Should Schools Invite Controversial Speakers?

coulter2.jpgAn article in Inside Higher Ed discusses the position of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) with regard to inviting controversial speakers (such as Ann Coulter and Michael Moore) to university campuses:

Since the 2004 election, the American Association of University Professors has been reviewing the issue of controversial political speakers and it has now published a proposed statement reiterating the importance of inviting such people to campuses — and rejecting the idea that speakers must be balanced, person by person, as invitations go out.

The new AAUP statement rejects two arguments commonly given for disinviting Moore last election cycle and some controversial figures generally: that they lack balance or that their presence on campus could endanger an institution’s tax-exempt status.

I certainly agree that schools shouldn’t shy away from controversy, and I agree with the AAUP position, but I also agree with this comment to the Inside Higher Ed article:

The problem that isn’t being addressed here is that provocateurs like Moore and Coulter are brought in as speakers in the first place. They command high fees to present recycled tedious, predictable polemical rants that lack intellectual depth and rigor. They substitute cleverness and wordplay for genuine argument, and they offer little or nothing that is new or imaginative.

The money would be better spent on bringing in genuine scholars and intellectuals (our college has recently hosted W.S. Merwin and Seamus Heaney, for instance), in which case the need for this sort of policy would vanish.

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14 Responses

  1. Dave! says:

    Controversial? Absolutely.

    Idiotic? No.

    There’s a huge difference in having a speaker who is controversial because of their scholarly work or because of a radical viewpoint (backed up by thoughtful work) and an idiot pundit who contributes virtually nothing but vitriol. (And I included both Coulter and Moore in that category.)

  2. Jack says:

    Agree 100%. It begs the question of the motivation of those who invite these vacuous pundits (and I also include those from both sides of the spectrum). Are they invited to inflame some of the students, slap the backs of others, and generally create animosity, or because the organization believes they have true scholarly merit?

    Perhaps when you look at which groups invite particular speakers, the question answers itself.

  3. MJ says:

    I agree with the general sentiments about “provocateurs,” but I think there are two points worth considering:

    1. While there might be a consensus that Coulter/Moore are “provocateurs,” it gets much harder to draw the line with other figures – one man’s “provocateur” is another’s “intellectual” or, “political satirist.”

    2. Don’t the “provocateurs” generate an interest, and therefore attendance and dialogue, that even a top-notch “scholar” wouldn’t? While that might not necessarily be THE deciding factor, it is a legitimate consideration for college/university administrators.

  4. KipEsquire says:

    I think it’s also relevant to keep in mind that these speakers are usually chosen by the students themselves through clubs that are awarded budgets from student activity fees, which themselves are awarded by the student government.

    The process therefore becomes very political (as opposed to very academic) very quickly. And it should be no surprise that there is often a “race to the bottom” outcome.

  5. Daniel Millstone says:

    I’ve heard neither Coulter or Moore speak. I suspect, however, that those who find them “provocateurs” may have a difficult time distinguishing such people from those who are provocative. Do we know a provocateur when we see/hear one? Or, are such labels really a measure of our disapproval of the contents of their remarks?

  6. Genevieve Jarrett says:

    I agree the “provocateurs” “present recycled tedious, predictable polemical rants that lack intellectual depth and rigor,” but my instinct is that the student groups are not inviting them to do more than present such fodder. Rather, they are invited to provide entertainment. The students are not, presumably, naive about the caliber of these speakers’ opinions and invite them to entertain, not educate the masses.

  7. Seth R. says:

    Should schools invite controversial speakers?

    Only if they have anything to say that’s worth hearing.

  8. Stuart says:

    Even if it’s recycled, tedious stuff that these “controversial” speakers are spouting, what’s the big deal? Think of it as entertainment: the folk singer who is invited to give a performance does recycled stuff every night, too. Ann Coulter can be entertaining; ditto for Michael Moore. Who says that politically topical entertainment has to be only of the comedy variety?

  9. Mike says:

    They command high fees to present recycled tedious, predictable polemical rants that lack intellectual depth and rigor.

    Hmmm… I’ve heard Ann Coulter speak, and athough her style was a bit off-putting, her remarks were generally insightful. Although I haven’t seen Moore speak in person, I thought his 9/11 movie made some excellent points.

    A person doesn’t need to rub his chin and strike a philosophical pose in order to have deep thoughts.

  10. Neal says:

    I agree 100%.

    The Federalist Society at my law school invited Ann Coulter to speak. Predictably, she spewed misinformation and vitriol and alienating almost everyone present. It was a huge embarrassment for the Federalist Society.

  11. annegb says:

    Should they? yes. Absolutely.

  12. Fallen Omnipotent says:

    Just carious, can anyone present arguments supported by facts or famous groups/people for the need of contraversal speakers?

  13. Jacklyn spaid says:

    Someone has stated already that the people that choose the speakers themselves, are infact some of the students. It’s important to relize that college persons such as myself, are just as much children as a high schooler, except we have more knowaldge, and want to learn in our own way. Which is why on behalf of my university, i speek for the most of us that we feel it’s important to except to understand and to learn other peoples beleifs and opinions,even if we don’t aree with them ourselves. It also incourages us to step outside the box and believe in what we want to beleive in

  14. Jacklyn spaid says:

    on a sidenote KidEsquire a source that prooves her statement correct is this site
    so yes fallen omnipotent it’s clear tha many people here may not have supported there theories with a source of factual knowaldge but they used their knowldge to say what they do know about this topic, don;t be so quick to protest others thoughts, you have a mind of your own, use it.