PHILADELPHIA, May 28, 2014—In the wake of high-profile controversies this month over withdrawn and disinvited commencement speakers including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde, and women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has released its first formal report on the phenomenon known as “disinvitation season” on campus.
FIRE’s report finds that since 2000, the number of reported disinvitations and demands that speakers be disinvited has skyrocketed—from six in 2000 to 29 in 2013, for a total of 192 such incidents. And while efforts to exclude speakers receive the most press coverage around graduation, they are a year-round occurrence, meaning that the full number of disinvitation incidents for 2014 (15 so far) cannot yet be known.
“FIRE has informally tracked disinvitation incidents for a long time, but the attention paid to the problem this year because of the prominence of the speakers at issue led us to systematically evaluate the problem,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “The data confirms what we and many others suspected: The desire to silence speakers on campus is strong—and disturbingly, ‘disinvitations’ are becoming more common.”
Other findings include:
- The top three reasons behind disinvitation incidents were disagreements with a speaker’s perceived views on gay rights (21), followed by abortion (18) and the “War on Terror” (18).
- America’s most controversial speaker since 2000 is former President George W. Bush, who has faced seven attempts to prevent him from speaking on campus. Other speakers who have faced repeated disinvitation attempts include Rice (4), author Nonie Darwish (4), and conservative commentator Ann Coulter (3). Protests against all these figures came from their political “left.” The most disinvited speaker for whom protests came from their “right” is former Weather Underground leader and retired Professor Bill Ayers (3).
- While most demands to silence speakers fail, the number of successful calls for disinvitation is increasing, as is the total number of demands. From 2012–2014, for instance, FIRE has tracked a total of 61 demands for disinvitation, of which 26 were “successful.”
More information is available in the full report, which represents FIRE’s first effort to gather reliable information on the topic from media reports. If you know of any incidents that you believe were not included, or that took place before 2000, please email a link to, scan of, or citation for a reliable media report about that incident to firstname.lastname@example.org.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; email@example.com