Fordham Repudiates Ann Coulter

 

me in my Fordham robes, upon receiving my PhD

I am an outspoken public atheist and critic of all faith-based religious beliefs and institutions. In particular, I unabashedly publish serious moral and intellectual objections to the very existence of the Roman Catholic Church and to some of its particularly appalling political stances.

Nonetheless, over the last 12 years, not a semester has gone by that I have not been enrolled at and/or teaching at a Catholic university. I have spent a significant portion of my ten years as a philosophy professor in the classrooms of Fordham University, Fairfield University, and St. John’s University. I earned my MA, MPhil, and PhD at Fordham. While at Fordham I wrote a dissertation that was unmistakably critical of Christianity. I recently accepted an invitation from one of the Jesuit priests in Fordham’s philosophy department to submit two encyclopedia articles on Nietzsche’s ethics for an upcoming supplement to the New Catholic Encyclopedia. Previously, by his invitation, I have reviewed books on Nietzsche’s philosophy of religion for the philosophy journal he edits.

In these 12 years of tight association with Catholic institutions of higher learning, I have never in any way been treated with hostility or disrespect or suspicion on account of my atheism. No one has ever wrung their hands that I might be an unfit influence on the students I teach. No one has ever tried to monitor or censor a word that I have said in the classroom or written publicly.

In other words, my experience of these Catholic educational institutions has been one of total academic freedom and intellectual inclusiveness and civility.

I have also experienced Fordham in particular to be a place that generally puts a high premium on values like social justice. While the university has its share of Catholic social conservatives there is genuinely ecumenical dialogue in which people of all faiths and none represent a wide range of philosophical, moral, and political positions. It is not a monolithic place. It is not a dogmatic place. It is not a hateful place. It is one of my true homes in this world.

So this afternoon when I learned that Ann Coulter had been invited by the College Republicans to speak, I was distressed. Fordham was inviting into my home someone who coarsens the public discourse by opposing all the inclusiveness, civility, and concern for the poor that make me proud of Fordham? In this country, religiosity and political conservatism are so closely associated in much of the media and the public mind that a religious school inviting a politically right wing pundit can all too easily lead to people assuming that that pundit is herself representative of the nature of the religiosity and intellectual quality and character of that religious institution. And since few right wing figures could worse represent the spirit and ethos of Fordham than Ann Coulter I worried the school’s reputation might be unjustly tarnished if they gave her a platform to speak.

A university’s reputation is an important thing, especially to its alumni like me. I am proud of Fordham’s reputation among universities in general and, more specifically, among Christian schools. And, from a self-interested point of view, I am personally invested in the university’s reputation. I don’t want Fordham’s name associated with pisspoor thinkers defined by their hatefulness, self-serving cynicism, intellectual dishonesty, moral hollowness, and incendiary public trolling.

So it was for this reason that I reposted on Facebook a petition someone e-mailed me that called for Fordham to rescind the College Republicans’ invitation to Ann Coulter. I explained the link with one simple sentence that summed up my opposition to her speaking at Fordham: “Ann Coulter does not represent Fordham values.”

Then the following letter from Fordham President Joseph McShane was called to my attention and I could not be more pleased with it.

The College Republicans, a student club at Fordham University, has invited Ann Coulter to speak on campus on November 29. The event is funded through student activity fees and is not open to the public nor the media. Student groups are allowed, and encouraged, to invite speakers who represent diverse, and sometimes unpopular, points of view, in keeping with the canons of academic freedom. Accordingly, the University will not block the College Republicans from hosting their speaker of choice on campus.

To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans, however, would be a tremendous understatement. There are many people who can speak to the conservative point of view with integrity and conviction, but Ms. Coulter is not among them. Her rhetoric is often hateful and needlessly provocative — more heat than light — and her message is aimed squarely at the darker side of our nature.

As members of a Jesuit institution, we are called upon to deal with one another with civility and compassion, not to sling mud and impugn the motives of those with whom we disagree or to engage in racial or social stereotyping. In the wake of several bias incidents last spring, I told the University community that I hold out great contempt for anyone who would intentionally inflict pain on another human being because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or creed.

“Disgust” was the word I used to sum up my feelings about those incidents. Hate speech, name-calling, and incivility are completely at odds with the Jesuit ideals that have always guided and animated Fordham.

Still, to prohibit Ms. Coulter from speaking at Fordham would be to do greater violence to the academy, and to the Jesuit tradition of fearless and robust engagement. Preventing Ms. Coulter from speaking would counter one wrong with another. The old saw goes that the answer to bad speech is more speech. This is especially true at a university, and I fully expect our students, faculty, alumni, parents, and staff to voice their opposition, civilly and respectfully, and forcefully.

The College Republicans have unwittingly provided Fordham with a test of its character: do we abandon our ideals in the face of repugnant speech and seek to stifle Ms. Coulter’s (and the student organizers’) opinions, or do we use her appearance as an opportunity to prove that our ideas are better and our faith in the academy — and one another — stronger? We have chosen the latter course, confident in our community and in the power of decency and reason to overcome hatred and prejudice.

Joseph M. McShane, S.J., President

I was thoroughly satisfied with this repudiation of Coulter by the president of the university. His letter made unequivocally clear that Fordham did not endorse her toxic contributions to the public discourse and that her presence would be accommodated only as an expression of Fordham’s admirably genuine commitment to academic freedom, civil debate, and (implicitly) the autonomy of student groups who hold unpopular opinions. I could accept her speaking at Fordham on these grounds.

The College Republicans have since done even better and rescinded the invitation altogether:

From the College Republicans:

The College Republicans regret the controversy surrounding our planned lecture featuring Ann Coulter. The size and severity of opposition to this event have caught us by surprise and caused us to question our decision to welcome her to Rose Hill. Looking at the concerns raised about Ms. Coulter, many of them reasonable, we have determined that some of her comments do not represent the ideals of the College Republicans and are inconsistent with both our organization’s mission and the University’s. We regret that we failed to thoroughly research her before announcing; that is our error and we do not excuse ourselves for it. Consistent with our strong disagreement with certain comments by Ms. Coulter, we have chosen to cancel the event and rescind Ms. Coulter’s invitation to speak at Fordham. We made this choice freely before Father McShane’s email was sent out and we became aware of his feelings – had the President simply reached out to us before releasing his statement, he would have learned that the event was being cancelled. We hope the University community will forgive the College Republicans for our error and continue to allow us to serve as its main voice of the sensible, compassionate, and conservative political movement that we strive to be. We fell short of that standard this time, and we offer our sincere apologies.

Ted Conrad, President
Emily Harman, Vice President
Joe Campagna, Treasurer
John Mantia, Secretary

Good for Fordham and good for the Fordham College Republicans.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Sixto Morales

    While the supposed cancellation of the speaking is very questionable- I must say I am very impressed in how the situation defused itself.

  • Karl Jennings

    I whole-heartedly agree, and thank you for posting this. It serves as a well-needed reminder that not everyone who identifies as conservative, or even Republican, is as vile and unprincipled as Anne Coulter. I think reminders such as these are of paramount importance right now as we try to recover from a particularly divisive and vitriolic election season.

  • Sunny Day

    WOW a republican that wrote an actual apology instead of a NOTapology I’ve become so used to seeing from them. If Ted, Emily, Joe and John can inject the same civility and thoughtfulness into their party I may actually be faced with a harder choice at the election booth in the coming years.

  • John Moriarty

    where do I reapply for membership of this wonderful Catholicism;)? If this was the norm what would there be left to criticise?

  • http://dododreams.blogspot.com/ John Pieret

    I went to a Jesuit college (after having stopped being a Catholic) and this was also my experience of their attitude toward dialogue and academia. I had a course in the history of the Bible taught by a Protestant professor and fully 5-10% of the instructors were defrocked Jesuits. I never heard a word of hatred toward any other faith or non-faith and even Catholic dogma was open to criticism and free discussion.

    One thing about the College Republicans: are they really so sheltered that they needed to “research” Coulter to find out that she has said (or at least voiced for profit) repugnant things about others and holds vile positions? Why would such babes in the woods even label themslves “Republicans” if they are so innocent of the ways of the world? Not quite a notpology but a lot of post hoc posterior covering.

  • Michael

    We regret that we failed to thoroughly research her before announcing (College Republicans)
    I don’t believe them. I think they knew exactly what she was like and hired her for that very reason. Later, when the shit hit the fan, “Oh sorry, we had no idea…”

    • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

      Maybe. Or an only slightly less uncharitable interpretation: they were thinking tribally, and of course Coulter[*spit*] is a prominent leader among the conservative tribe, so of course she’s on the short list of people to invite some time. Then the backlash forces them to think in terms of values instead of tribal affiliation, and to look at what Coulter[*spit*] actually stands for….and back-pedal.

    • mal099

      Got this off reddit, make of it what you will:
      “As a Fordham student who was present for much of the debate that surrounded Ann Coulter’s invitation, I can say with a fair amount of certainty that Teddy Conrad was bullshitting about this.

      The College Republicans at Fordham are brash, obnoxious people. They held not one but two victory parties for Mitt Romney last week, one on Monday and the other on the night of the election. Imagine their fury when Fox News projected that Obama would be staying in the White House for an extra term!”

      Someone on reddit said that while the reply was obvious BS, he was still quite happy with the College republicans, because they could at least be civil about their disagreement, which is something that’s missing from politics today and that would make for more productive debates.

  • Ezra

    What, is Fordham so fragile an institution that Ann Coulter can bring it to its knees by a single speech?

    • AntieQ

      Only if you define rejecting hateful vitriol as “bringing it to its knees”.

    • http://dododreams.blogspot.com/ John Pieret

      Ezra, what part of

      Still, to prohibit Ms. Coulter from speaking at Fordham would be to do greater violence to the academy, and to the Jesuit tradition of fearless and robust engagement. Preventing Ms. Coulter from speaking would counter one wrong with another. The old saw goes that the answer to bad speech is more speech. This is especially true at a university, and I fully expect our students, faculty, alumni, parents, and staff to voice their opposition, civilly and respectfully, and forcefully.

      … didn’t you understand?

  • Felix

    Good outcome.
    Daniel, why are you dressed as Henry VIII? :-)
    http://tinyurl.com/bzp7s9b

    • Laurent Weppe

      Because they had no more Tyrion Lannister costumes for this Halloween :p

  • nrb

    These are NOT Republicans. These are PANTYWAISTS !!!!!!
    These suplicants should cover and hide the statues of Jesus Christ and Mary, cover and hide the pictures of the baby Jesus and picture of the Disciples, cover and hide the Crucifix.
    These fools should take their lessons from Georgetown and Notre Dame and HIDE whatever honor and truth they may have.

  • Rodney Nelson

    Ms. Coulter’s honorarium would have been several thousand dollars (the University of Connecticut Young Republicans paid $10,000 in 2007). One would think the Fordham Young Republicans would have researched her before agreeing to pay that much to hear her speak.

  • Ezra

    Oh sure President McShane takes the moral high ground. Of course we believe in free speech! (Except of course when we don’t.)
    “To say that I am disappointed with the judgment and maturity of the College Republicans, however, would be a tremendous understatement.”
    “I told the University community that I hold out great contempt…”
    “‘Disgust’ was the word I used…”
    No, no intimidation there…
    Well the College Republicans certainly got the message and have repented in sackcloth and ashes.
    Saved!

    • LeftWingFox

      Ann Coulter is free to say what she wants.

      The president of Fordham is equally free to criticize her. Indeed, I see this as the moral obligation of free speech, to criticize the hateful, the intolerant, the violent, and the offensive.

      The College Republicans were wise enough to realize that her vitriol was not worth the negative attention. Her right to the freedom of speech does not guarantee her a platform. She is perfectly free to call Fordham the “home of child molesters”, and given her tendency to go off the rails at any form of criticism or imagined “persecution”, I’m sure she will in due course.

  • Ezra

    Try another scenario. One that honors the principle of free speech instead of giving it lipservice while eviscerating it. One where President McShane voices his opinion but nevertheless asks the College Republicans to open up the session to the full student body and even the public. Let Ms Coulter spew in front of the whole world. It is customary at such events to have a question and answer period. Surely there would somebody on the campus with enough confidence in their point of view to offer a penetrating critical response!

    Friends, vampires thrive in the dark. You destroy them by pulling them out into the sunlight and letting it do its purifying work. The saddest part of this entire affair is that none of you see how what did actually happen plays into her narrative and strengthens her. And worse, far worse, you think this strikes a blow for “integrity and conviction”!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/ Daniel Fincke

      When the College Republicans invited Newt Gingrich, I went and wanted to ask a question. But the question and answer period was rigged. What happened was, the speech ended and right before a student announced that it was the question and answer period and explained how to line up, a bunch of students jumped up and ran onto the line. “Coincidentally” all those students threw Gingrich softballs.

    • Paul Susac

      I agree, except for one point:

      Coulter gets paid for her time. What is “strengthening” her more? Free press or money?

      Sure Coulter can gin-up a controversy about this if she wants to. But the rebuttal is easy: “Money talks, and BS walks – Your BS was sent walking!”

      If that’s not an expression of Republican values, what is?

  • http://mymusingcorner.wordpress.com Lana

    Not worth all the money to have her. Otherwise, who cares what the Young Republicans do.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    I’m impressed that Fordham has a dormitory in the bottom of a crater on the exact center of the far side of the moon, the only place in the Solar System that is never exposed to radio or television waves from the Earth, or any other form of communication. Apparently that is where all of the College Republicans live all of the time, since that’s the only plausible explanation for why they had no idea that when Ann Coulter speaks, she is a bomb that explodes, covering her audience with a sticky gel of vile, caustic, weapons-grade hate.

    Well, the other plausible explanation might be that their apology is a cynical, smirking crock of shit.

  • AKAHorace

    This article and the following comment thread is an incredibly pompous, wordy defense of censorship.

  • Lee Harrison

    “Say what you want, but I think you’re a jerk for saying it.” This is essentially the Principal’s message. How on earth does that equate to censorship? Censorship is the power of the state used to forcefully suppress the expression of ideas. What’s described above doesn’t even come close.

  • Paul Susac

    I see a lot of invectives against the college republicans in this thread. I will simply choose to take them at their word. Personally, I admire that they had the character to admit publicly that they made a mistake, just to give credit where it is due.

    I am currently working on a PhD at Gonzaga University (a Jesuit school). I have always found the teachers to be respectful of my atheist views. The students have been more of a mixed bag though. I’ve literally been told “you can’t say that!” in response to my assertion that Christianity is wrong (I hadn’t even gotten out what it’s wrong about before I was interrupted).

    Liberal intellectuals like the professors at my school do a good job of protecting individual freedom of belief, but I find that they are not particularly interested in getting to the truth of religious debates (this makes sense – they have a class to teach after all). What I find a bit more disturbing is the investment that my faculty has in egalitarianism. The idea that all points of view are valid is not one that sits well with me. There is an ethic in academia that says that there should be room at the table for all voices, but there isn’t much tolerance for one voice telling another voice that it’s wrong.

    And the fact is that some people have demonstrably wrong beliefs. How do you deal with this problem?

    The ethic of inclusiveness is important to the process of learning, but so is the ethic of argumentation and reason. I fear that too many of my professors promote inclusiveness at the expense of critical thinking. The way that they deal with this is they teach a subject and they bracket the critical thinking in the classroom around the subject. The problem with this approach is that it is designed specifically to avoid challenging the assumptions of the student. Particularly the religious assumptions.

    I understand the dilemma – religious assumptions are wired into the identity of the student, and challenging them is extremely emotional (and often counter-productive) to the classroom. There is a huge problem with this though: if we can’t challenge bullshit ideologies in academia, where can we challenge them?

    I find Gonzaga a frustrating place to attend school – in fact the Discovery Institute gets its legal aid from Gonzaga – Religious privilege is alive and well in this school.

    Good basketball team though.

  • marmaduke50

    What is wrong with you people? Do you really believe that the ideology you embrace is so self-evidently infallible, that you would deny those who hold opposing views the very rights and freedoms you admit to exploiting for yourself? The level of arrogance and the attitude of entitlement you blatantly project here, are proof of an extreme legalism that overshadows any orthodoxies attached to the Catholic institution that signs your paychecks. The only saving grace found in this nauseating pile of academic excrement, is that it’s absolutely impossible to read it without noticing that the writer is a hypocritical narcissist.


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