On Nov. 10, under heavy pressure from other students as well as the administration, the College Republicans at Jesuit-affiliated Fordham University cancelled a lecture by conservative political commentator Ann Coulter. The appearance had been scheduled for Nov. 29 at the school’s Rose Hill campus in the Bronx, New York.
Coulter was never the first choice of Fordham’s College Republicans. That honor goes to syndicated columnist George Will, according to The Observer, Fordham’s student newspaper. Will’s fee reportedly exceeds the $10,000 Fordham had made available.
Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain was the second choice. However, the College Republicans were reportedly worried that Cain would back out. Instead, they chose Coulter, only to back out themselves.
When word got around campus that Coulter was slated to speak, a contingent of students objected and quickly sprang into action. Beginning on Nov. 8, a group of students set up a Facebook page, a dedicated email account and an online petition at change.org, reports The Observer. They created an anti-Coulter manifesto as well.
The petition, by Fordham student Amalia Vavala, has since accumulated over 2,000 signatures and is called “Fordham University: We Oppose Ann Coulter Speaking at Fordham.” Vavala concedes that free speech is a right, but argues that Coulter has made a career out of insulting various minority groups.
“[T]here is no room at a university whose motto is ‘men and women for and with others’ for the endorsement of hate speech, especially when portions of the club funding sponsoring this event no doubt come from the tuition paid by all students at Fordham — including students of Muslim descent, black students, children of Hispanic immigrants, queer students, women, people with disabilities, and other groups Ann Coulter has belittled and insulted in the public sphere over the course of several decades, we feel something must be said,” the petition says.
Vavala goes on to accuse Coulter of “immense bigotry, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of intolerance” and asks students to stand “firmly against” intolerance.
On Nov. 9, President Joseph M. McShane, S.J. weighed in on this most pressing matter with a statement, The Observer reports. To his credit, McShane made it clear that the school doesn’t advocate censorship and would not prevent Coulter from speaking.
At the same time, however, McShane made it clear that he is no fan of Coulter or the College Republicans’ decision.
“To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans, however, would be a tremendous understatement. There are many people who can speak to the conservative point of view with integrity and conviction, but Ms. Coulter is not among them. Her rhetoric is often hateful and needlessly provocative — more heat than light — and her message is aimed squarely at the darker side of our nature.”
Faculty members got into the act as well. In a memo, Gwenyth Jackaway, a professor of communication and media studies, agreed that Fordham should not forcibly rescind Coulter’s invitation, The Observer notes. At the same time, Jackaway said she was “saddened and disappointed that there are students at Fordham who would want to invite Ms. Coulter.”
Jackaway, who teaches a course focusing on freedom of expression, also charged that Coulter and her ilk “inflame emotions that can be harmful to the safety and stability of our society.”
On Nov. 10, Fordham’s College Republicans caved in to mounting pressure from both students and administrators. Their statement, published by The Observer, argues that they were ignorant of Coulter’s views and her status as a notorious provocateur.
“The College Republicans regret the controversy surrounding our planned lecture featuring Ann Coulter,” the group says in their statement. “The size and severity of opposition to this event have caught us by surprise, and caused us to question our decision to welcome her to Rose Hill.
“Looking at the concerns raised about Ms. Coulter, many of them reasonable, we have determined that some of her comments do not represent the ideals of the College Republicans and are inconsistent with both our organization’s mission, and the University’s. We regret that we failed to thoroughly research her before announcing…”
“We have decided that it was in our best interest to cancel the event,” Theodore Conrad, president of Fordham’s College Republicans said, according to The Observer.
“We did not properly vet a potential speaker for Fordham University,” Conrad told The Observer. “I feel we would be doing a lot of people a disservice in bringing a speaker like that to Fordham.”
Fordham’s College Republicans also claim to have made their decision to rescind the invitation before McShane dressed them down in his Nov. 9 statement.
“We made this choice freely, before Father McShane’s email was sent out and we became aware of his feelings,” the statement by the College Republicans continues. “Had the President simply reached out to us before releasing his statement he would have learned that the event was being cancelled.”
After the College Republicans cancelled the Coulter appearance, McShane issued another statement that showered praise on the College Republicans, according to The Observer. McShane said they “acted quickly, took responsibility for their decisions, and expressed their regrets sincerely and eloquently.”
McShane also suggested that the Fordham community, by denying Coulter the opportunity to speak, had engaged in “civil debate on politics, academic freedom and freedom of speech.”