But views were already being expressed this week, with a student protest march Thursday and a letter signed by 120 faculty members.
“It’s an honor to have a president on campus, no matter who the president is,” said Matthew Winslow, a professor of psychology who is chairman of the faculty senate. “This particular president has been hostile to higher education,” so they wanted to make clear their commitment to hearing a wide array of ideas, “as long as they can be debated in a respectful way."
The letter, which he signed, said opposition to the event was not based on the rally’s political message. Faculty members hold “a diverse set of political beliefs which mirror those of the student body and the Commonwealth as a whole," they wrote, and they are committed to encouraging expression of those opinions. “Yet we must object to this campaign which has consistently, openly, and unambiguously attacked the values of inquiry, learning, and free speech which lie at the heart of higher education and form the core mission of this University,” the letter said.
They wrote that Trump’s administration has consistently sought to undermine the legitimacy of scientific inquiry, tried to shut down the evaluation of ideas and sought to discredit the principles of debate and free speech.
Faculty members had heard from students frightened about the possibility of violence at the rally, they wrote, and they said ensuring the safety of people on campus would be costly for the university and law enforcement.
There are certainly professors at EKU who are pleased to see Trump on campus, said Gerald Nachtwey, an associate professor of English. Others asked to sign the letter after it had been sent Wednesday. Some professors told Nachtwey they wanted to sign but were afraid given the political atmosphere, he said, “which speaks to me about why we had to do it in the first place.”
Dawn Rothe, a professor and chairwoman of the School of Justice Studies, signed the letter and said by phone Thursday she was concerned about the tremendous cost the university would bear, and the potential for violence.
At least one state leader was dismissive of faculty concerns. Ken Upchurch, a Republican member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, wrote on social media:
Some students marched on campus and gave speeches Thursday objecting to the planned rally.
Did you not take into consideration those of us who are survivors of assult, those of us who are LGBT, those of us who are POC, those of us who are different religions @EKUPrez ? Because if diversity was so important to you, Trump would be banned from campus. #EKU @eku— Plain Jayne🌻 (@Amarislowell5) October 10, 2018
And some people wrote on social media that they welcomed the visit.
A representative from the Trump campaign issued a statement Thursday saying the rally “will give President Trump a great opportunity to visit with patriots from all over Kentucky. The President is looking forward to celebrating the booming Trump economy and encouraging all Kentuckians to get out and vote in the midterms.”
The school’s student-body president declined to comment. A leader of the campus chapter of College Republicans did not respond to a request for comment.
After hearing from concerned students this week, the university’s president, Michael T. Benson, wrote to them Thursday, explaining that the school can’t use people’s political views as a reason to stop them from renting the university’s public spaces. He asked all students, both those offended by Trump’s statements and those who are excited to hear him, to express themselves respectfully.
“The event this Saturday neither defines who we are nor what we stand for,” he wrote, “but it can provide a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other, to buoy each other up, and to stand for our own principled perspectives.”