Government

Iowa lawmaker revising 'Suck it up, Buttercup' bill

Kaufmann believes relevance remains as Trump takes office

Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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A Republican lawmaker spent Monday revising language in his widely-publicized “Suck it Up, Buttercup” bill to create stiffer penalties for protesters who block traffic on highways.

And, noting accounts that allege University of Iowa professors encouraged a Nov. 11 anti-Trump protest that briefly blocked Interstate 80, Rep, Bobby Kauffman said he wants repercussions for faculty who organize such activities.

“There needs to be some sort of accountability,” said Kaufmann, R-Wilton. “That’s not what professors should be doing.”

His “Suck it Up, Buttercup” bill — announced in November — initially gained wide publicity for its aim of preventing colleges and universities in Iowa from using public money to provide extra counseling and services for students, faculty and staff upset over the presidential election.

That idea grew out of news reports of campuses nationally dedicating resources to the reaction — including at the University of Michigan Law School, where a “postelection self-care” event offered coloring, Play-Doh and bubbles.

Kaufmann said he checked with Iowa’s public universities and found none used taxpayer dollars to provide similar counseling or “cry rooms.”

“Iowa dealt with things responsibly,” he said. “So that part of the bill isn’t needed.”

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But, Kaufmann stressed, “I haven’t come to my senses and changed my mind” about a need for the bill.

He remains concerned with how the postelection response was and continues to be handled on university campuses — now with Trump’s inauguration upcoming.

‘Some of them were threatened’

Emails obtained by The Gazette show UI students on both sides of the political aisle felt persecuted after the election, and Kaufmann said that’s a problem.

He’s proposing financial penalties or even suspension for professors “caught pushing any particular ideology onto a student.”

One email that was sent Nov. 17 to Provost Barry Butler from College of Education Dean Danial Clay shared an anonymous letter from a conservative student who reported threats.

“I was told by one teacher how terrible it is that I think any man can just grab a woman,” the student wrote. “I have been told by classmates that I should go to hell or that I deserved to die.”

The student reported classmates with similar political leanings “have tried to speak up and defend themselves only to be criticized and called names and told how terrible of people they are.”

“Some of them were threatened,” the student wrote. “One was told that she was going to get the (expletive) beat out of her. For a college that preaches about acceptance and inclusion of all people, I have never seen so much blatant prejudice and intolerance.”

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Later that day, Clay sent a message to his college community, condemning the behavior and noting it’s against UI policy “and against the values of our college.”

In the days after the election, UI administrators also fielded reports of hate speech and violence from the other side of the political spectrum.

One faculty member wrote Nov. 9 about an exchange during an on-campus rally.

“I have some concerns about my own safety right now,” read the message sent to Karen Heimer, chair of the UI Department of Sociology. “I attended a support rally for students today and we had some white male students taking photos, laughing, wearing Trump memorabilia. Students were literally in tears.”

In response, Vice President of Student Life Tom Rocklin in a Nov. 10 email reported that trained UI staff would be at future rallies.

“These are not attempts to squelch speech, but rather to encourage reflection,” Rocklin wrote, adding, “It would be very powerful if faculty members were also there to engage in these conversations.”

Administrators at the time discussed training faculty to do that.

Associate Professor Edward Gillan responded to the emails by stressing the need for such training, noting: “We certainly have faculty who feel very passionately about the outcome of our recent election, in ways that may cloud their judgment during direct engagements with boisterous students vocally supporting a candidate that they opposed.”

In response to questions from The Gazette, UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said the Office of the Dean of Students has reached out to faculty and plans to develop a “joint educational session,” although nothing has been scheduled.

‘I did participate’

John Logdson, a UI biology professor who participated in the protest that culminated on the interstate, criticized Kaufmann’s proposal to penalize professors.

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“I’m not sure of a mechanism by which that could be enforced, other than through the standard academic mechanisms — and there are such mechanisms,” Logsdon said.

Even though he didn’t walk onto the interstate for the protest, “I did participate in the rally and march and will continue to do so as a private citizen,” he said.

Kaufmann’s proposed bill would address not just faculty involvement in highway-stopping protests. It would aim to curtail organization and broad participation by proposing leaders of such activities — regardless of who they are — be slapped with an aggravated misdemeanor instead of a simple jaywalking charge.

His legislation suggests fines of $1,000 for participants and criminal penalties for organizers. Fine revenue would go into a mental health fund, Kaufmann said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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