GWU President Triggers Free Speech Fight After Declaring Posters Criticizing the Chinese Government Offensive

Mark Wrighton, the new president of George Washington University, triggered a national free speech controversy when he declared that he was “personally offended” by posters criticizing the Chinese government’s hosting of the Olympics. The posters attacked China for its human rights record, including allegations of genocide against the Uyghur Muslim minority. Wrighton not only declared his outrage at the political posters but suggested that an investigation would be launched. He later back-tracked and issued a statement Monday that the posters are political speech and would not be investigated. Wrighton admitted that “I should have taken more time to understand the entire situation before commenting.” The university came to the correct position but the initial response of President Wrighton was wrong and chilling for free speech on our campus.  The posters are jarring in their stark and violent images. Moreover, I do not think that President Wrighton is dismissive of the human rights allegations. However, the actions taken in this case were dismissive, initially, of the values of free speech.The posters were obvious political expression on an important controversy over human rights. However, the Chinese Cultural Association wrote online “In American society, freedom of political expression is everyone’s right, but inciting racial hatred and ethnic conflicts is not allowed regardless of national borders.” That claim of free speech as harmful is an all-too-common rationale today for shutting down speech on campuses. It is the very basis used by authoritarian countries like China to crush dissenters.The CCA added

“The school accepted the complaint from the students and stated that the school police would be instructed to investigate the incident. A person in charge of the school’s multicultural office expressed regret that this harmful and offensive poster was posted on the school. The principal also responded to the incident, saying that the content of these posters also offended him….The central ideas expressed are not based on indisputable opinions but, on the contrary, on highly controversial political disputes.”

The university should have responded that free speech does not have to be “indisputable” to be allowed. Indeed, it is most valuable in exercising dissenting views on controversies of our time. The CCA was wrong in my view to file the complaint to seek action to silence these views rather than responding with its own posters and viewpoints.

In his initial statement, Wrighton said that he was “personally offended by the posters” and said the school was “working to have all of these offensive posters removed as soon as possible.” He added that “I treasure the opportunity to work with talented people from all over the world, including China . . . I, too, am saddened by this terrible event, and we will undertake an effort to determine who is responsible.”

This was not a “terrible event.” It was an example of free and open debate at an institution of higher education.  The immediate impulse to tear down the posters (and launch an investigation) is alarming from any president of a major university. While Wrighton showed the integrity to admit his error, his initial inclination to shutdown free speech shocked many of us in the free speech community. It is the type of hair-triggered censorship that has eroded free speech on our campus and the comfort level of students in speaking out on issues.

We previously discussed a new study showing that sixty-five (65) percent agreed that people on campus today are prevented from speaking freely. The poll is additional evidence of the failure of administrators and faculty to maintain campuses as forums for free thought and intellectual engagement. This study shows that conservatives and Republicans on campus feel the loss of free speech most acutely. That is consistent with other studies. For example, an earlier poll at the University of North Carolina found that conservative students are 300 times more likely to self-censor themselves due to the intolerance of opposing views on our campuses.


The posters in this case were obviously political speech even with the most cursory review. The 2022 Winter Games have been dubbed the “Genocide Olympics” by critics who believe the competition should not be held in the country. The posters featured drawings made by Badiucao, a dissident Chinese artist, who published a screenshot of Wrighton’s initial email and demanded “an explanation why exposing CCP’s abuse offends him.”

“It is misleading & ignorant to call my art ‘anti-China’ or ‘racist’ giving fact I am Chinese artist,” the artist wrote on Twitter. “The smear campaign from CCP affiliated groups like this directly harms #FreeSpeech in [universities] … [GWU] must protest & defend rights of its students to voice out for human rights.”

The Olympic face plant for the university in this controversy was due to the same censor-first-inquire-later approach that we have seen from other universities. Presidents are often eager to get ahead of controversies by yielding to demands to silence critics or dissenting voices. In some cases like the Smith controversy, university presidents have refused to admit error even after extensive changes were ordered and staff wrongly implicated.

In this case, President Wrighton on Monday stated:

“Last week, the university learned of posters on campus depicting images that alarmed some members of our community, and we began to receive a number of concerns through official university reporting channels that cited bias and racism against the Chinese community. I also received an email directly from a student who expressed concerns.

“At that time, and without more context on the origin or intent of the posters, I responded hastily to the student, writing that I, too, was concerned. University staff also responded to ensure the posters were removed. These responses were mistakes. Every member of the GW community should feel welcome and supported, but I should have taken more time to understand the entire situation before commenting.”

I remain concerned about the controversy and the statement that “University staff also responded to ensure the posters were removed.” Who made that decision?

Someone at the university decided to rip down political posters. The university should have some process of review before such an extraordinary act is ordered by any official or office. Indeed, it should have a committee that can be called upon to review such an emergency request and allow members to advise the President before the university censors speech.

Wrighton added “There is no university investigation underway, and the university will not take any action against the students who displayed the posters. I want to be very clear: I support freedom of speech—even when it offends people—and creative art is a valued way to communicate on important societal issues.”

Again, I am thankful to President Wrighton for admitting his error, but the university needs to recognize the lingering concerns over this incident. It is hard to assure people that you are a supporter of freedom of speech on the heels of an impulsive act of censorship. We need to explore reforms, including the suggested committee, to offer more than personal testimonials to support free speech at George Washington University.

George Washington once famously remarked that “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” As an institution of higher education, we are dedicated to fighting ignorance and intolerance. Free speech and academic freedom are the values that are the essential elements in achieving that mission. In this instance, the university and its president failed in our commitment to the school and our students.


149 thoughts on “GWU President Triggers Free Speech Fight After Declaring Posters Criticizing the Chinese Government Offensive”

  1. Since when do the citizens of Commie China represent all Asians? Their claim that the posters were racist seems to fly in the face of logic since the posters were aimed at a Nation, not a race or ethnic group. But that is what all ideologues from the left do, they scream RACE in order to obfuscate the issue at hand, which is their national practice of slavery and totalitarianism.

  2. From his statement, this all started due to posters which “alarmed some members of our community”.

    It is important to have complete transparency on such accusations. Name all those who were alarmed so that they may be personally assured by patriots in the community.

  3. How many Phd’s does this Dean have? How many Masters?

    My point is. These are the credentialed that insist THEY and they alone are to be trusted to govern the rest of us.

    This man is self identified as being uninformed.
    But I ask. How informed would a person have to be to first side with a FOUNDATIONAL pillar of the United States? This is NOT a complicated situation.

    Someone earlier question his response of calling for a police response, and asked what crime the President thought was committed. How about the Chief of Police? Did he tell the President to take a hike and stay in his lane? If not, just another data point that the rot is deep.

  4. (OT)

    Several people have already pleaded guilty to and been sentenced for crimes committed at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

    Among those who are pleading not guilty, the first trial is set for Feb. 28 — Guy Reffitt of Texas, who is accused of “four crimes relating to Congress’s meeting at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, to certify the Electoral College vote for president. First, he is charged with obstructing an official proceeding for allegedly interfering with Congress’s meeting. Second, he is charged with being unlawfully present on the Capitol grounds while armed with a firearm. Third, he is charged with transporting firearms during a civil disorder. Fourth, he is charged with interfering with law enforcement officers during a civil disorder. The government has also charged Mr. Reffitt with obstructing justice based on statements he made to his children while at home in Wylie, Texas, around January 11, 2021.”

    Details here:

  5. Freedom of Speech actually helps legislators of both parties to govern better, if they support “bottom-up” democratic government within constitutional out-of-bounds. The problem today is many legislators (not all) of both parties support a “top-down” foreign model of government.

  6. A few questions:

    1. What is the CCA and what is its connection, if any, to the CCP, including through its funding?

    2. How much funding, if any, does George Washington University receive from China?

    3. Who ordered the posters to be taken down and have they put them back up?

    4. The department of diversity, equity, and etc. appears to have been involved here. Is GWU investigating to see what they did and why, and to consider disciplinary action and additional procedures to safeguard free speech?

    Interestingly, the CCA wrote that the Covid poster was the most offensive, more so than the ones about Tibet, the Uyghurs, HK and surveillance. They expressed concern about promoting the lab-leak “conspiracy theory.”

    The DEI departments that have grown up here like mushrooms after the rain are the equivalent of political commissars embedded by communist parties in all significant institutions in communist countries. It is no surprise that the CCA and “Chinese students” at GWU petitioned them to shut down political speech they didn’t like.

    1. Daniel’s comment:
      “The DEI departments that have grown up here like mushrooms after the rain are the equivalent of political commissars embedded by communist parties in all significant institutions in communist countries.”

      SPOT ON! In universities and in corporations. Anyone who grew up during the 60s and 70s will know all about the power of the Soviet political commissars and the fear they struck in ordinary Russians just doing their jobs.

      1. “We will take America without firing a single shot…we will destroy you from within.” (1956?). Nikita Krushchev

    2. Exactly. Universities and businesses have ceded way too much power to DEI departments. Cat’s out of the bag, though, how do you get it back?

      1. They all need to be fired. There is no reason for those departments to exist. Then each institution could simply do its job, based on the standards of competence that apply to it. Discrimination based on race has been illegal for decades (other than affirmative action which operates in some blurry legal status), and it doesn’t take a department of political commissars to comply with the law.

  7. Jeffsilberman: Yikes! The good professor has the courage and integrity to call out his own true employer, GWU, as “wrong” on a speech issue…. Do you need to apologetically rethink your incessant criticism of him for not calling out “his employer (sic)” FOX News?

    1. Lin, that is a good point. I always worry about the Professor and wonder what type of grief he gets writing as a civil libertarian. Do you think anyone has attempted to influence his speech?

      1. S. Meyer: I would hope and suggest that he gains far more respect than he does grief… Can’t answer your question, but if he is capable of being influenced, I hope we can “influence” him with our respect and kudos.

      1. Every time Jeff comments, the imagery of a dog humping his victim comes to mind. Look at Jeff like you would at this Chihuahua: with pity and humor


        1. Nah, that image calls to mind people like Ronna McDaniel, Mark Meadows, and Kevin McCarthy.

      2. Apparently you never studied psychology or behavior modification.”A negative behavior will continue to escalate when ignored….Eventually it will cease when it receives only negative feedback.”

  8. This news story is another example of failing university leadership. Presidents, provosts, and deans should be leading when it comes to freedom of speech and academic freedom. Instead, they do the opposite. Stop federal funding od universities.

  9. Mark Wrighton’s anti-American impulse to tear down the posters of those who dissent from a communist government that allows slave labor and engages in genocide and torture but that gives large sums of money to American universities makes him today the perfect university president. No American guts but lots of grants.

  10. Your first reaction is usually your ingrained gut reaction. No one is fooled by backtracking.

    1. Maybe…. but don’t we, should not we expect more careful thought , words and actions from University presidents?

      Knee- jerk reactions by these very powerful, influential people too often results in foot in mouth disease at best and trampling the first amendment right of freedom of speech at worst.

      And this is not unique to university presidents, we have seen this time and time again by senators, congresspeople, presidents ( US) , corporate leaders et al.

  11. Maybe the best solution is “Consumer-Voting” with our dollars and asking Congress to mandate a “Country of Origin” label on all products, especially those advertised online.

    If consumers (you and me) stop sending our dollars to nations that practice human rights abuses, that is the most powerful freedom tool there is. Stop pointing fingers at our leaders, we need to stop funding despotic regimes.

  12. Well, let’s throw some spaghetti here and see if it sticks to the wall. I am pro-life, and nearly everyone is shocked and dismayed when shown pictures of REAL aborted babies. You would have to be at a hardcore pro-life protest to see these posters. Could we substitute the subject above to include posters like this? And the genocide is much larger than the Uyghur episode. The truth can be a tough thing to face.

  13. When did it become “anti-Chinese” bigotry to be critical of the CCP? When we were critical (not the left, they always loved the Soviets) of the USSR not one person was ever called anti-Russian. When we were critical of Cuba under Castro (again not the left) we were never called racist against Cubans or Hispanic people and in fact Cubans themselves were and are in the forefront of criticism of communism in Cuba. Only now does the left use their tired shibboleth of faux racism when defending the Chinese COMMUNISTS.

    Another angle of the story should be to look into the “Chinese Student Association” on campus to see if there are any ties, financial or other, to the CCP. Why would students be demanding fealty to the state? Has that ever happened anywhere or at any time? How many university seats at our schools are taken up by students sent here from our enemy?

    1. Each and every Chinese student in the US is here with permission from the Chinses government. Without that permission, these students can simply not travel to the US. We educate and train their best and brightest. Next, we offer them jobs in the US at our universities and top research institutes and top businesses. The argument is that we should not let that talent go to waste. Let me be clear, all these students are effectively Chinese agents (whether they want to or not) and every discovery and important research is shared with China which in this way has no R&D costs.

  14. “the school police would be instructed to investigate the incident.”

    Exactly what crime was committed to call for a police investigation? This guy was selected to be the President of GWU? Maybe those who selected this person should be investigated?

  15. “And when they came for me, there was no one to help.” I can’t believe a university doesn’t understand they need to be involved at least on a poster level to letting the world know just what is going on. Try mass murder and note that the Afghans who are now friendly with the Chinese don’t seem to be even aware of how their fellow Muslims are being treated close by but in China.

    1. Mark Wrighton, an academic chemist by training, does not care about genocide, human rights, nor ethics violations in academia. He became GWU President on Jan 1, 2022 and he has wasted no time shilling for the CCP, the mother of human rights violations and academic fraud. According to Wiki and a link to a government sponsored CCP university that was removed by the Chinese but captured on wayback:

      Wrighton inaugurated the McDonnell International Scholars Academy as Chancellor at Washington University.[25] He brought Washington University into the University Alliance of the Silk Road, the academic arm of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, as the first North American partner.[25] He serves as the only American member of the Executive Committee of the Universities Alliance of the Silk Road. – Wiki

      Reference 25:

      During the event, XJTU installed Washington University in St. Louis as the first North American member of the University Alliance of the Silk Road (UASR). Washington University Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, plenary speaker for the anniversary conference, accepted the honor for the university in a signing ceremony and joined the UASR executive committee.

      Wrighton is the only American academic affiliated with the CCP USAR.

      In medical research we depend on scholarly articles published by global researchers to help us elucidate molecular mechanisms that relate to medical pathology. There is one country that many of us in medical research ignore when it comes to scientific papers: China. The CCP have a documented history of stealing intellectual ideas without giving proper attribution, publishing fake data, doing organ transplants from prisoners and using data therein to publish, and alas having their papers withdrawn from global medical journals once they are busted. China could publish the cure to Alzheimer’s and no one in science would trust them, except for apologists like GWU President Wrighton. China is unreliable on many levels.

      GWU President Mark Wrighton should be sent on sabbatical to CCP indefinitely

      A single ‘paper mill’ appears to have churned out 400 papers, sleuths find
      Problematic images abound in papers linked to Chinese institutions

      1. Estovir: You said, “GWU President Mark Wrighton should be sent on sabbatical to CCP indefinitely.” I burst out laughing because it made me recall what my father used to tell us kids when we did something wrong: “I’m going to send you on a one-way boat to China.” All laughing aside, your post is VERY valuable as we read through this subject/issue

      2. Estovir wins the Gold Star for today and gets to sit at the head of the Class!

        Excellent research!

        Interesting results!

        Please keep up doing that good work!

        Leopards do not change their spots, ever! Estovir did a bit of digging and uncovered the dirt beneath the rocks. Communist’s Useful Idiots can run….but they cannot hide it would appear.

        My question is who set the guy straight and trimmed his sails for him and convinced him of the error of his ways in making such a boneheaded statement?

        Was it Professor Turley?

  16. Some wise words from a World War Two correspondent and Father of American Journalism (Edward R. Murrow):
    “We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home”

    In 2022 Cointelpro style blacklisting torture is now exceeding 7000 consecutive days of blacklisting abuses – right here in the USA! Native born Americans being tortured have never been charged with any crime, never given a judge, jury or trial. John Ashcroft’s abuses of the federal “Material Witness Statute” has never been held accountable. Ronald Reagan wanted all torturers to be held accountable and it is also federal law.

    Guantanamo gulag – with about a 99% innocence rate (according to the federal government’s own records) – is still open. Taxpayers are being fleeced with the world’s most expensive gulag. Detainees essentially waiting to die, denied all due process.

    Let’s lead by example first before playing the world’s morality police!

    1. “Let’s lead by example first before playing the world’s morality police!”

      America has led the world by example, and its lead has been primarily positive leading to tremendous positive advancements worldwide. We have warts, but we should hear more praise for America and its values.

    2. Guantanamo gulag – with about a 99% innocence rate (according to the federal government’s own records) – is still open.

      They are prisoners of war. Not criminals.

        1. Always with the questions to create an argument. There was Congressional authorization. Why are you so unaware? Why so nasty all the time?

          Public Law 107–40 107th Congress Joint Resolution

          To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.

      1. Errrrrr….wrong.

        Terrorists are not POW’s….you need to read the Geneva Accords….it appears that would be an enlightening experience for you.

        1. Enemy combatants captured on the field battle. Play your word games, it just removes your opinion from reality

  17. So the CCA is not a campus organization but the CCA in China? I’m shocked that posters on a campus would be that important to them. I must be naive.

  18. But the students are chilled, the posters are gone, and the Chinese money is satisfied.

    Mission accomplished.

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