A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the early start of a phenomenon we’ve observed at the FIRE office for years: “disinvitation season.” Disinvitation season is the annual ritual of campuses choosing speakers, often times for commencement addresses, and then facing a backlash as either students, faculty, or both demand that the speaker be disinvited. While it’s hard to say for sure, from my vantage point, disinvitation season on campus seems to be getting a little more intense each year.
Over the weekend, The Philadelphia Inquirer published a piece focusing particularly on the controversy over Condoleezza Rice speaking at Rutgers University. At the same time, a similar controversy took place involving Secretary Rice at the University of Minnesota. And my colleague, Robert Shibley, recently wrote over at National Review Online about still another incident at a college in Montana involving an evangelical Christian speaker. Furthermore, a newspaper out in Ohio just profiled the cost of such speakers and briefly discusses the controversy over Ohio State University’s invitation to Chris Matthew’s to speak.
So far, in each of these cases, the administrations have resisted calls to disinvite the selected speakers, which is to their credit. But one must wonder how much the predictability of such incidents dissuade universities from inviting interesting, controversial, or unpopular speakers in the first place.
Reporters consistently focus on the controversies involving commencement speakers, thereby somewhat artificially narrowing the universe of the larger problem of the speaker disinvitation movement on campus, or other similar attempts like the one that took place at Brown University in which Ray Kelly was shouted down and unable to speak last fall. The problem of faculty and students joining together to banish unwanted people or points of view extends well beyond commencement.