Exposure Needed for Bad Ideas

  • Posted on Sep 03, 2017

Today's Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier column.  Free speech really does mean just that, especially on a university campus where debate and discussion form the heart of higher education.   UNI's "Controversial Speakers" program was memorable not only for the speakers it brought before students and faculty, but also for the spirited defense of free speech set for by President J.W. Maucker as well as Cedar Valley ministers, no less.  

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Imagine a university program that actually invites controversy, that sets out to make sure opposing viewpoints get aired, that seeks speakers who generate discussion and debate.  

 That’s exactly what happened at UNI just over a half-century ago, in the spring of ’66.

UNI’s student and faculty Senates created a “Controversial Speakers” program.  
This event gets explained in “A Century of Leadership and Service,” a wonderful two-volume history of UNI written by Professors William Lang and Daryl Pendergraft.  They detail UNI’s attempt to challenge students and faculty with speakers they might not otherwise hear. 

The Iowa Board of Regents fully supported the program, saying it was “designed to demonstrate that in a democratic society all citizens have not only the right but also the obligation to inform themselves on issues of contemporary concern including politics, religion, ethics, and morals.”  

I began my UNI teaching career as the program was gearing up.  I heard many of the speakers, including Black Panther Stokely Carmichael, civil rights activist Dick Gregory, beat poet Allen Ginsburg, and most bizarre of all, hippie/yippie Jerry Rubin, who in 1970 harangued 5,000 UNI students and faculty at O.R. Latham football field.  

Some legislators were outraged, most prominently Charles Grassley, who roundly objected to speaker American Communist Party speaker Herbert Aptheker, calling Aptheker’s invitation to speak “deplorable and shameful,” and that “compulsory student fees and buildings paid for by the taxpayers were used to support this un-American philosophy under the guise of freedom of speech.” Other legislators chimed in, putting pressure on UNI to bar such speakers from campus.  

 However, 22 Cedar Falls and Waterloo Ministers defended the program, writing in a letter to the Courier, “. . . an integral function of higher education in a free society is to provide free discussion,” and that SCI students “exhibited a high degree of maturity in evaluating. . .speakers and opinions.” 

President J.W. Maucker, speaking of Jerry Rubin’s wild speech, insisted that Rubin’s appearance “proved to be a worthwhile experience of a large majority of students and faculty because they got a chance to see this man in action firsthand and judge for themselves the soundness of his views.”  

“Maturity.”   “Judge for themselves.”  Such words and phrases seem almost quaint these days, when “free speech” means huge protests during the speech and often cancellations out of fear of violence. 

Let’s face it, a certain degree of faith in listeners’ maturity and judgment is required to invite such speakers as Ann Coulter or David Duke. As Oscar Wilde put it, “I may not agree with you, but I will defend to the death your right to make an ass of yourself.”  

I’d like to see the return of a UNI Controversial Speakers program. Speakers on contemporary critical issues, fringe or not, would demonstrate how much we value free debate. Bad ideas only grow stronger when opposed with violence and censorship.   

Open peaceful debate remains the best way to expose charlatans. 
 

 


 

 






             

 

 

Posted in
  • Hot Button Issues
  • Politics
  • Conservatives/Liberals
  • Education
  • Censorship
Cedar Valley Chronicles Photo

“Even before the advent of the Internet, Cawelti’s columns went 'viral' in the Cedar Valley… the role of a columnist is to be thought provoking, to take tacks that shed a different light on an issue or possibly cause a reader to reevaluate a position. At the very least, it should bring clarity to a particular perspective, whether you buy into the commentator’s worldview or not.

Scott's work does just that.  Enjoy this collection of his writing.”

-Saul Shapiro, Former Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier Editor
Read Shapiro's entire introduction.

Categories

Contact Scott

Contact Scott Photo