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Kentucky College Disciplines Professor for Vandalizing Pro-Life Display

BY STEVE WEATHERBE

Register Correspondent

April 30-May 6, 2006 Issue | Posted 5/1/06 at 10:00 AM

 

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Sally Jacobsen, a Northern Kentucky University professor who led a group of graduate students on a rampage against a campus pro-life display, has been suspended from teaching and is awaiting word from the local county prosecutor whether she will be charged over the incident.

“We’d like to see charges pressed,” said Katie Walker, president of Northern Right to Life, the month-old student pro-life group that erected the targeted display. “Our rights were trampled on quite openly in public with a reporter taking pictures.”

Added Walker, “If charges are not laid, it will set a precedent. I would expect a future renegade professor to do the same thing.”

Jacobsen, an English professor for 27 years at Northern Kentucky who is due for retirement at the end of this semester, asked her graduate class in British literature on April 12 “if any students wanted to participate in practicing their freedom of speech in destroying the very offensive right to life, anti-abortion display in the central plaza,” the Cincinnati Post reported April 14.

Tearing Up Signs

Some did. One student who went along solely as an observer, however, was Sarah Lohman, editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, the Northerner. She also took pictures, which appear to show students and Jacobsen happily tearing up signs and crosses and dumping them in trash cans around the Cincinnati-area campus.

The display of 400 crosses, which is titled “The Cemetery of the Innocent,” represents the 4,000 abortions Northern Right to Life says are committed daily in the United States.

Northern Right to Life members were quickly alerted and recovered all but 60 of the crosses, which they reassembled and replanted that same evening. The university administration swiftly censured Jacobsen, requesting she take a two-week leave until her retirement began.

Northern Kentucky President James Votruba issued a statement April 18.

“While the university supports the right to free speech and vigorous debate on public issues, we cannot condone infringement of the rights of others to express themselves in an orderly manner,” he said. “By leading her students in the destruction of an approved student organization display, Professor Sally Jacobsen’s actions were inconsistent with NKU’s commitment to free and open debate.”

Jacobsen, who did not return the Register’s calls and has refused other media contacts since shortly after the vandalism, initially justified her actions by saying she felt “horribly violated” by the display of crosses. A woman going through abortions, said Jacobsen, “should not be slapped in the face by her university by calling her a scarlet woman,” the Post reported.

Responded Walker, “It doesn’t matter how it made her feel. We can’t hide from things just because they make us feel uncomfortable. And we have a constitutional right to put up our display.”

Walker, a sophomore and journalism major, said she and other pro-lifers on campus decided it was time to organize their group after a group of pro-abortion faculty organized themselves under the name “Educators for Reproductive Freedom.”

“We felt it was wrong that our fellow students who have grown up under Roe v. Wade might simply accept abortion without question,” she said. “They don’t realize that a third of our generation has been murdered.”

Lauren Macke, Northern Right to Life’s secretary, agreed.

“Women facing abortions have the right to know the truth about abortion, even if it makes them feel guilty,” she said. “And they have the right to know that there are alternatives to abortion like adoption.”

Like Walker, Macke believes Jacobsen should be charged but says the matter is up to the county prosecutor, not the pro-life group. But Macke doesn’t think Jacobsen’s students should be charged, believing they were misled by the professor into thinking their action was legal, or went along under duress.

Macke says that the campus has been very supportive of the pro-life group.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of support even from pro-choice people,” she said. “It’s really meant a lot.”

Most of the pro-life group’s members are Catholic. Msgr. Gilbert Rutz, Northern Kentucky’s Catholic chaplain, said, “I’m very proud of the Northern Right to Life group.”

Even members of the Educators for Reproductive Freedom have distanced themselves from Jacobsen’s action. One member, professor Nancy Hancock, said, “We did not know about it and we do not condone it.”

The head of one national organization that routinely mounts controversial pro-life displays on university campuses says many academics are surprised that freedom of thought “applies to people they disagree with and not just to their own freedom.”

Greg Cunningham of the California-based Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, relates how professors “come up in a rage and demand to know who gave us permission to put up our display. I tell them ‘Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison.’”

Cunningham said that without the First Amendment right to free speech, most American universities would not let the center on campus with its controversial Genocide Awareness Project, which juxtaposes pictures of victims of genocide in Nazi Germany and Rwanda with those of aborted babies.

“They let us on campus because we let them know we will sue them if they don’t,” Cunningham said. “And we also let them know that they need to provide security and if they don’t we will sue them for the damages and injuries that result.”

Steve Weatherbe is based in

Victoria, British Columbia.