If there are two institutions that should support free speech without reservation, they would be journalism and higher education.
True journalism cannot exist without freedom of expression, and particularly the freedom to speak openly about any topic without fear of reprisal.
Likewise, the college campus only has meaning as something more than a steppingstone to a salary if we acknowledge that the free exchange of ideas is the fundamental raison d’etre for “the academy.”
It was, therefore, doubly disturbing to find out last October that the dean of the University of Montana Journalism School had weighed in against the appearance of conservative columnist Mike Adams that was planned for this month.
Adams, who is a criminology and sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, was invited to be the featured speaker at the 10th annual Jeff Cole Distinguished Lecture Series. Cole was a journalist for the Wall Street Journal, and his widow, Maria, is a major benefactor to the J-school in Missoula. It was she who invited Adams, who writes for Townhall.com and has been widely condemned on the left for his outspoken defense of traditional values. Cole said she doesn’t agree with everything Adams writes, but she admired his opposition to censorship and vigorous defense of free speech on college campuses.
“I could hear my husband going ‘Now it’s time to step up. I was about freedom of speech. I was about the First Amendment I lived opposing censorship every day,” Cole told NBC Montana.
So, in honor of her husband, Maria Cole stuck to her guns and insisted on Mike Adams giving the Jeff Cole Distinguished Lecture even when the journalism school backed out of its co-sponsorship.
Larry Abramson, the dean of the Journalism School at the University of Montana, told Cole in an email: “I think we can find a speaker who will talk about free speech issues, without running the risk of offending students.”
Abramson told KGVO-AM in Missoula that “the J-school does not have to invite people that we think don’t match our priorities or our values as a tolerant, welcoming school.”
That discordant justification of intolerance didn’t sit well with either Adams, who has written three subsequent columns about “Grizzly bigotry” (referencing the school’s mascot), or Maria Cole, who has donated more than $1.2 million to the journalism program over the past 15 years. She opted to shell out a bit more money and booked the 1,100-seat Dennison Theater on the university campus for the night of Feb. 13.
To her credit, the university’s interim president Sheila Stearns early on said she disagreed with Abramson’s decision, but had not been involved in it.
“Fear of controversy I don’t think is and never should be a characteristic of a university,” she told the Missoulian. “We’re never afraid of ideas. I would say … make sure the event is well-planned and safe.”
Nonetheless, Stearns gave Abramson considerable cover when she issued a joint statement with him saying that the School of Journalism opted not to co-sponsor this year’s Jeff Cole Lecture because, according to the Missoulian report, “Adams is not a journalist and is not addressing any specific journalism concerns.”
That was a cop-out. Adams is a nationally recognized opinion columnist, an essential element of journalism, and he is addressing restrictions on learning and fighting bias, two issues which are essential not just to journalism, but to a free society.
So what makes Mike Adams such a lightning rod for criticism on the left? Well, he’s smart and a good writer. That’s a combination that is intolerable to the tolerant left, which promotes diversity of gender, religion and skin color but is terrified by diversity of ideas.
Most notably, Adam drew the ire of Social Justice Warriors at the University of North Carolina and beyond for his 2016 column entitled “A ‘Queer Muslim’ Jihad?” That column told the story of how the Secret Service had been called to the campus in Wilmington prior to an appearance by Donald Trump because of a Facebook post that raised concerns for the candidate’s safety.
Adams pointed out with some humor and a lot of derision that the supposed threat emanated from a woman who was both the founder of the Muslim Student Association and the former president of the university’s gay PRIDE group. Considering that homosexuality is not tolerated by fundamental Islam, it was Adams’ implicit thesis that the woman was more a danger to herself than anyone else, yet she had been empowered by the university’s policy that students have a “right to be unoffended.”
The conclusion of that column by Adams can easily fit as the conclusion of this one as well:
“Despite what the diversity proponents tell you, all ideas are not equal. Some are more dangerous than others. Thankfully, the chickens of diversity appear to be coming home to roost.”
Let’s hope that Dean Abramson got the message. His students deserve to hear from all sides, and as future journalists they should insist on that opportunity.