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TSU student hopes speech dispute will boost his race for HCC trustee


The second-year Texas Southern University law student responsible for Rep. Briscoe Cain’s visit says buzz from Monday’s canceled event may propel his own candidacy for Houston Community College’s board of trustees.

Daniel Caldwell, who is challenging Carolyn Evans-Shabazz for the District IV seat, garnered national attention this week after Cain’s speech was canceled amid student protests. He accused TSU President Austin Lane of “silencing the opposition” and not respecting the law school dean’s authority within the school.


“I would be naïve if I didn’t expect it to have a boost effect (on the campaign),” he said.

Cain, a Baytown-area Republican, was met by protesters in TSU’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law on Monday. The university said it called off the event – promoted as a review of the state Legislature’s special session – because it was not scheduled in accordance with school policy. In a statement this week, the TSU administration noted that the group is not registered with the university, though its law school said it recognizes the group.

Cain was elected to represent District 128 in 2016, and is a member of the Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republicans that has sparred with more moderate Republican members of the Texas House of Representatives.

He is no stranger to campus speech issues, an increasingly politicized topic Republicans have used to criticize universities as too liberal.

Free speech bill

Cain authored a bill last session that would have required universities to extend freedom of assembly and expression provisions to all common outdoor areas of campus and to both recognized and unrecognized student groups. In a statement Tuesday, Cain called for an interim hearing on campus speech before the next legislative session.

Caldwell organized Cain’s event through the TSU chapter of the Federalist Society, a national right-leaning law group. He registered the campus organization with the law school, but not the university, last spring.

TSU’s freedom of expression policy does not stipulate that only campus organizations registered with the university can host speakers. The university declined to elaborate on exactly what rule Caldwell’s group broke.

“The university has a right to regulate time, place and manner (of speech),” Lane said at the event, a statement echoed in TSU’s freedom of expression policy.

The university affirmed the importance of free speech in a statement and invited Cain to return to campus at a university-approved event.

Caldwell previously campaigned unsuccessfully for Austin Community College’s board and for a seat on Dallas City Council. He has lived in HCC’s District IV, in south central Houston, for about a year, according to documents filed with HCC.

He said in an interview Wednesday that he expected his Cain event to kick off the year for his student group. Caldwell said he first met Cain at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in the summer of 2016. He said he asked the lawmaker to speak on campus over the summer.

“The point was not to draw a protest,” he said. “The point was to have a wildly successful event.”

Thurgood Marshall School of Law Dean James Douglas said Wednesday that Caldwell spoke with him about the event several months ago.

“I told him he had a right to invite people, just like every other student,” he said. “This is an academic environment; that’s the way I treat it.”

He declined to comment on whether he believed Caldwell’s First Amendment rights were violated by the cancellation of the event. He said he is investigating to figure out exactly what happened.

In footage posted to Twitter by KHOU’s Janelle Bludau, students chanted in the classroom where Cain was speaking: “When a racist comes to town, shut it down.”

At least one protester was removed from the room by campus police.

The president was greeted with cheers from protesters when he said the event would be canceled.

“What you are seeing today is an unapproved event,” Lane said at a podium on Monday in recorded footage. “I think there is a student organization that set up the event. We appreciate you doing that (but) we have to make sure that it goes through the appropriate channels.”

Miles backs TSU

Lane was meeting with Sen. Borris Miles, a Houston Democrat, elsewhere on campus on Monday, and the lawmaker accompanied him into the auditorium where Lane canceled the event.

“It was evident that the university administration was not adequately informed about the unauthorized meeting and made the correct decision to postpone the meeting because of the escalating tensions and lack of security,” Miles said in a statement. “This was nothing more than miscommunication between different entities at TSU, and I explained that to Rep. Briscoe Cain.”

A campus free speech advocacy group disagreed.

The Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said in a statement that Lane erred in canceling the event. Lane, it said, could have encouraged protesters to continue demonstrating outside and let the event continue but instead granted “the hecklers’ demand to shut down a discussion.”

“Lane chose poorly, depriving the audience of hearing a scheduled speaker and of the opportunity to express their misgivings – or agreement – with his political views,” the group wrote.

Cain did not respond to requests for comment.

It was the second time this year TSU’s administration canceled an event by a Republican politician.

Last spring, the school canceled a scheduled commencement address by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate. The administration said it made the decision to cancel Cornyn’s address amid concerns about protests in an attempt to keep the focus on the students’ graduation celebration.



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