It’s that time of the year again when various campus interest groups get their panties in a collective bunch over the choice of commencement speakers.
Los Angeles’s Occidental College has chosen Harvard Law Prof. Randall Kennedy, and hoo-boy – this hasn’t sat very well with student activists and some faculty.
You see, Kennedy has publicly spoken out against the dubious film The Hunting Ground for its portrayal of “the general sexual assault phenomenon at universities and of [Harvard] student Brandon Winston.”
Students from the Occidental group Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity, seemingly without a sense of irony, ripped President Jonathan Veitch for the Kennedy invite.
“Your choice of speakers… speak not to your espousal of liberal values of ‘free speech’ and ‘tolerance’ but of your burning desire to obliterate dissent,” they wrote in a letter.
“Randall Kennedy was chosen because he is a thoughtful and nuanced commentator on race in America,” Veitch wrote. “While I understand the critiques raised around the issues of race and sexual assault that have been the subject of so much pain on our campus, it is equally important that we remain receptive to a free and open dialogue that includes a wide variety of perspectives.”
Kennedy said in an interview that he is not surprised some Occidental affiliates disagree with his views, as race and sexual assault are controversial subjects. Diverging opinions, however, should not bar institutions from inviting speakers, he said.
“Universities, above all places in American life, should be places where debate and free exchange are facilitated and expected,” Kennedy said. “The idea that because a group of people disagrees with somebody, that in it of itself simply cannot or should not be the basis for excluding someone.”
“I am all for free speech, even from faculty who work to silence marginalized students, but Oxy’s choice of Kennedy is a slap in the face of student activists who have worked tirelessly on these issues the past few years,” she wrote in a Facebook post.
President Veitch echoed Barack Obama, saying “The calls to withdraw the invitation extended to Professor Kennedy reflect a disturbing trend in our national life and on college campuses […] in which we are no longer willing to engage with ideas with which we disagree.”
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