A local Muslim group planning a free forum on Islam says it had to cancel the event because of frustrating runarounds from Virginia Commonwealth University.
The founders and hosts of the Richmond-based online station Islam Life Radio, featured last week in Style, say they were prepared to step from behind the microphones March 7 at VCU to discuss the state of global Muslim culture.
The hosts received a tentative confirmation form from the university’s conference and scheduling services department dated Feb. 12. But they say a series of back-and-forth emails and unanswered phone calls left them with no option but to cancel.
The scheduling department’s director, Nicole Smithson, says she can’t discuss details about client reservations, but that they aren’t finalized until a contract is signed. She says it can take up to two weeks to make a final decision.
Islam Life Radio host Taufique Aziz says after its tentative event confirmation, a services coordinator told the group it needed to provide proof of insurance. Aziz says the group tried for several days, but phone calls went unreturned.
“Finally, on the 18th,” Aziz says, “we got ahold of the director. She said a review committee would discuss if we were too controversial for VCU.”
In emails provided by Aziz, the group was told that its event was approved by the academic scheduler of classrooms, but needed a dean’s approval.
University spokeswoman Anne Buckley says deans generally aren’t part of the event review process, unless the event is taking part in their school. This event was to be held on the first floor of the Academic Learning Commons, with which no dean is connected.
Seeking clarification, Islam Life Radio hosts called the scheduling department, saying they were told a dean would make a decision by the end of the day. Another email asks the hosts to describe the identities of participating speakers.
“Information which we had already provided to them twice, at this point,” Aziz says. Hosts say they never heard from a VCU dean.
Because some out-of-state participants needed advance notice for the event, organizers say, Islam Life Radio canceled its event request Feb. 23. They say treatment from VCU also factored heavily in the cancelation, and they’re searching for a new location.
Smithson says “controversy never plays a part in our decision-making process,” and that the review process is logistical in nature. “All events must align with VCU’s mission,” Smithson says. A university affiliate must sponsor external clients, she says, with priority given to faculty, staff and students.
In December 2013, Islam Life Radio held a nine-day conference in Connecticut, where two Riyadh University professors served as keynote speakers. The group says it’s produced similar events in a dozen states, at universities and other venues.
“Nobody said they weren’t allowed to come, nobody denied them,” Buckley says. “The requesting group said we were not able to respond in time, so they canceled.”