New (and, Fortunately, Failed) Disinvitation Attempts Span Political Spectrum

February 12, 2015

Last year, FIRE published a report detailing the growing trend of “disinvitations” of invited speakers on college campuses. This month, students at Texas Tech University and Saint Louis University (SLU) are proving that “disinvitation season” is taking place throughout the year, and that demands for revoked invitations for speakers are not limited to one side of the political spectrum.

Tonight, political activist and professor Angela Davis will be speaking on a panel at Texas Tech as part of the school’s African American History Month Lecture Series. However, some members of the campus community, among them the school’s College Republicans group, are unhappy with Texas Tech’s choice of speaker and are petitioning to have Davis’s invitation revoked.

Claiming that Davis’s “radical” views don’t belong on Texas Tech’s campus, a co-chair of the College Republicans stated that Davis should be disinvited because her views don’t “really resonate with anyone at Texas Tech.” Texas Tech’s communications director, Chris Cook, pushed back against this assertion, arguing, “As an institution of higher learning, we recognize the freedoms of expression and speech, while understanding and welcoming the opportunity for healthy and constructive debate.” Cook is right to point out that students should use Davis’s visit as an opportunity to learn and engage in debate they otherwise may not have had—not as an opportunity to demand that person be silenced.

A similar cycle is playing out at SLU; fortunately, it is being met with a similar response from the university.

SLU School of Law invited Bob McCulloch, St. Louis County Prosecutor and central figure in the controversial Ferguson grand jury case, to give the keynote speech at an event titled “The Thin Blue Line: Policing Post-Ferguson.” The event, planned for February 20, will focus on the controversies and challenges currently facing police officers.

After learning of the invitation, the Black Law Students Association wrote to SLU, asking the university to disinvite McCulloch because his involvement in the Ferguson grand jury case supposedly rendered him unfit to address law students. SLU President Fred Pestello refused to rescind the invitation, stating:

These conversations need to happen—and SLU needs to be a place that supports and contributes to them—if we are to improve the quality of life for everyone in our region.

In the group’s letter to the school, the Black Law Students Association asked that, if the school would not disinvite McCulloch, SLU at least “be tolerant and accepting of protests and dissent that may arise.” FIRE expects SLU to respect the rights of those who choose to protest McCulloch, so long as the protesters respect his right to speak and the right of others in attendance to listen. We also hope students use his presence at the panel as a chance to share their own opinions and challenge McCulloch in discussion because, as Pestello rightfully stated, “a university is the place where we grapple with the most compelling questions of our time and rigorously pursue the truth.”

Schools:  Saint Louis University Texas Tech University

Cases:  Nationwide: Colleges Across the Country Disinvite Commencement Speakers