David Horowitz’s speech at UNC earlier this week, sponsored by the College Republicans among other organizations, has rightfully provoked an outcry, including a social media campaign, #NotSafeUNC, which highlights the various ways students who are members of marginalized groups at UNC are made to feel unsafe.
The groups and students Horowitz attacked have already responded effectively.
They have rightly pointed out Horowitz’s prejudice, his conflation of Muslims and Arabs, and his dangerous narrative of a clash of civilizations. Critics have also pointed out the mindless insensitivity of the College Republicans in inviting his hatemongering to campus in the aftermath of the shooting of three Muslim students earlier this year.
But Horowitz’s appearance is also an example of college campuses lending their gravitas to speakers who offer little intellectual heft to back up their cultural prominence.
Just last week, Duke University invited former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to speak about President Obama’s foreign policy despite Romney’s lack of practical or academic experience in the subject.
Romney, while likely briefed extensively about national security issues during his campaign for president, did not match that preparation with a nuanced discussion of national security policy, instead employing charged partisan rhetoric.
Universities, and by extension, student groups, have a responsibility to promote serious discussions about controversial issues. This responsibility is inextricably linked to universities’ statuses as safe havens for free speech.
UNC’s College Republicans and Duke should not lend the pageantry and platforms they did to speakers such as Horowitz and Romney if they will only use their platform to advance ideological agendas with little grounding in academic discussions of these critical issues.
And in turn, students should seek out and attend events that feature speakers who are perhaps less prominent on the national stage but who offer more serious discussions. Universities and academia, while not immune from the influence of partisan politics, should be bastions of meritocratic, evidence-based research and discussions. These are often advanced by universities’ very own employees.
Duke students would have been wise to be more interested in what the host of the Romney event, noted foreign policy scholar and Duke professor Peter Feaver, had to say.
Horowitz’s reputation for anti-intellectualism and hate speech precedes him, and he should not have been invited to UNC’s campus at all.
This is not an attack on freedom of speech. Horowitz had every right to speak on campus.
In the future, the College Republicans and other groups should take more seriously the responsibilities of academic institutions to promote intellectually substantial discussions.