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17 West Virginia GOP Senators Condemn ‘Hate Speech’ In Letter To Marshall, WVU Presidents

In this file photo, Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, sits in a committee meeting during the 2020 legislative session.
Will Price
/
West Virginia Legislative Photography
In this file photo, Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, sits in a committee meeting during the 2020 legislative session.

Seventeen Republican West Virginia senators have penned a letter to the presidents of Marshall University and West Virginia University regarding controversies involving the coronavirus and protests of racial injustice.

In a letter dated Sunday, Sept. 20, Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, and 16 other Republicans from the upper chamber, addressed comments from a Marshall University professor on the coronavirus and the West Virginia University football team placing stickers on their helmets in support of Black Lives Matter. The letter was addressed to Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert and West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee.

“I find it disturbing that West Virginia University and Marshall University resources are being used to promote the very same hate speech that is inciting riots, asssassination of police officers, and denigration of our Republic,” Tarr wrote in the letter. “To this point, West Virginia has been very blessed that our citizens have not accepted this anarchist behavior. That does not mean we are immune to it.”

On Friday, Marshall University officials announced they were putting a professor on administrative leave after she made “overtly political” statements about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In a 44-second video posted to social media, College of Science assistant professor Jennifer Mosher said she hopes those who don’t wear masks die of the coronavirus before the election. Although little context is provided in the short clip, Mosher appears to criticize those who support President Donald Trump.

Controversy has also swirled at West Virginia University over its football team placing stickers with the letters “BLM” on helmets. The letters stand for Black Lives Matter, a protest movement that has swept the nation and world in recent years calling for an end to systemic racism and police brutality.

In the letter, the 17 senators outline the state funding received by each university — noting that West Virginia University receives more than $131 million annually and Marshall gets nearly $63 million each year. The senators go on to refer to Black Lives Matter as a “domestic terrorist group” and said the behavior from the West Virginia University football team and Mosher are “beyond any excuse.”

A sticker in support of Black Lives Matter can be seen in this cropped photo posted by West Virginia University defensive lineman Dante Stills to his Instagram account.
Dante Stills via Instagram
A sticker in support of Black Lives Matter can be seen in this cropped photo posted by West Virginia University defensive lineman Dante Stills to his Instagram account.

Those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement have been accused of inciting violence and destruction of property across the nation, although research published in the Journal of Political Communication suggests that protest tactics related to the movement are often perceived differently based on a person’s political affiliation. Additionally, according to records kept by the U.S. State Department, Black Lives Matter has not been designated as a terrorist organization.

All members of the West Virginia Senate’s Republican caucus except three — Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha and Ryan Weld, R-Brooke — signed Tarr’s letter to the university presidents.

Tarr and the others who signed on asked that Gilbert and Gee take “a very public and very demonstrable stance against such use of taxpayer resources” that are meant to better the state.

“The Universities with which you are charged to lead are the flagships of the great State of West Virginia. Please treat them as such, not as vehicles for anarchy or political propaganda,” Tarr and the others concluded.

 

Administrators of both universities responded with statements directed at the letter from Tarr and the co-signing lawmakers.

Marshall University provided a statement from Gilbert, focused on Mosher’s comments and subsequent suspension.

“Marshall University will not tolerate our employees using the classroom or other platforms to express hate toward individuals or wish harm on them because of their political beliefs or other opinions,” Gilbert said. “I personally abhor the actions of individuals who spew hate, intolerance, and incivility. As a university, we believe in respect of all ideas and all people. In terms of this particular situation, as is our practice as a state entity, an investigation has been launched.”

Gilbert also said the university’s chief academic officer will make a recommendation in terms of further action on the matter involving Mosher.

In a joint statement from West Virginia University and the school’s athletic department, officials at the state’s flagship school defended the players’ decision to put the Black Lives Matter stickers on their helmets.

“West Virginia University and its athletics department must ensure a safe and equitable environment for our students and staff. We have an obligation to peacefully stand up against hatred, intolerance and racism,” university officials said in a statement. “Our student-athletes and staff are united to bring about a positive and peaceful change to our great country. As Mountaineers, we would not have it any other way.”

“It’s important for our fans to know that this helmet sticker is not advocating for any organization or any political stance, violence, rioting, looting or destruction. The sticker is a call for unity, safety and equality,” they added.

Officials at West Virginia University went on to clarify that no taxpayer dollars were spent on the Black Lives Matter stickers that were placed on helmets. They noted that each student-athlete on the team voluntarily chose to allow the stickers to be placed.

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