Email exchange between Chapman alumna and Sparks garners outrage

An email thread between a 2011 alum and Dean Lisa Sparks has been shared hundreds of times on social media, following upset over Sarah Huckabee Sander’s presence at a Chapman event

Chapman alumna Laura Weisbecker (m. Hantke) found herself at the center of an email war: deeply concerned by the invitation of Sarah Huckabee Sanders to an event hosted by the Center for Freedom of Expression and Media Integrity scheduled for Nov. 20, she emailed Lisa Sparks, dean of the School of Communication and Republican candidate for Congress, to express her views. 

“I, and many of my fellow alumni, are dismayed at the blatant disregard for both the truth and the integrity of the free press that she has shown both as Press Secretary to the Trump Administration and as a Fox News contributor,” Weisbecker’s Nov. 2 email read. “Your duty as Dean of the School of Communications is to your students, the young minds you’ve been tasked with educating and shaping. To use this event to further your own ambitions at the cost of your students is disgraceful.”  

Sparks responded to Weisbecker’s initial email on Nov. 3 and pointed to perceived flaws in the alumni’s letter. 

“Arguments must stand on their own, and the qualifications of the presenter are irrelevant. We teach this in our classes. I am sorry you were not paying attention,” Sparks’ Nov. 3 email read. “Maybe the most amusing part of your email (if it were not sad) is that you are asking the Center for Freedom of Expression to disinvite a speaker because of your strong disagreement with her.” 

Weisbecker’s Nov. 2 email to Sparks. Emails courtesy of Laura Weisbecker

Sparks spoke to The Panther Nov. 7, and categorized her response as “pointed and somewhat sharp” in a joint Zoom interview scheduled by President Daniele Struppa. Struppa and Sparks, who are married, are currently in Greece. 

“It was in response to an email that attacked my integrity and not just my judgment,” Sparks said. “My email didn’t call the alumna names, nor did I use any language that anybody could find objectionable.”  

Sparks’ Nov. 3 reply. Emails courtesy of Laura Weisbecker

Telling The Panther that her response would’ve been different if the concern had come from a student, Sparks said that it was an adult writing to her.

“I don’t even know who this person is,” Sparks said.

Sparks’ response email has garnered attention on social media, as multiple Chapman students and alumni have posted screenshots of the exchange. Weisbecker’s sister, who has reached out to Chapman’s public relations office, shared the email on her Facebook page, which as of publication, has received 547 reactions, 270 comments and 292 shares. 

Sparks told The Panther that she believes the reaction garnered on social media “shows a complete lack of balance.” 

“People have posted pictures of me with my friends, commenting that I only have white friends. There’s an implication of racism that frankly is unfair and uncalled for,” Sparks said. “I’m somewhat amused that those same social media and Twitter users are hiding behind their iPhones and computers are so outraged by my message. It seems pretty ridiculous.” 

When asked about the social media frenzy that has endured since the emails were conducted, Weisbecker pointed to the natural reaction to “lash out and strike back.” 

Weisbecker’s Nov. 3 response. All communication has ceased between Weisbecker and Sparks. Emails courtesy of Laura Weisbecker

“But someone in administration and running for Congress should have the ability to tap down that reaction,” Weisbecker said. “The whole ‘your accomplishments don’t mean anything’ was surprising.” 

Weisbecker, who spoke to The Panther Nov. 5, said that she is not opposed to a balanced debate, but rather Sanders’ “relationship to the media,” her support of President Donald Trump’s categorization of the press as the “enemy of the people” and Sanders’ track record of knowingly lying to reporters. When asked about Sanders’ categorization of the press as the enemy, Struppa told The Panther that it is a “very strong viewpoint,” one that he hopes will be challenged at the Nov. 20 event. He also pointed to the idea that he does not know of a single United States president who hasn’t lied. 

“She has lied. I sat and watched her when she defended Trump when he called the press the enemy of the people,” Weisbecker said. “If they want a conservative voice, go get one. But don’t bring someone who doesn’t value the press.”

Speaking positively to her time at Chapman, Weisbecker said she let out a very long “wow” when she read Sparks’ response. Struppa was cc’d on the email, as well as Media Integrity Center director Brian Calle and operations director Michael Ross. 

The Alumni Engagement Team declined to comment on the matter.

“I cc’d President Struppa because I knew him during my time at Chapman,” Weisbecker said. “I always had good interactions with him.”

“There have been tweets that have called for me to be fired,” Sparks said. “What, you’re going to fire a dean who made comments you don’t like? Or points out flaws in your statement? That’s completely ridiculous.”  

Sparks told The Panther that she perceived the inclusion of Struppa on the email thread as “an implied threat,” and continued to speak to activity on social media that has reflected this sentiment.   

Struppa supported Sparks, saying that there would be far fewer people working at Chapman if people were fired for being disagreed with. 

This is a developing story. Follow The Panther on social media and at www.thepantheronline.com for updates.