The outgoing University of Miami president tapped to head the Clinton Foundation once tried to block a conservative group founded by four female students from organizing on campus.
Donna Shalala, who also served as former President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Health and Human Services, was recently hand-picked to take over as CEO of the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to global health and to improving health and wellness for women and girls.
It was the 2002-2003 school year when Shalala and her university administration rejected an upstart group, Advocates for Conservative Thought, on the grounds that it would be redundant since the school already had a College Republicans chapter.
ACT’s four female founders, Colleen Donovan, Nathalia Gillot, Andrea Kiser and Sarah Canale, began organizing in late 2002.
The group was dedicated to “the exposition and promotion of conservative principles and ideas in society” and hoped to carry the message through sponsored lectures and the distribution of literature.
In accordance with Shalala’s policy governing student groups, ACT was required to gain approval from the Committee on Student Organizations.
Official recognition would grant the organization access to university facilities and resources and to the school’s website. Without the approval, the group would not be able to promote itself or its activities on campus.
But Shalala’s administration rejected the group three times — in November and December of 2002 and in January 2003. ACT pushed back against the school’s argument that it would be redundant, pointing out that College Republicans endorse a specific party and specific candidates. Some of ACT’s founders were registered Democrats who advocated for conservative values, they argued.
“The University of Miami is perpetuating an injustice,” Thor Halvorssen, then the chief executive officer of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said at the time. “President Shalala’s inaction is a scandal. We will stand by these students, as we would stand by any group of students suffering unequal treatment for wishing to express their ideas.”
FIRE backed ACT with several letters to Shalala and COSO. The free speech group pointed out that the University of Miami hosted a number of organizations with shared values. The school had multiple Muslim groups, a number of groups for black students, multiple groups for Asian and Hispanic students and a couple for environmentalists.
FIRE sent a letter to Shalala on April 7, 2003, and received response that a policy change was “under consideration.” But COSO followed up with its decision weeks later, informing the group that it would not be approved but could apply again the following semester. No guarantees were provided.
That response generated outrage and national media coverage.
Under growing pressure, Shalala finally caved and called for a reversal of the policy.
“I have asked Committee on Student Organizations to implement a new policy that is consistent with the principles of free speech, academic freedom and competition,” Shalala said in a May 4, 2003, statement.
“The subject matter [of an organization] should not be subject to review,” she said. “You cannot make a judgment on substance.”
Shalala served as HHS secretary for the duration of Clinton’s term. Prior to that she was chancellor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Shalala takes over the Foundation amid two storms circling the Clintons — one involving Hillary Clinton’s use of private email as secretary of state and the other concerning the Foundation’s fundraising practices. The charity took money from foreign nations while Clinton headed the State Department. It also accepted money from countries that have been criticized for human rights violations, including violations against women and girls.
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