Muzzling speakers

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

March 7, 2007 Ed Cartoon

This week, St. Mary’s University cancelled a scheduled immigration debate between philosophy professor Peter March and Jared Taylor, the editor of the magazine American Renaissance, which some have labelled a purveyor of white supremacy.

The debate was cancelled because of overwhelming backlash to Taylor’s speaking on campus; Taylor reportedly received threats of violence. While the university maintains the event was cancelled for security reasons, March criticized administration for holding back constructive debate.

It’s understandable the university might show concern for its students’ safety in a scenario where violent protest is a possibility, but it’s a sad state of affairs when the university’s main concern is with liability rather than academics and argumentation.

As a place of higher learning, the school should be capable of turning its attention to scholarly matters and students should be willing to hear the opposition’s case before taking to arms.

The university’s decision should therefore be made based on the nature of Taylor’s argument, not safety concerns.

While there’s a realistic chance Taylor’s views are motivated by his racist leanings, it’s unfair to assume his debate will consist of hatred rather than legitimate reasoning.

As the event’s organizer, March was certainly obligated to ensure Taylor argued in an appropriate manner. However, since the university can’t infer as to his argumentation, it shouldn’t cancel the debate on the basis that his views are fuelled by hatred.

Furthermore, the university should look past the student backlash to allow for open discussion. The entire point of debate is convincing the opposing side of a viewpoint; while the majority of students disagree with Taylor’s views, the best way to mend the difference is through open forum.

As such, it’s unreasonable to expect anything to change in the absence of public discussion. Taylor’s view may be wrong, but it will never be changed if it isn’t debated and publicly defeated.

Protesters of the debate intended to suppress Taylor’s view because they see it as negative and racist, but rather than defeating it as they wish to do, they simply let people cling to its underlying racism.

As such, the university should’ve allowed the event to happen. While student concern over the contents of Taylor’s debate is warranted, no one should assume his argumentation won’t be backed with some form of research and fact. Western Professor Phillipe Rushton, for example, has published highly unpopular views on how race and gender affect intelligence but hasn’t been muzzled as he at least bases his theories on research.

Taylor’s views will remain un-addressed until acknowledged in public forum and therefore should have been debated at St. Mary’s.

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