Torch readers might remember that last spring was a mess when it came to commencement speakers on college campuses. Left and right (pun intended), distinguished would-be guests were disinvited from, re-invited to, and pressured to back out of speaking engagements. One such incident took place at Pasadena City College (PCC), where Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black was disinvited and then re-invited as commencement speaker. Black graciously accepted his re-invitation, saying he was happy to “move forward and put the focus where it should be—on the students.”
As FIRE reported back in May, members of PCC’s Board of Trustees grew concerned about having Black speak after discovering that explicit photos of him had been posted online. A college administrator, on the other hand, had ridiculously claimed that Black’s invitation was an error to begin with.
Either way, the Los Angeles Times discovered through a Public Records Act request that along with gaining significant negative publicity, PCC is paying a more literal, quantifiable price—approximately $26,000—in exchange for Black agreeing not to sue the college.
According to the Times, “Eduardo Cairo, president of the school’s Academic Senate, which represents faculty interests, said the payment was a ‘complete misuse of public funds.’” It’s understandable that PCC community members would be upset over this result, and they (and California taxpayers) should speak out to ensure that PCC doesn’t have to take this sort of step again. After all, if Black had decided to sue, it might have cost even more.
FIRE hopes to see colleges and universities welcome even controversial speakers in the coming year, at the very least after the invitations have already been sent out.