Self censorship in a democratic society, U of M style

The brouhaha over the Humphrey School’s invitation to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to speak at the University of Minnesota has two elements: One is her $150,000 speaking fee. The other is whether people who disagree with what she has to say should prevent you from hearing what she has to say.

The Star Tribune says the University Senate will vote next week on a resolution to disinvite Rice “because of her role in the wartime policies of the Bush administration.”

Nick Theis, a member of Students for a Democratic Society (there’s some irony), acknowledges the vote is symbolic. “It’s not like it’s going to bind anyone to do anything. I thought it would be a very powerful ­statement.”

That says what, exactly?

That Rice commands a large fee for her speech, for which people get in free, shouldn’t be particularly surprising. Famous people usually charge for speeches.

But the movement to reject the expression of her viewpoint is an accepted, if troubling, notion. Clearly there’s debate surrounding the Bush administration’s intentions and rationale for raiding Iraq. And that’s fair game in a democratic society; Five hundred people just got sentenced to death in Egypt for the murder of one policeman, as the government cracks down on its political opponents.

But what do they call it when someone’s views or opinions are suppressed because of a disagreement over content, again?

This isn’t the first tantrum on campus over the views of a speaker, of course. Last fall, the University of Michigan disinvited Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple,” because she favors a boycott of Israel. And we’re just a few weeks from the annual protests over commencement speakers at college graduations.

“The harshest thing I see is that we engage more in self-censorship,” Robert O’Neil, the former head of the University of Wisconsin, said last year. “It’s not P.C. to make a special effort to respect people’s beliefs and to try to accommodate them.”

“Rescinding any kind of invitation would be inconsistent with our goal of promoting discussion and dialogue,” Andrea Cournoyer, a spokeswoman for the Humphrey School, said about Rice’s speech.

  • John O.

    Like it or not, she is entitled to present her views and if someone is willing to pay the fee to have the privilege of listening to her, so be it. I did not see in the Strib post any mention of where the $150,000 is coming from. If it is from a private donor (or group of private donors), that’s one thing. If it coming from the U of M itself, I really do not want to hear President Kaler or any of his minions whinging about how they need more money from the state.

  • kevins

    I voted in disagreement with the assertion in the question above, but in no way do I think Dr. Rice is worth 150K!!!

  • AndyBriebart

    Once again poor reporting by the Star Tribune for not giving some context to what other big name guest speakers get paid. But then, the low information voter wont be as outraged if it is put into context.

    I guess “diversity” doesn’t include conservatives in their world view.

    • Joe

      I agree, Condoleeza Rice + $150,000 isn’t much of a story. Her fee isn’t surprising at all. I’d love to know if speakers with high fees similar to that are compensated with public money through the U of M, or if that’s even the issue here. All it seems to be is Condoleeza, money, war is bad!!! Not a compelling story.

  • Here’s an example of what some Minnesota speakers charge.

    A local blogger gets $5,000. The guy who started Geek Squad gets $30,000. A former Viking gets $37,000. $150k for a Secretary of State? that’s about inline considering what relatively UNimportant people are charging.

    Her old boss gets about the same amount.

    • AndyBriebart

      That list published? It would be cool to see who they have had for speakers in the past.

    • David

      In college I was on the committee that helped select our commencement speaker. We had a $30k limit. Soon after that the college developed a policy of finding an alum/speaker connected to the college who would do the speech for free.
      Our commencement speaker was Bill Bradley.

  • kevinfromminneapolis

    Having been in college during the run up to and start of the Iraq war, this is not surprising.

    • Nicholas Kraemer

      I was also on campus during the “run up” to war, and frankly this IS shocking. Please don’t try to pretend that the U or M is anything other than a bastion of Left wing thinking.

  • Tom Burke

    George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice belong on death row for war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. Politicians who tortured human beings in US prisons belong on trial, not being payed by our tax money.

    • NadePaulKuciGravMcKi

      “no one could have imagined that airliners would be used”
      Condi under oath

      after running the very same drills & exercises many times

  • coleenrowley

    So all the Rutgers faculty who voted to not hear a war criminal were against academic freedom? This debate has constantly surrounded John Yoo and other lawyers who deliberately drafted the “Golden Shield” legal memos so say torture was OK and to protect those like Condi Rice who gave the orders to waterboard and commit torture.

    • You don’t think you lose anything in the integrity of the public debate when you describe Rice as a war criminal?

      I get why you think she is and that’s certainly appropriately fodder for debatea. But the casual assertion that because you think she is, that therefore she is, undermines the assertion that there’s a role for intelligent discourse on the question.

      BTW, I do rather love the irony of your allegation that NPR promotes the idea of American exceptionalism, shortly before you note that EVEN EUROPEANS are ‘waking up’ .

      • coleenrowley

        Those who commit crimes are criminals and that is the case even if they are not caught or prosecuted for a long time. It’s not like getting away with a crime takes away that status. I was in law enforcement so of course I know that many, many criminals do get away with their crimes and are never prosecuted. But remember Pinochet? With war crimes, it’s very common for a lot of reasons, that it takes a long time for people to come to grips with the awfulness of what their own country’s officials have committed or the truth of what’s been allowed to happen. History is replete with such situations and the trying of WWII war criminals right afterward is more the exception than the rule. But speaking of Europeans, it’s my understanding now that Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush ARE actually afraid to travel to some countries for fear of being arrested and tried for their crimes. People in the U.S. of course live in a kind of bubble and unfortunately at this point, many either don’t know the facts of Condi’s prior illegal actions or they just want to forget.

        • Nicholas Kraemer

          Why don’t you lend some credibility to you are saying and give an example of these “war crimes” you keep speaking of. To keep things simple, why not just pick the most damning crime and give all of us some of the details around your allegations. I think you should do this because your posts, up to this point, have been a lot of rhetorical hot air and nonsense. I would love the chance to discredit your allegations, but you would need to make cogent point first.

      • coleenrowley

        You should make up your own mind after researching more. If you haven’t seen the “American Faust: from Condi to Neo-Condi” film, I think it will be shown a couple of times before April 17th. Please come! It’s only 87 minutes long and all of the information is from various historians, biographers, as well as first hand witnesses. I wrote this review back in 2009: You can also watch the documentary on your own either via Netflix or some online film provider.

    • NadePaulKuciGravMcKi

      we now have 12 years of 9/11 investigation evidence ..

      Bush Cheney Rove Rice Rumsfeld
      mass-murder VIP war criminals or
      mass-murder VIP war profiteers ?!

  • coleenrowley

    The University’s academic freedom type excuse for not apologizing for their mistake and disinviting Rice is a total fabrication given how these Northrop events are run. They are not debates or even meaningful discussions in any sense of the word but simply controlled to allow the person at the podium to sway the audience.
    When Condi spoke at Beth El Synagogue a couple years ago, she strongly shilled for war on Iran, nearly as much as she did for Bush-Cheney’s devastating war on Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of people and left Iraq in shambles, spreading sectarian hatred throughout the mid-east. Condi would probably not even accept to engage in a real Oxford style debate with anyone who knows something about her prior involvement in war crimes, not even if she was paid a million dollars!

    But shouldn’t Mr. Collins have asked that question, if Rice could be invited to a real debate or discussion?! There are plenty of high level attorneys and even former military officials who could be invited to discuss with her who know of her unethical and illegal actions, not only in helping contrive an illegal war on Iraq but also she convened the “White House Principals” who designed and ordered various illegal torture upon detainees.

    Unfortunately NPR and other media constantly promote this “American Exceptionalism” which means, after all, that the laws apply only to other countries, all others EXCEPT the U.S. Even Europeans are finally waking up, however to the double standard:

    • jaime

      I would argue that a commencement address is MUCH different than a general speaking affair where there’s a discussion period.

      It’s usually a short, fluffy speech – not a place to push agendas.

  • jaime

    First, full disclosure – I work at the U of MN (but not in the department in question).

    Typically each department has a budget for commencement and the Humphrey school has more $$ than other departments on campus. So most likely Kaler is not giving special money for the speaker, it’s just part of the department’s budget (some of which may come from donors).

    I find it troubling that this kind of attitude is trickling down into the University climate. In the past, a University campus was a place to explore ideas outside of your own and make an informed (and respectful) decision as to if you agree or not. Shutting out ideas outside of your own will only make you a less informed member of society, not a better member of society.

    Additionally, perhaps Ms. Rice has something important to talk about other than one moment in her career – such as what it was like being a high ranking official in the US government and particular challenges she had to overcome in breaking through the white, male establishment.

    I was not a fan of the Bush administration and fully disagreed with the war. But everyone has a right to their opinion.

    • Bill Rood

      One of the questions on my mind was, “Where is the $150,000 coming from?” Thanks for answering that question. It’s clearly the right of all students, including SDS, to voice their opinion and agitate on the question of how their tuition is being spent.

      • coleenrowley

        The $150,000 is coming from a Carlson Foundation endowment but that endowment fund did not possess all of the necessary amount so the Carlson Foundation is apparently making up the rest. I’m assuming her expenses will be additional and I don’t know where that money is coming from. The decision to invite Rice was jointly made by Dean Eric Schwartz of the Humphrey Institute and the Carlson Foundation which is a major donor to the University. (I think the business school is named after Carlson.)

      • coleenrowley

        I should also note that, irrespective of where the $150,000 is coming from, it’s not only highly unethical to help launch illegal wars and illegal torture but then to profit from those war crimes is even worse! After years of unaccountability, it shouldn’t surprise anyone as to how so many people now refuse to face the reality of what she did.
        The Humphrey Institute is also inviting Elliot Abrams who was convicted in Iran-Contra to come speak a couple weeks before the Rice event. At very least Dean Schwartz should be asked what the purpose is of giving the podium to the neo-con politicians when students don’t really have a meaningful chance to question the speakers and it’s more of a chance for the speaker to just influence the students. At least on one occasion, however, some students elsewhere did get a chance to ask questions of Rice after one of these events. Rice gave a hasty response telling the students that torture and otherwise illegal acts are not illegal if the president orders it.

        • Bill Rood

          Yes, of course. If the President does it, then it’s not illegal.

  • coleenrowley

    I assume that many readers don’t know that Condi Rice is the one who actually delivered the order to CIA Director George Tenet in mid July 2002 to (illegally) waterboard detainees. She was quoted as telling Tenet: “Go do it. It’s your baby,” after she convened a meeting and getting consensus from the White House Principals involved in planning various torture tactics. Her orders came even before John Yoo wrote the “golden shield” memo to “legalize” torture and to provide a legal defense if the White House officials should ever be prosecuted for their crimes.

  • JT Haines

    I’m a Humphrey School Alum, and I’m not impressed that my alma mater’s public resources (the fee, the building, the staff time, etc) are being used to host Rice for this event as framed. I agree with Ms. Rowley. And I’ve spoken to a number of other alums who are generally underwhelmed as well.

  • Joe

    As long as it isn’t public money, people should not have a problem with this. If this is public money, people should have a serious problem with this. Her fee is because she is famous, her fame is due to her being a public figure who was a member of an administration elected by the public. We already paid her fee. Please, no electoral college arguments.

  • coleenrowley

    I just tried to send a suggestion to Bob Collins via his e-mail that he ought to see if MPR (and maybe Star Tribune, etc) could host an actual debate or maybe a fairly moderated discussion of these important issues as well as the foreign policy issues of the day. There’s no free speech right to commit crimes, including war crimes, of course but criminals are allowed to defend themselves–or get lawyers to do so–at all stages. The “Intelligence Squared” type discussions modeled after the famous Oxford debates are even aired on MPR and are not only very popular but are really quite educational and to the benefit of everyone in the audience and all listeners, no matter what they believe or end up concluding. Ideally, Condi could be asked onto a real “Intelligence Squared.” That would be so much better than simply giving her a podium at Northrop to praise her actions as the Humphrey Institute and Carlson Foundation are now doing.

    The problem that exists right now is so very few people in the general public know the truth of Rice’s and others’ secretive actions. As you might remember, even the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,300 page investigative report about CIA torture–at a cost of $40 million taxpayers’ money– is being thwarted and covered up by the CIA Director, thus provoking a “constitutional crisis” in the words of Senator Feinstein who chairs the Committee. I know Mr. Collins thought I used strong language but Feinstein’s right about torture and the dangerous situation constitutionally that exists right now based on these offficials’ perceived need to still cover it all up.

    • I think Richard Nixon should’ve been buried with the body of pigs. But I still listened when he gave his speeches in subsequent years. It allowed me to continually test whether my belief was correct. And I still feel that way. I was never afraid of the opportunity he had to change my mind. I am afraid of people who are afraid of that. Very, very afraid.

      The Catholics who so vigorously fought the notion of president Obama giving a speech at Notre Dame in 2009, were also convinced that the utter rightness of their position justified the attempt to silence their target. In their view, he was guilty of the “crime” of supporting abortion.

      Notre Dame survived the ghastly notion that a person be allowed to stand and speak. The U of M will, too.

      If we can’t trust people on a college campus to be able to hear viewpoints and decide for themselves, why exactly do we have college campuses?

      • Woz

        But Bob, you’re conflating not inviting someone and giving them 6 figures to speak with silencing them. Dr. Rice is free to say whatever she wants, and taking away her invitation in no way affects that. It’s simply disingenuous to say that not supporting someone with incredibly questionable ethical views by giving them hundreds of thousands of dollars is in any way the same as censoring them. By that logic, the University should be required to invite and pay every single person in America, or else they’re taking away their free speech.

        The ability to get 6 figures to speak at a college is not a right, and therefore taking it away in no way infringes on any rights. The argument is so facetious it’s hard to read this as anything other than a (poorly) veiled defense of her positions, not her right to speak about those positions (which, again, is in no way affected by being disinvited). Especially when coupled with the incredibly unprofessional and unnecessary dig at SDS.

        • I tried to make that clear in the first sentence. The objection to her speaker fee and her positions which she might speak about are two separate issues. I have no objection — or really, interest — in the cost of her speaking or not speaking. I’m only speaking to the question of wanting to silence those with which we disagree.

          So I can’t defend your assertion of my disingenuous position since I didn’t make the point you’re asking me to defend.

          As for my “dig” at the SDS, I’m sorry you have a different opinion. Mine is if you really stand for a democratic society, you stand for the willingness to let people say what they wish to say, even though you oppose what they have to say.

          And then you make an intelligent argument on your behalf.

          That’s a pretty good value enshrined in our heritage, even though we conveniently ignore it with great regularity.

          Except when you’re a speaker at the U of M, talk is cheap.

          • Woz

            But you just made the same point you claimed not to be making — “I’m only speaking to the question of wanting to silence those with which we disagree.”

            Not inviting her does not silence her in any way. She’s a well-known public figure who regularly appears on national television. Disinviting her is in no way silencing her. It’s simply saying we don’t want to pay her or endorse her views. Those are astronomically different things. Your argument is completely analogous to me claiming I’m silenced because the university is not paying me to speak there. I’m not silenced at all — I’m simply someone the university has no interest in paying for a speech. All the opponents of Dr. Rice are saying is exactly that — she’s not someone the university should be paying to speak there. That’s not anti-democratic, that’s the essence of democracy: people organizing to resist an autocratic decision they disagree with.

          • No, you’re right. Not inviting her does not silence her. But I would disagree that disinviting doesn’t either. She has other outlets of course, if she chooses to take them. I don’t believe the full extent of the opposition can be characterized with simply saying “we don’t think she should be paid to speak here.” I gather from the comments that a component includes “we don’t think she should speak here.”

            I’m not saying, of course, that you don’t have a right to protest the decision. And, you’re correct, it is the essence of democracy to be able to air your grievances.

            If she waved her $150,000 fee and spoke for nothing, to people who aren’t paying to hear her, would you be OK with that?

          • Woz

            Fair enough point that for many it goes far beyond the payment. But for me personally, yes I’d be significantly more comfortable (though still not happy) were she not receiving such a large sum of money. When you pay a speaker the equivalent of two or three professor’s full-year salaries, it certainly appears as an endorsement of what that speaker is saying. And while I can agree with you that everyone should be allowed to say their piece, I can’t accept the university’s de-facto endorsement of what are some pretty reprehensible beliefs.

          • That’s a fascinating observation and subsequent question: Does inviting her to speak constitute an endorsement of her beliefs on the part of the university, or at least the Humphrey School?

          • Bill Rood

            Does the U of M regularly grant a forum to communists, anarchists, avowed socialist or the SDS? Does it fund them to the tune of $150,000 out of general funds partially generated with tuition and tax revenue?

      • coleenrowley

        How can you turn on its head my suggestion that there be more information disseminated about the various war crimes that were committed through meaningful discussion/debate? The Northrop lecture is designed to put Rice on a distinguished podium and even the advertisements are laudatory advertisements.

        Torture, on the other hand, is not only highly illegal by U.S. statute and ratifies treaties, but it’s considered “jus cogens” under the law which means there is no extenuating circumstance or “emergency” exception. The prohibition upon torture, throughout the centuries has become essentially sacrosanct, for a lot of reasons, because it’s not only completely unethical but it entails enormous adverse consequences not only to those tortured but to the torturers and to the entire institution of law and civilized society. So maybe you didn’t know about “jus cogens” when you equated the issue to abortion, which actually, under some circumstances is legal under US and many other countries’ laws? That’s not to say that people don’t commit torture, just like other crimes but it ought to be stopped whenever discovered.

        The Dept of Justice made a policy decision not to investigate the torture charges against a number of high officials. They have repeatedly admitted it was only a policy decision and not based on the law. But DOJ should have based its decisions on the well-established law and not on political expediency.

  • MikeB

    What is to be learned from someone coming in to speak, for a
    sizable fee, who avoided accountability for incredibly bad decision making? And
    who continues to advocate for policies as if Iraq never happened? It would be
    one thing if Rice had expressed some misgivings in her time in the White House,
    or had, with the benefit of hindsight, said that she would do things
    differently. But to hear a continuing self-serving rationale, repeating the
    talking points heard before, while ignoring the damage done in the Bush years
    is a bit too much. There is nothing new to hearing that.

    Students have every right to criticize the appearance of
    anyone who speaks on campus, regardless of who is paying for it. That’s the
    college experience. No pies, no shouting down, but criticism? Yes.

    • I don’t what you’re going to learn or what you’re not going to learn. That’s for you to decide. I think deciding in advance that we’re all not going to learn anything is a somewhat circular argument.

      You might be right. There is nothing FOR YOU to learn. If there is nothing for ANYONE to learn, then she will speak to an empty auditorium.

      But isn’t that a decision best left to individuals?

      • MikeB

        It’s part of our celebrity society. It doesn’t matter what you are famous for, but people want to say they heard someone who is in the news. Even to hear a boilerplate speech comprised of prior op-eds and TV appearances. A nice gig, or con, for 150k

    • Nicholas Kraemer

      Students have a right to be critical, but they then do not have the right to silence others (or ask that others be silenced). I imagine that the Humphey Institute often invites people to speak and often pays for them. In the interest of knowledge the institute is well served by inviting a variety of speakers with different views and positions. Moreover, if you are now going to disinvite Rice, then the Humphrey Institute ought to disinvite any future speaker that anyone disagrees with.

      • MikeB

        There is zero chance of Rice being disinvited. Just some students expressing that wish, which will not go anywhere.

  • NadePaulKuciGravMcKi

    Why is she being paid a large profit?

  • Just a reminder to newcomers: Everyone is required to use a real name and a real email address. Thanks.

    • Bill Rood

      My posts are via some automatic service I’ve signed up for. Not sure if it’s Disqus or Facebook or what, but my name is Bill Rood. I don’t see email addresses on anyone else’s posts, but if you’d like it, I’ll find a way to get it to you, Bob.

  • MFB

    Everyone opposed to warmongers being brought to campus with our money, come to the protest outside her talk:

  • Raising a stink about the ideology of a campus speaker is a rite of passage for college students. I think it happened on my campus all four years. College students, amiright?

  • coleenrowley

    Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are equally unrepentant as Condi Rice is about their prior illegal actions: Rumsfeld tells Errol Morris he never read the torture memos:

  • Dave

    Go on YouTube or Fox News if you have the itch to listen to her tripe. No university is required to write a check to every war criminal simply to avoid what some people call “censorship.”

  • Bill Rood

    Nobody is interfering with Condi Rice’s freedom of speech. She can stand on a corner and distribute leaflets all she wants. She has a right to speech, not to a forum. If the U of M wishes to give her that forum, they certainly have the power to do that, and they also have the power to decide not to give her that forum, and members of the public certainly have the right to advise them on whether she should be given such a forum.

    It’s typical that an official of MPR would claim that Condi and sundry other interventionists somehow have the “right” to be given a forum, when no such “right” exists. Avowed communists or anarchists are rarely given this type of forum, so what about their “rights”? It is precisely MPR and NPR’s habit of giving excessive amplification to the voices of neo-cons and other policy elites while ignoring dissident voices that led me to drop membership for several years. I’m not in favor of my membership contributions being used to fund such drivel in support of criminals and so-called “experts” who have been wrong time after time in their policy recommendations.

  • Following up on this, we are not being allowed to tape the speech and, thus, it will not be broadcast in any form on MPR. I don’t know whether that makes people happy or sad but there you go.