Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bill Ayers Banned Again on Campus, and Norman Finkelstein, Too

The University of Wyoming has banned UIC professor Bill Ayers from speaking on campus. University of Wyoming President Tom Buchanan declared, "The University of Wyoming is one of the few institutions remaining in today's environment that garner the confidence of the public. The visit by Professor Ayers would have adversely impacted that reputation." Buchanan is wrong, both in his ridiculously inflated opinion of the University of Wyoming, and in his wrongheaded belief that censorship enhances the reputation of a college. To the contrary, the University of Wyoming will forever be known as the college run by small-minded fools who think that banning speakers is a substitute for intellectual engagement.

This is not new for Bill Ayers. He has been banned by Boston College, Georgia Southern University, and the University of Nebraska. Republican legislators in Pennsylvania threatened to cut the funding of Millersville University unless they banned Ayers. An Illinois legislator introduced a bill designed to have Ayers fired.

Ayers is not the only figure facing campus bans. Norman Finkelstein, after being denied tenure by DePaul University and then banned from teaching there in his terminal year, reached a confidential settlement with DePaul. One part of that settlement has recently come to light: Finkelstein is banned from setting foot on DePaul's campus.

This DePaul ban came up because DePaul students wanted to invite Finkelstein to speak. Unable to have him speak on campus, they arranged to rent a church not too far from campus; however, that church decided to ban Finkelstein's speech due to the controversy surrounding him.

By banning Finkelstein, DePaul University is not only violating his rights, but it is also violating the academic freedom of faculty who might wish to have him appear as a guest in a class, and DePaul is violating the academic freedom of students who want to invite him to speak on campus and are being prohibited from doing so. As the AAUP's Joint Statement on Student Rights declares, "Students should be allowed to invite and to hear any person of their own choosing....The institutional control of campus facilities should not be used as a device of censorship." (DePaul refused to respond to my query about the Finkelstein ban; the students have apparently found another location for Finkelstein's speech on April 16.)

Ann Coulter, the victim of a recent repulsive act of censorship for “security reasons” at a Canadian university, has claimed, “There is not a conservative in America who can go to a college campus in America without a bodyguard.” This, of course, is ridiculous. Plenty of conservatives speak on campuses without a bodyguard, and some liberals speak with one. But it does raise an interesting question: if conservative speakers really are threatened more than those on the left, why is it that the speakers banned from college campuses are overwhelmingly leftists such as Ayers and Finkelstein?

Let's hope that all the conservatives who denounced the ban on Ann Coulter will speak out with equal vigor against the speaker bans imposed without any security reasons by the University of Wyoming and DePaul University.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

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