Prof: Faculty, not students, should decide who speaks on campus

Mark Edmundson, a professor of English at the University of Virginia, argues that faculty members, not students, should “decide who gets to speak on campus.”

In an op-ed for The Chronicle of Higher Education Sunday, Edmundson asserts that recent speaking events featuring conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and conservative commentator Ben Shapiro have shown that universities have no way to properly respond to such lectures, noting that there is little for progressives to gain by either shutting down or ignoring such speakers.

Yet he also believes that responding to their speech with more speech would be ineffective, saying, “there’s something demeaning about a credentialed professor going toe to toe with an entertainer—and something risky about challenging a speaker as smooth on his feet as Yiannopoulos.”

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“The Berkeley Battle ended quickly, but a war is looming,” he continues, referencing the premature end to UC Berkeley’s Free Speech Week last month. “For years the extreme right has been looking for ways to get its ideas heard on campuses and to make universities look like what it takes them to be, bastions of intolerant liberals.”

While Edmundson carefully underscores that he is “not against Yiannopoulos and company having the right to speak,” he advocates against the type of financial and institutional support that such speakers receive from schools.

“Shouldn’t universities sponsor scholars, scientists, and artists, as well as bona fide statesmen and women?” He asks. “One could not reasonably say that Yiannopoulos qualifies as any one of those.”

According to the professor, a good way to avoid having speakers such as Yiannopoulos and Shapiro is to eliminate the power of students to invite them in the first place.

“Free Speech Week was sponsored by a student group, and yet it seems to me an open question whether students should be allowed to issue such invitations,” he writes. “It’s an honor to be asked to speak at a university, and I think it should be reserved for authentically accomplished men and women, not entertainers.”

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“University speaker programs are an extension of the intellectual and pedagogical life of the institution,” Edmundson continues. “And that life should be directed by the faculty. We are the ones who know, or should know, what outside speakers are likely to be edifying.”

The professor also suggests that the ability of students to invite campus speakers may only be “another extension of their consumer privileges,” and that academics will do a much better job determining which lecturers have merit.

“We’d have to rise to the occasion,” he explains. “Presenting a balanced slate of speakers would be our job, just as it’s our job to offer counterthrusts to the overall direction of our teaching.”

“Our taking on the job of inviting speakers is good pedagogy: We need to oversee the intellectual life of our schools,” he adds.

Edmundson did not immediately return Campus Reform’s request for comment.

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