Lawmakers upset with Missouri-Kansas City chancellor

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Some Republican Missouri lawmakers are calling for the resignation of University of Missouri-Kansas City Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal over what they say was his inadequate response to the disruption of a conservative speaker's appearance last week.

Lawmakers also threatened to reduce the university's budget to "make a statement" about what they consider an increase in liberal intolerance on college campuses, The Kansas City Star reported.

University students on Thursday interrupted an anti-transgender speech by conservative Michael Knowles, a contributor to the Daily Wire website. As other students booed and began to walk out, one student rushed the stage and used a water gun to shoot a mix of lavender oil and other nontoxic substances toward Knowles, who wasn't injured.

The student, Gerard Dabu, was tackled by campus police and later charged with disturbing the peace, assault on law enforcement, property damage and resisting arrest. He was also suspended and banned from campus during the investigation.

Agrawal issued a statement the next day saying the students' treatment of Knowles "crossed a line." He said the school was committed to free speech and maintaining a safe environment for all points of view, "even extreme ones."

The chancellor also called Knowles "a speaker whose professed opinions do not align with our commitment to diversity and inclusion and our goal of providing a welcoming environment to all people, particularly to our LGBT community." Knowles denounced the chancellor's statement during an appearance later on Fox News.

Agrawal issued a second statement as lawmakers discussed the issue Monday night.

"My original statement may have given an indication that UMKC does not support freedom of expression for all. I apologize if I've given that impression, for that was not my intention," Agrawal wrote. "It is not the university's role to take sides, but to rise to the higher principle of promoting a respectful exchange of ideas for our students to form their own views and engage in critical thinking."

University of Missouri System President Mun Choi told House lawmakers during a Wednesday hearing on the incident that he still has faith in Agrawal and is confident that he's committed to free speech.

Choi later told reporters that he doesn't feel pressured to fire the chancellor, although Republican Rep. Robert Ross during the hearing had asked him "at what point would a staff member not be worth that trade off in a reduced amount of your budget?"

"Am I willing to sacrifice a person for the sake of getting more money from the state?" Choi said. "The answer is, in my case I'm going to be fair to the individual."

On Monday night, Sen. David Sater, a Cassville Republican and a member of the Appropriations Committee, was among those calling for Agrawal's resignation during a discussion on the floor of the Missouri Senate. Sen. Gary Romine, a Farmington Republican, said the Senate needed to make a statement, adding: "Intolerance has taken on a different swing of the pendulum at this time."

Democratic Sen. Jason Holsman, who district includes the university, urged lawmakers to give Agrawal time to clarify.

"The rest of the students do not deserve to be in the cross-hairs of an appropriations battle over words you find distasteful from the chancellor," Holsman said.

St. Louis Democratic Rep. Peter Merideth told Agrawal during the House hearing that he's "much more concerned with our reaction to your reaction."

"That I find much more troubling than anything you said," Merideth said.

Police said the liquid shot at Knowles was a mixture of lavender oil and nontoxic household liquids. The color and scent of lavender have been adopted by the LGBTQ community as a symbol for transgender solidarity.

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com