Old Main Hall at Western Washington University in Bellingham
  • Jim Feliciano/Shutterstock
  • Old Main Hall at Western Washington University in Bellingham
You know it’s a slow news week when a CBS crew invades the quiet Western Washington University campus in Bellingham (where I'm a journalism student and the former managing editor of The Western Front).

The people from CBS—and so many others in the news media—are responding to a fake controversy created by a right-wing blog called Campus Reform and carried forward by other media.

The conservative bloggers took President Bruce Shepard to task for saying that if Western remains as white as it is today, the university will have failed. Strong words, certainly.

And that’s exactly what President Shepard wanted. “We need a culture of understanding, of tolerance…and we have that at this campus,” Shepard said. "But it hasn’t really been tested, and I think we really need to test it.”

Shepard is a forward-thinking, tough president. He’s gone up against Gov. Gregoire in a fight over faculty raises, backed the same-sex marriage bill that eventually became law, and has said over and over again that Western needs to be a more diverse campus.

So, it wasn’t much of a surprise to students or staff when he published a blog post stating that Western will have failed if it remains as white as it is today in a state where high school graduates are increasingly racially diverse. It also wasn’t news; this blog post was months old, and something Shepard has said many times.

It’s true: Western is a very white school. I first heard about this controversy when I was in a class with a white teacher and all white students. But the issue here is creating an equitable education system that serves all students. It’s about opportunity and fairness.

Western doesn’t factor race into admissions, and according to an e-mail sent to the student body Wednesday by President Shepard, it never will. This so-called controversy about being “less white” is so far from the heart of the issue, it’s laughable. It’s not just that his quotes and ideas were mischaracterized. The entire post was cherry-picked for inflammatory phrases, and then twisted into an allegedly anti-white viewpoint.

Dori Monson and others—including Glenn Beck—have called for President Shepard’s head, and misrepresented his remarks as saying the school is a failure now. It’s not, and that’s not what Shepard is saying.

There is no talk of quotas, no talk of kicking white students out. He’s simply looking to get people thinking about why Western’s student body is 76 percent white.

“We need to lead by asking questions,” Shepard said.

Asking these questions has stirred the pot, sure, but if the conversation circles around mischaracterizations of the language his post used, it could be all for naught. Here on campus, it will be interesting to see whether Western as a whole can move past the knee-jerk responses on the right and toward a serious discussion about what colleges can do to mirror the populations they serve.