With the retraction of the invitation that the College Republicans offered to Ann Coulter, Fordham University savaged a core principle of American higher education the free exchange of ideas.
Fordham’s president, Joseph McShane almost did the right thing as campus pressure to withdraw the invitation to Coulter mounted. He wrote to the College Republicans that his intervention to forbid the lecture “would be to do greater violence to the academy, and to the Jesuit tradition of fearless and robust engagement.”
That was in the fifth and penultimate paragraph of his official statement. In the second paragraph of his message, however, he slapped the College Republicans, and slapped them hard: “To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans, however, would be a tremendous understatement.” What was President McShane’s real message? Encouraging vigorous dialogue or submissive conformity?
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The College Republicans have unwittingly provided Fordham with a test of its character: do we abandon our ideals in the face of repugnant speech and seek to stifle Ms. Coulter’s (and the student organizers’) opinions, or do we use her appearance as an opportunity to prove that our ideas are better and our faith in the academy—and one another—stronger? We have chosen the latter course, confident in our community, and in the power of decency and reason to overcome hatred and prejudice.
Joseph M. McShane, S.J., President, Fordham
You just have to wonder if these guy are really paying attention. After all, you could spend ten minutes or so on Anne Coulter’s website and figure out that she has no more intellectual or academic legitimacy than your average rock. She’s a right-wing entertainer at best, a charlatan who makes her living by saying things that she calculates will either cause outrage or will feed into the deeply divisive fears of the American public. She isn’t that good at it and remains a relatively obscure figure outside her rightist-circles.
If she were honest about what she does she might gain legitimacy– there are lots of comedians who could be described in a similar way– but Coulter’s act, like Fox News, is profoundly deceptive. She pretends to offer political insight not comedy; there’s little or no irony in what she does. I don’t think she belongs on campus any more than Father Coughlin did, in the 1930’s, when Fascism was the right’s favored rhetoric. The university ought to stick to its guns; the young Republicans, with a little effort, can find a legitimate conservative.