Campus Free Speech

Montana Dean Worried About 'the Risk of Offending Students,' Dis-Invites Conservative Speaker

Can't have that


Edward Blake

Mike Adams, a conservative writer and professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, was invited to give a lecture at the University of Montana. But the dean of Montana's journalism school has allegedly rescinded this invitation because he was worried about "running the risk of offending students."

According to an email from the journalism dean, Larry Abramson, to Maria Cole, who arranged for Adams to speak as part of the annual Jeff Cole Memorial Scholarship programming each year, Adams appears "to be siding with Christians in the 'culture war,'" and talking "about the prevalence of 'cultural Marxism.'"

"I think we can find a speaker who will talk about free speech issues, without running the risk of offending students," Abramson wrote in the email published by Newstalk KGVO in Missoula. "We can still have a conversation with him if you want, but he is pretty extreme in his views."

Abramson subsequently defended himself to KGVO:

When KGVO news asked Mr. Abramson about refusing the Mike Adams speech, Abramson said his "chief concern" was that Mr. Adams is not a journalist. He followed up by saying "[Adams] has attacked members of the LGBTQ community in public forums and, in my view, belittled people who would characterize themselves or that he would characterize as feminists and I think that some of those remarks could be interpreted as hate speech."

Abramson says he doesn't believe there is any legal requirement to bring Mr. Adams to campus and indicated that Mr. Adam's "values" were not in line with the J-school.

"I'm not a lawyer, but I'm sure our lawyers would tell you that there are requirements that we accommodate different people's views, but the J-school does not have to invite people that we think don't match with our priorities or are values as a tolerant, welcoming school," Abramson said.

I reached out to Abramson for comment; he did not immediately respond.

The dean is correct: the university is not compelled to extend a platform to any specific speaker. Moreover, administrators could find someone to defend the principles of free speech who does not hold bigoted views toward members of the LGBT community.

That said, if your goal is to avoid "running the risk of offending students," you have set a very high bar for any intellectual not of the left to speak on campus. Recall that students at William and Mary recently shut down the American Civil Liberties Union with cries of "liberalism is white supremacy." Just a few days ago, it was reported that a Mississippi school district was pulling To Kill a Mockingbird from its library shelves because the book "makes people uncomfortable."

Every time school officials cave to pressure from students—or, as it seems to be the case in Montana, proactively move to prevent emotional harm before students even have the chance to complain—they help normalize the idea that learning should be completely free of intellectual discomfort.

If nothing else, the cover-schools-in-bubble-wrap approach seems to be sabotaging chances of students developing resiliency. A recent New York Times piece found skyrocketing rates of depression and anxiety among young people who are growing up under hyper-protective conditions. By constantly weighing whether a speaker, book, event, idea, rally, sign, or outburst will negatively impact students' emotional well-being, we are doing them no favors.