Colorado College Travelogue, Part I: Lecture at CC

By April 24, 2008

I returned yesterday after two days in Colorado Springs and Denver for a lecture at Colorado College and a media tour in the shameful case of Colorado College’s censorship and punishment of students for “violence” after they posted a parody called “The Monthly Bag.” (I will describe the media tour in another blog post soon.)

On Monday night, having been invited by the Political Science Department and the Journalism Minor at Colorado College, I delivered my lecture to over 100 students and faculty. The audience was engaged and respectful (unlike some folks at the University of Delaware), asked great questions, and participated in genuine dialogue about the issues. It put to shame those who have argued that CC students need to be protected from controversial or offensive views. Anyone who thinks the lecture was divisive probably did not attend. The questions asked after the lecture drew out some important distinctions between high school students and college students and between public and private colleges, what counts as punishment, whether one can infer intent from an author’s writings (the intentional fallacy) and whether one can judge the quality of a work by its effects (the affective fallacy), the good reasons why anonymous speech has been valued in this country, and much more.

One radio interviewer found it remarkable that I had been invited by the Political Science Department, as though the whole department had agreed with me (as it should) that a great injustice has been done to the Colorado College Dudes. But there’s another fallacy here. Sponsoring a speaker does not mean that the sponsor necessarily agrees with what is to be said. To preserve academic freedom, the standard for inviting a speaker cannot require that everyone in the sponsoring organization agree to bring the speaker or that an academic department should never invite controversial or divisive speakers. Nor is it reasonable to require that every speaker speak on all sides of an issue. Nor can there be a requirement that speakers disclose ahead of time the entire content of their lectures to ensure that the sponsor feels comfortable with the entire message! Any of these standards alone would be a huge blow to academic freedom.

I addressed a similar wrongheaded rationale for nixing speakers after former Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers was disinvited as a speaker at the University of California because he was deemed too controversial (despite being the victim of a process not unlike what happened to the Colorado College Dudes). Amazingly, two UC Davis professors then argued that academic freedom is violated when a speaker speaks at an event that does not include the possibility of “debate or discussion.” These professors wanted to declare that only certain kinds of events counted as within the bounds of academic freedom. Censors and disinviters tend to know not of what they speak.

Schools: Colorado College Cases: Colorado College: Students Found Guilty for Satirical Flyer