A faculty leader at the University of Montana encouraged colleagues Thursday to pursue equity and inclusion at the flagship despite news Stephen Bannon would not speak in Missoula as earlier announced.
The controversial former chief strategist for President Donald Trump had been identified as the keynote speaker at the 2018 ACE Advances in Computer Technology in Entertainment conference. The event fizzled out after academics boycotted the conference in part because of the selection of the keynote speaker.
This week, the conference organizer said Bannon, a nationalist, was unavailable.
However, UM faculty already had started formulating a response to the visit, and a petition called "Support Inclusivity in the Face of White Nationalism" was linked to the Faculty Senate agenda.
"As a university community located in a state with the highest per capita instance of hate groups in the country, we recognize our responsibility to speak out against the traditions and present practice of white supremacy in all its forms from hate speech to homicide," said the petition. "Given the recent instances of leafletting and other white supremacist activity on our campus and across the state, we are compelled to raise our voices against these actions.
"We also recognize and remain committed to the principle of free speech and the practice of civil discourse."
The event had been scheduled to take place on campus, but UM was not a sponsor.
Thursday, Faculty Senate Chair Matt Semanoff said he had been moved in his career by scholars who had wartime experiences. The associate professor of the classics said classicists who escaped persecution in other countries were accepted into American academia and influenced its current form.
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"All the work that we do today depends on this tradition of openness and inclusivity," Semanoff said.
Faculty senators did not discuss the petition, but as of Thursday night, 572 people had signed the measure.
Last month, flyers from a white nationalist group called Identity Evropa appeared around UM and other Montana campuses, and the group tweeted about its activity. At the time, UM faculty member Tobin Miller Shearer said the group might have been hoping to recruit disenfranchised young white people who might have been drawn to Bannon.
In a video posted with the petition (available with a click on the lead graphic), Miller Shearer introduced the reason for the statement.
"Of all the things you can and should do when white nationalists show up in your community, one of the most important is to make absolutely clear that you do not share their values," said Miller Shearer, head of the African American studies at UM.
He invited community supporters to sign the petition.
"We express our unequivocal opposition to the principles of white nationalism and white supremacy that Steve Bannon has and continues to promote through his speeches, policy initiatives, and public writings," the measure said.
This story has been corrected with the name of UM faculty member Tobin Miller Shearer.