up for conservative beliefs

University of Iowa student Michael Brase met with Iowa state lawmakers over free speech concerns.

UI previously threatened Brase with probation or dismissal due to his questioning of Critical Race Theory, as Campus Reform reported.

University of Iowa College of Dentistry student Michael Brase recently met with members of the Iowa State Legislature’s House Government Oversight Committee regarding concerns that UI is suppressing conservative speech on campus.

As reported by Campus Reform, the university had previously threatened Brase with probation or dismissal due to his questioning of the school’s condemnation of former President Donald Trump’s executive order banning Critical Race Theory in diversity training.

UI’s College of Dentistry sent a department-wide email in October denouncing the order, stating that it “strongly condemn[s] Executive Order 13950, which prohibits trainings that are crucial to progressing toward a more equitable and just society… [W]e stand unified against this order and its attack on people and free speech.” 

Brase, disagreeing with the sentiment expressed in the email, sent a reply to the college’s leadership and his fellow students.

As the order defines “race or sex stereotyping” as “ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, privileges, status, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of his or her race or sex,” Brase inquired as to why the university would “support using federal funds to promote trainings that include race/sex stereotyping and/or race/sex scapegoating” and “that teach that certain races/sexes are inherently or fundamentally oppressive, racist, sexist, etc.”

He added, “if the COD does not support the items listed in the previous questions, then what specifically about Executive Order 13950 does the COD condemn?”

[RELATED: U Iowa threatens probation for student who criticized Critical Race Theory, backtracks amid lawmaker’s involvement]

In November, Brase received a letter from UI’s Collegiate Academic and Professional Performance Committee, notifying him of a hearing regarding his “unprofessional behavior involving the follow-up emails.” The letter informed him that the committee could recommend he be placed on probation or dismissed from the university. Brase was additionally told that he would not be permitted to bring a lawyer to or record the hearing.

Brase then contacted several Republican state legislators, informing them of the situation and that he didn’t believe that he would “get fair and unbiased treatment within the school.” More than a dozen state representatives responded to him and state Rep. Steve Holt (R) met with College of Dentistry Dean David Johnsen and University of Iowa President Bruce Harreld to discuss the issue.

After Holt and his colleagues intervened, Brase received a letter from Johnson notifying him that the hearing had been canceled.

A number of Democrats on the Government Oversight committee questioned whether this issue was worth the committee’s time or if it was appropriate for the legislature to involve itself, however, Republican committee members took the opportunity to voice their support for Brase and to express their concern over what they say is the suppression of conservative speech by the university, the Daily Iowan reported.

Rep. Bobby Kaufmann (R) stated his support for the committee taking on the matter, saying that the issue certainly falls within the purview of the committee, while Rep. Jon Jacobson (R) expressed his solidarity with Brase, stating, “Mr. Brase you were bullied, and I feel very saddened with the fact that you were bullied.”

The legislators’ Democratic colleague, Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, however, stated that she doesn’t “think [Brase] should have brought the complaint to us,” “but Republican oversight members think it’s appropriate to bring it up. We’ll just deal with it.”

The committee was scheduled to hear from UI officials in a meeting on Feb. 3.

[RELATED: Free speech advocate blasts Syracuse University’s ‘PC campus culture’]

As the controversy surrounding the alleged suppression of conservative voices on UI’s campus continues to evolve, College of Dentistry students are partnering with Iowa City Black Lives Matter activists to protest in support of further diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives within the college.

A petition alleging that a learning environment exists within the College of Dentistry where “students question if their faculty or classmates will treat them differently based on the color of their skin” has garnered more than 1,000 signatures. The petition alleges that UI, despite the recent government hearing regarding the alleged suppression of conservative voices on campus, “silence[s] [the] voices of those that hold marginalized identities.”

Dentistry students marched January 29 to protest the university’s handling of diversity, equity, and inclusion concerns. The group responsible for organizing the march, the Action UIowa Task Force, says that there is a culture of discrimination and bias within UI and attributes that culture to, “a lack of diversity, equity and inclusion training for students, staff and faculty;” “a lack of recognition of cultural competency;” “absence of appropriate processes for accountability and compliance;” and “failure to recognize and emphasize the racial health disparities and systemic racism that exists in the dental profession.”

The University of Iowa expressed its commitment to creating “an inclusive and equitable environment” and announced plans to increase the diversity of its student body; hire a diversity, equity, and inclusion officer; and require that half of the university’s supervisors take one of UI’s training sessions on diversity every 3-5 years. 

[RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: MIT mandates diversity training; one student calls it ‘indoctrination’]

The Action UIowa Task Force, however, doesn’t believe that the university’s initiatives go far enough. The group demands that the university institute an “anonymous electronic reporting system for complaints and concerns” involving diversity, equity, and inclusion; create “revised, explicit professionalism guidelines;” mandate diversity, equity, and inclusion training for all College of Dentistry leadership; and review and revise its admissions processes.

The University of Iowa did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @kylehreynolds