Tuesday, October 14, 2014

An Ill-Considered Invitation

Barbara Regenspan,
Chair, Department of Educational Studies

On October 8, a week and a half after the student sit-in which invigorated the pledge to make Colgate a welcome campus for all of its students, selected program and center directors were asked to weigh in on whether their programs would be interested in being involved with a visit to Colgate by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a request accompanied by Hirsi Ali's Wikipedia entry.

To be fair, the Wikipedia article included the fact that Hirsi Ali is known for her critical views about Islam, but did not include her dismissal of the importance of distinguishing among the many denominations and global political perspectives within Islam, nor did it convey the fanaticism explicit in her 2007 interview in Reason magazine [ http://reason.com/archives/2007/10/10/the-trouble-is-the-west ], available to Googlers a mere few clicks beyond the Wikipedia entry.  One choice direct excerpt from this interview is copied below:

Reason: We have to crush the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims under our boot? In concrete terms, what does that mean, “defeat Islam”?
Hirsi Ali: I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars. Islam can be defeated in many ways. For starters, you stop the spread of the ideology itself; at present, there are native Westerners converting to Islam, and they’re the most fanatical sometimes. There is infiltration of Islam in the schools and universities of the West. You stop that. You stop the symbol burning and the effigy burning, and you look them in the eye and flex your muscles and you say, “This is a warning. We won’t accept this anymore.” There comes a moment when you crush your enemy.
Reason: Militarily?
Hirsi Ali: In all forms, and if you don’t do that, then you have to live with the consequence of being crushed.
To bring to campus a woman who proposes the annihilation of a religion practiced by 1.5 billion mostly peace-loving human beings is unconscionable for any institution.  Brandeis University rescinded their offer to grant her an honorary degree at last May's graduation, after a few faculty and students did their homework and publicized what they discovered about her extremism.  For Colgate to propose this invitation in the light of its now two-week-old commitment to create a welcoming environment for all members of its multicultural student body and faculty appears particularly self-destructive.

A secondary strategic consideration is the reality that we are all relieved that the sit-in is over, for all of its productive effects on our collective resolve to improve campus life here.  I know how relieved I am to be able to continue to pursue my regular academic work again without disruption, and to support our students to do the same, even though I believed the disruption was worth the sacrifice.  Yet this speaking engagement is an invitation to disruption again.  For those who believe that Ayaan Hirsi Ali's call for the crushing of Islam is hate speech, which is certainly the case for myself and many faculty and students who are already aware of this issue, her invitation will represent a revocation of the University's newly proclaimed commitment, and as such, it will invite--even require--protest.
Finally, and as a related matter, I resent the time I have been obliged to invest in recent months on defending our Colgate from administrative decisions and proposals (like this one) that have been made without adequate “homework,” without adequate democratic process, or both.  At a time when we could be coming together to build a coalition of colleges and universities rethinking the viability of extrajudicial bodies processing crimes on our campuses, rethinking the excessive attention to technology as a cure for broad social challenges in education, rethinking the processes by which we could attract a more socially diverse student body (and challenge the assault on public education which threatens such processes), we waste increasing amounts of energy simply railing against wrong-headed administrative decisions, in the hope that somebody will hear.  I, for one, am tired of these distractions, and would like to be able to recommit my full energies to what I do well: teaching, scholarship, and the broad-minded service that maintains lively faculty governance.

The above post does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the AAUP membership or that of its officers, nor does inclusion of the post on this website constitute an endorsement by the AAUP chapter of Colgate University.



Patrick Crotty, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy said...

From the point of view that a university should be a place for fearless intellectual discourse, it would be very troubling if a long-term result of the sit-in were that Colgate became reluctant to bring speakers with controversial ideas to campus. Like it or not, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a significant public figure who has published several books, served in the Dutch Parliament, and was on Time Magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people for 2005. As a Somali woman and victim of female genital mutilation, she has a background and perspective that few to none of our students have likely encountered. I myself strongly disagree with her characterization of global Islam as some menacing totalitarian force. But I think, and certainly hope, that Colgate faculty and students would be capable of letting her give her talk without disruption and then ask tough questions during the Q&A to expose the flaws in her arguments.

The only thing Brandeis University accomplished by rescinding its invitation to Hirsi Ali was to make itself look very, very bad, among other things earning a scathing public rebuke from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. So let's not follow Brandeis's example.

Barbara Regenspan said...

Dear Patrick: I have been here for ten years and have almost never experienced genuinely tough questions being raised from the floor at a speaking engagement on campus. You underestimate the amount of confidence and ability to buck parental teaching about "politeness" that it takes for students to raise tough questions. Faculty have other issues that tend to inhibit us, including a justifiable fear of dominating the Q&A. Also, your post suggests that "fearless intellectual discourse" on campus is contained in a vacuum, when in fact, our selection of speakers influences public opinion about the validity/merit of the speakers' perspectives. Historical research yields a wealth of evidence that prominent US universities did a great deal to legitimize both the Nazis and Mussolini's fascism. I am unwilling for us to offer legitimacy to Islamaphobia, especially at a time when people in high elected offices can remain credible while questioning the legitimacy of Obama's birth certificate. Sincerely, Barbara

October 17, 2014 at 3:36 PM