When the Fordham College Republicans announced in early November they had invited conservative pundit Ann Coulter to speak at one of their club’s events on campus, University President Joseph McShane publicly pressured the club to rescind its invitiaton.
Ted Conrad, a junior at Fordham and President of the Fordham College Republicans, announced Saturday that the club had rescinded the invitation to Ms. Coulter.
The previous day, on Friday (two days after the initial invitation was announced), McShane sent out this bone-chilling campus wide email to the students and faculty of Fordham University from the Office of the President:
November 9, 2012
The College Republicans, a student club at Fordham University, has invited Ann Coulter to speak on campus on November 29. The event is funded through student activity fees and is not open to the public nor the media. Student groups are allowed, and encouraged, to invite speakers who represent diverse, and sometimes unpopular, points of view, in keeping with the canons of academic freedom. Accordingly, the University will not block the College Republicans from hosting their speaker of choice on campus.
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.
As members of a Jesuit institution, we are called upon to deal with one another with civility and compassion, not to sling mud and impugn the motives of those with whom we disagree or to engage in racial or social stereotyping. In the wake of several bias incidents last spring, I told the University community that I hold out great contempt for anyone who would intentionally inflict pain on another human being because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or creed.
“Disgust” was the word I used to sum up my feelings about those incidents. Hate speech, name-calling, and incivility are completely at odds with the Jesuit ideals that have always guided and animated Fordham.
Still, to prohibit Ms. Coulter from speaking at Fordham would be to do greater violence to the academy, and to the Jesuit tradition of fearless and robust engagement. Preventing Ms. Coulter from speaking would counter one wrong with another. The old saw goes that the answer to bad speech is more speech. This is especially true at a university, and I fully expect our students, faculty, alumni, parents, and staff to voice their opposition, civilly and respectfully, and forcefully.
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 [emphases added]
After this call to action, students and faculty members alike joined in what appears to be a vicious series of verbal attacks on the leadership and members of the Fordham College Republicans.
The first volley came from Fordham student Amalia Vavala, who launched on online petition to force the College Republicans to rescind the Coulter invitation:
It has recently come to light that Fordham plans to host an event featuring Ann Coulter, Republican political commentator, as the guest speaker. Due to the immense bigotry, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of intolerance that she has displayed in her books, interviews, and otherwise over the course of her career, we believe that a fair percentage of Fordham’s student body and faculty will be uncomfortable with this decision. . .
[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. . .
Concerned Fordham Students
Next, individual officers of the Fordham College Republicans were attacked online. One individual officer was called out by name and attack ed online as a racist.
The school’s College Republicans offered an apology, and president Ted Conradexplained: “Unfortunately, we did not thoroughly research some of (Coulter’s) previous statements, and as we looked more into it, we realized that we couldn’t defend the statements she had made.”
Conrad, however, claimed McShane’s email crossed a line by publicly shaming the org instead of first reaching out privately:
“It was hurtful to hear some of those words in regard to our organization,” Conrad said. “A lot of people give a lot of time and hard work. But for him to publicly call us out, not only to the student body but to alumni, I think that was unfair. This club has done a lot of good things on campus and to be recognized publicly for the first time I can remember was unfair and hurtful.”
President McShane responded with a self-congratulating statement on the College Republicans’ reversal:
Allow me to give credit where it is due: the leadership of the College Republicans acted quickly, took responsibility for their decisions, and expressed their regrets sincerely and eloquently. Most gratifying, I believe, is that they framed their decision in light of Fordham’s mission and values. There can be no finer testament to the value of a Fordham education and the caliber of our students.
Yesterday I wrote that the College Republicans provided Fordham with a test of its character. They, the University community, and our extended Fordham family passed the test with flying colors, engaging in impassioned but overwhelmingly civil debate on politics, academic freedom, and freedom of speech.
We can all be proud of Fordham today, and I am proud to serve you.
Fordham has previously hosted controversial TV host Chris Matthews as a commencement speaker in 2006. Infanticide and euthanasia advocate Peter Singer will speak on Fordham’s campus the same week of the Coulter controversy.