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Ban Outside Speakers? Not On Our Watch

Tomorrow's Academy

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During the post-9/11 period, bans of invited visiting speakers have come not only from colleges and universities but also from the U.S. Department of State. The last four years have witnessed case after case of foreign scholars who have accepted positions (in some instances prospectively permanent but in others as a visitor for a time definite) only to find themselves unable to keep the commitment because the State Department has declined to issue them a visa. The AAUP has viewed the government's handling of these visa applications as outrageous in principle and disastrous for our country's reputation in the international academic community. We have forcefully pressed the State Department for appropriate action in specific cases, and we will continue to do so.


The posting below, a bit longer than most, gives a detailed history efforts to ban controversial speakers on college compuses. It is by Jordan E. Kurland, associate general secretary of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The article first appeared in the September-October 2007 issue of Academe, Volume 93, Number 5. Copyright ?2007 American Association of University Professors. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: A Campus, Not a Sanctuary

Tomorrow's Academia


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Ban Outside Speakers? Not On Our Watch


The AAUP has been monitoring and categorically opposing speaker bans since the cold war.

Since its founding, the AAUP has been concerned with infringements of academic freedom when colleges interfere with invited speakers. The first time the AAUP seems to have addressed the problem categorically, however, was through a resolution adopted fifty years ago by our annual meeting. The Association took action after the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee issued a list of "radical and/or revolutionary speakers" (including people such as Jessica Milford, Linus Pauling, and Benjamin Spock) and colleges and universities repeatedly canceled their appearances. The 1957 annual meeting resolution, asserting that "it is educationally desirable that students be confronted with diverse opinions of all kinds," held that "any person who is presented by a recognized student or faculty organization should be allowed to speak on a college or university campus."

If the first resolution was a by-product of the "cold war" with the Soviet Union, the next resolution resulted from an improbable bridging of the cold war with the civil rights movement in the South a half decade later. The Act to Regulate Visiting Speakers at State Supported Colleges and Universities, sponsored by the American Legion for adoption by state legislatures, prohibited the use of state facilities for speaking purposes to any person known to be a member of the Communist Party, to advocate the overthrow of the federal or state constitution, or to have pleaded the Fifth Amendment upon being questioned about Communist or subversive connections. It had been introduced as a bill in the 1963 session of the North Carolina legislature, where it appeared to be going nowhere as the session entered its final days. Those were days, however, of civil rights demonstrations, and a sit-in was held by black students and their supporters at the Hotel Sir Walter, a favorite hangout for legislators while they were meeting in Raleigh. According to contemporary accounts, a few key members of the legislature, enraged by these activities, decided to retaliate by pressing for immediate adoption of the "speaker ban" bill. It was accordingly rushed through both houses of the legislature without previous notification to the presidents of the public colleges and universities and without mention of it in the press. It was enacted into law on the afternoon of the legislative body's final day in June 1963, in a state where the governor lacks the power to veto.

The opposition to the outsider-speaker ban from North Carolina's academic community and the mainstream media was intense as the next, 1965, session of the legislature approached. Pressures to rescind the ban led a new governor, who was averse to taking a stand himself on the matter, to refer it with legislative concurrence to a study commission that would evaluate the merits and report back to a special session of the legislature being scheduled for the fall. After televised hearings, at which AAUP testimony on both academic and constitutional issues was presented, the commission called for a compromise that delegated authority for outside speakers to each institution's trustees but with an advance commitment that those who would have been banned under the 1963 ban would continue to be rejected except in rare instances that "would clearly serve the advantage of education." The AAUP responded with "Restraints on Visiting Speakers" resolutions at the 1966 and 1967 annual meetings, referring to the "freedom to hear" as "an inseparable part of academic freedom." By 1967, out-of-court settlements had brought about a quiet withdrawal of the speaker-ban law and its amended versions.

Controversies in the 1970s and 1980s

A new area of controversy regarding outside speakers emerged in the early 1970s over research designed to show a relationship between a person's intelligence and his or her race. Some of those who were identified (or identified themselves) as experts on this highly sensitive topic found themselves in demand on the college lecture circuit. Most notable among them as a visiting speaker was William Shockley, who had for the most part abandoned the work that had earned him the Nobel Prize in physics in order to devote himself to writing and lecturing about genetic influences on intelligence. He discussed his research in an abrasive manner that seemed to encourage incivilities among opponents. They accused him of fostering theories of racial inferiority and thereby supporting racism. Some extremists among his opponents urged that research like Shockley's be condemned out of hand and that professional organizations, academic departments, and scholarly journals prohibit its dissemination. Others threatened violence, disrupted lectures in process, and succeeded in coercing college and university administrations into withdrawing invitations to lecture.

The AAUP's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, needing no convincing that in this controversy academic freedom was a loser, in February 1974 approved the statement On Issues of Academic Freedom in Studies Linking Intelligence and Race. The committee, the statement said, categorically rejects any proposal to curtail the freedom to report research studies or the interpretive conclusions based on them, however unpalatable either may be. Mindful that the quality of research endeavors and the conclusions drawn from them may reflect varying degrees of scientific rigor, we assert nonetheless the paramount virtue of the open forum for the dissemination of ideas through publication, exposition, and debate. No less importantly, we commend open channels of expression as the basic source of counter-positions and correctives, where critics of distasteful views can express themselves without restraint.

After the issuance of Committee A's statement that spring, attempts on various campuses to silence opponents continued to be made in contentious disputes involving intelligence and race. The statement, however, may well have been a factor in bringing an end to the disputes over the appearances of Shockley and other visiting speakers.

Many faculties and student bodies opposed to policies of the Reagan administration during the early 1980s, particularly with regard to foreign affairs, protested against prominent government officials invited to speak on campuses. The opposition manifested itself on some occasions in disruption of speeches and threats of violence. The spring of 1983 witnessed several widely reported incidents of this kind involving scheduled campus appearances by United States ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick.

In successive appearances at different institutions, she was prevented from completing her remarks by disruptions, and officials at one institution withdrew an invitation to her to serve as commencement speaker because they could not ensure her safety while she visited the campus.

The Kirkpatrick incidents led to a statement in April 1983 from the Association's Committee A, On Issues of Academic Freedom in Interference with Invited Speakers, followed promptly by a joint statement, Invited Speakers and Academic Freedom-A Call to Action, by the AAUP and the American Council on Education together with three national student organizations. Committee A's statement "reaffirms its expectation that all members of the academic community will respect the right of others to listen to those who have been invited to speak on campus and will indicate disagreement not by disruptive action designed to silence the speaker but by reasoned debate and discussion as befits academic freedom in a community of higher learning."

The joint statement that followed called "upon our fellow students, teachers, and administrators to reaffirm our traditional commitments to the freedom to speak and to listen . . . so that the hecklers' veto does not drown out free speech and debate. . . .Unless there is freedom for all to listen and to learn, there can be no true college or university no matter how fine the buildings or modern the equipment."

Another highly publicized incident in which persons on campus prevented a well-known political leader from talking occurred at Northwestern University in the spring of 1985. This time the visitor was not an American government official, but rather a leader of the "contras" faction in Nicaragua, Adolfo Calero. He had been invited by a recognized student organization, the International Policy Forum. Some three hundred persons, many of them protesters, had filled the auditorium, and a probationary faculty member seized the microphone before the scheduled speech and delivered an impassioned speech of her own, declaring that "we are not going to let him speak." When Calero did arrive, he waited ten or fifteen minutes for an opportunity to speak. Someone then threw a red liquid at him, and, accompanied by security personnel, he left the room without having uttered a word to the audience.

The Northwestern administration initiated disciplinary proceedings against the probationary faculty member who had demanded that Calero be stopped from speaking, and it accepted a recommendation from a hearing panel that the faculty member receive a formal reprimand and a warning that a repetition of the offense would be considered grounds for dismissing her. The following year, the faculty member was evaluated for tenure. A majority in her department supported her candidacy on the basis of her academic performance, but the administration decided against granting tenure, largely on grounds that she would not unambiguously rule out behaving again as she had in the Calero case. The faculty member complained that the administration acted against her because of her political beliefs, thus violating her academic freedom, and the AAUP undertook an investigation. The investigating committee's report (published in the May-June 1988 issue of Academe) found faults by both administrative officers and faculty bodies in procedure and in communication, but it did not find grounds for rejecting the administration's position that the faculty member was denied tenure because of her behavior rather than her beliefs.

Another formal AAUP inquiry in the 1980s dealt with actions against a visiting speaker, this one involving rescission of invitations to speak rather than disruption of speech and on religious rather than political grounds. Daniel C. Maguire, a tenured professor at Marquette University who is a former priest and a well-known moral theologian, wrote a letter published in September 1984 by the New York Times identifying himself as the Catholic theologian who was the source of a statement by 1982 vice-presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro that "the Catholic position on abortion is not monolithic."

Maguire, who had a reputation as an outspoken and challenging lecturer, had by the fall of 1984 accepted invitations to participate in conferences to be held during the summer of 1985 at St. Martin's College in the state of Washington, at the College of St. Scholastica in Minnesota, at Boston College, and at Villanova University. He was not allowed to fulfill any of these engagements. What happened at each of the institutions that had invited him is discussed in detail in the AAUP committee of inquiry's report (published in the July-August 1986 issue of Academe). It warrants emphasizing that in the face of these four rejections Daniel Maguire remained (and still remains) a tenured professor in good standing at Marquette University.

Artistic Expression

A more recent area of concern was one where definitions of who or what is a "speaker" or is "visiting" or has been "restrained" are far from clear. It involved allegations of violation of academic freedom in the curtailment of artistic endeavors, which motivated Committee A in the late 1980s to consider formulating policy addressing the issues that had been raised. A decision to bring administrative officers and trustees into the discussions led to a three-day conference at the Wolf Trap center in northern Virginia in 1990 cosponsored by the AAUP, the American Council on Education, the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, and the Wolf Trap Foundation. The participants adopted a policy statement, Academic Freedom and Artistic Expression (published in the July-August 1990 issue of Academe), that was subsequently endorsed by Committee A and by the AAUP's Council.

As reported at the time by Academe editor Paul Strohm, the forty curators, artists, professors, administrators, and trustees who convened at Wolf Trap "agreed that artistic expression is more like than unlike other scholarly and teaching activities and consequently requires protection similar in kind and in degree." Their statement-after recalling a former AAUP president's assertion that "essential as freedom is for the relation and judgment of facts, it is even more indispensable to the imagination"-declares that "academic freedom in the creation and presentation of works in the visual and performing arts, by ensuring greater opportunity for imaginative exploration and expression, best serves the public and the academy."

Restraints on artistic expression differ from restraints on speech because, unlike with speakers, the object of the ban is more often the art than the artist. Many forms of art have been banned in well-publicized cases. Sculpture was banned at Brigham Young University with the rejection of Rodin's The Kiss as part of an exhibit. Motion pictures banned at Brigham Young have included Schindler's List and Amistad. Several church-related colleges and universities have banned theater productions, including Angels in America and The Vagina Monologues, although other church-related institutions have continued to offer these productions despite pressure from their constituents to ban them.

Is canceling a scheduled "visiting" performance by an outside professional group less of an academic freedom concern than canceling a performance coming from the institution's own drama department? On occasion, the performers are a mixture of insiders and outsiders. One such case involved a 1997 conference sponsored by the women's studies program at the State University of New York at New Paltz. The final event on the program, following a workshop entitled "Sex Toys for Women," was a presentation by a hired exotic dancer who was billed as a "performance artist." New Paltz president Roger Bowen's insistence that this faculty-approved conference take place as advertised despite strenuous opposition to it from State University of New York trustees, and even though he found parts of it personally offensive, earned Bowen the AAUP's Alexander Meiklejohn Award for Academic Freedom.

Outside Speakers after 9/11

September 11, 2001, was the terrible launching date for the most recent and still very current area of concern. Restraints on visiting speakers have not been the largest problem for academic freedom during times of obsessive worry about security against terrorism. Speaker bans in old and new forms do continue, however. The 2003 report of an AAUP special committee, Academic Freedom and National Security in a Time of Crisis (published in the November-December 2003 issue of Academe), discusses several instances of unsuccessful and successful attempts to cancel the appearance of a controversial invited visiting speaker. Pressures to cancel a scheduled speech were unsuccessful in the cases of a leading Palestinian spokesperson at Colorado College and at the University of Colorado and of an Irish poet at Harvard University. Pressures on the sponsors did, however, bring about the cancellation of a speech by a British cleric at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, and at Rockford College in Illinois a commencement speech by a Pulitzer Prize reporter who opposed the war in Iraq was drowned out by audience members who continually chanted "God Bless America."

Several professors in Middle East studies programs at major American colleges and universities have been under steady attack by various pressure groups for being too sympathetic in their teaching and writing to Islamic interests. Those professors have by and large had their academic freedom supported by the administrations of their own institutions, but opposition to their scheduled speaking on other campuses has brought threats of cancellation.

During the post-9/11 period, bans of invited visiting speakers have come not only from colleges and universities but also from the U.S. Department of State. The last four years have witnessed case after case of foreign scholars who have accepted positions (in some instances prospectively permanent but in others as a visitor for a time definite) only to find themselves unable to keep the commitment because the State Department has declined to issue them a visa. The AAUP has viewed the government's handling of these visa applications as outrageous in principle and disastrous for our country's reputation in the international academic community. We have forcefully pressed the State Department for appropriate action in specific cases, and we will continue to do so.