Fordham’s Take on Freedom of Speech

An important piece in the Wall Street Journal, profiling the president of a student free-speech group called the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, spotlights the challenges facing free speech on the nation’s college campuses.

A recent incident at Fordham University, mentioned in the article, provides a good example.  There, the university’s College Republicans invited conservative columnist Ann Coulter to speak on campus.  Student groups opposed to Coulter and her politics protested the upcoming event, and on Nov. 9 the university’s president, Rev. Joseph McShane, S.J., weighed in on the matter in a letter addressed to the student body, faculty, and alumni:

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.  

In the same letter, Father McShane said that the university would not stop Coulter’s appearance owing “to the Jesuit tradition of fearless and robust engagement.”  This tradition was apparently of scant comfort to the College Republicans, however.  Faced with the attacks issuing from students, faculty, and the university president, the CRs disinvited Coulter and apologized for having invited her in the first place, a development that McShane quickly and lavishly praised:

Late yesterday, Fordham received word that the College Republicans, a student club at the university, has rescinded its lecture invitation to Ann Coulter.

Allow me to give credit where credit is due: the leadership of the College Republicans acted quickly, took responsibility for their decisions, and expressed their regrets sincerely and eloquently.  Most gratifying, I believe, is that they framed their decision in light of Fordham’s mission and values.  There can be no finer testament to the value of a Fordham education and the caliber of our students.

Yesterday I wrote that the College Republicans provided Fordham with a test of its character.  They, the University community, and our extended Fordham family passed the test with flying colors, engaging in impassioned but overwhelmingly civil debate on politics, academic freedom, and freedom of speech.

Somewhere Thomas Jefferson weeps, while George Orwell is smiling.


The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.