Larry Summers has been disinvited from speaking at the University of California at Davis, having offended the sensibilities of that faculty who don't want to provide a forum for someone who has said something Unspeakable. A leader of the petition drive to disinvite Summers, Professor Maureen Stanton, is quoted to say "I was appalled that someone articulating that point of view would be invited by the regents. This is a symbolic invitation and a symbolic measure that I believe sends the wrong message about the University of California and its cultural principles."
Eric Rauchway believes that it is the disinvitation itself that sends the wrong message. He frets that banning Summers makes it just that much more difficult to promote the free exploration of ideas on our campuses. He writes, "Casting someone as utterly outside the university's conversation is the severest penalty we as scholars can impose--appropriate perhaps to Holocaust deniers and such ilk as exhibit a chronic impenetrability to reason."
I beg to differ. It's pretty evident that Summers stated the one unspeakable thing; it's evidently more acceptable on today's campuses to raise questions about the Holocaust than over the equality of the genders. If only Summers had denied the Holocaust, chances are he might at least be invited to speak at Columbia University. After all, that's where Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be speaking on Monday. Columbia's President, Lee Bollinger, defends the decision on the following grounds: "Necessarily, on occasion this will bring us into contact with beliefs many, most, or even all of us will find offensive and even odious. We trust our community, including our students, to be fully capable of dealing with these occasions, through the powers of dialogue and reason.... It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas, or the weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas, or our naiveté about the very real dangers inherent in such ideas." Why didn't anyone defend Larry Summer's presence at UC Davis on these same grounds? Didn't the Regents "trust their community" to be "fully capable of dealing with these occasions, through the power of dialogue and reason"?
Lee Bollinger will introduce the Iranian President and then has said he will ask him a series of questions, expressing his skepticism about Ahmadinejad's views (I'm sure the President of Iran is quaking in his boots). Why didn't any of UC Davis's faculty suggest asking Summers some "tough questions" rather than calling for his outright ban from campus? Doesn't Ahmadinejad's presence constitute "a symbolic invitation and a symbolic measure" that sends the "wrong message" about Columbia University's "cultural principles"?
Where is the petition by the Columbia faculty protesting the appearance of a man who has repeatedly stated what Rauchway regards as "unspeakable"? Denying the Holocaust and calling for the extinction of Israel is one thing; calling for research on why fewer women are in the sciences is another. Thank goodness our Universities today know where to draw the line between those subjects which are permitted to be "discussed" and those which are unspeakable. It seems to me that it's many of our own faculty who exhibit a "chronic impenetrability to reason," and maybe they should be the ones to be barred from campus. Anyone want to start a petition?