Standing defiantly with his hands on his hips, College Republicans Chairman Edward Thayer argued in vain Wednesday for College Council to bring conservative writer David Horowitz back to campus.
More than 30 students, most of them black, filled the back of room 355 in the Dobbs University Center and part of the hallway, waiting their turn to voice their reactions to a bill requesting $5,000 to fund Horowitz’s return. After more than three hours of debate, the Council voted 11-4 against the bill with one abstention, which would have paid Horowitz to speak in Glenn Memorial Auditorium April 13.
Horowitz, who edits the online magazine Frontpagemag.com, argues that colleges are dominated by predominantly liberal professors. He is also outspoken in his opposition to reparations for the descendents of slaves. Many Republicans see Horowitz as a free-speech crusader, while his opponents see him as a polemic.
During the Council debate, members of the audience and legislators weighed the conflicting merits of free speech and protecting students’ intellectual “safety.” The dissension was fueled by incidents that occurred during Horowitz’s last visit to campus, in October 2002. During a question-and-answer period following his speech in Glenn, then-Black Student Alliance President Candace Bacchus (’03C) and Horowitz argued about his opposition to slave reparations and the fact that Emory students are only “half-educated” because of the University’s alleged liberal bent. Black students interpreted the remark as an attack on Bacchus’ intelligence.
After his talk, Horowitz attacked Bacchus on the Internet and in the Wheel.
Members of the Council were concerned that without proper restrictions on the structure of Horowitz’s speech, something might be said that would ignite students’ rancor again.
Wearing a blue pinstripe suit, Thayer stood firm in his belief that the first amendment should be upheld at all costs.
“I’m sorry, but I’d rather go straight to hell than ... muzzle anybody,” he said. “Speech is not negotiable — never forget that.”
But some people were concerned about a repeat of controversy surrounding last year’s visit.
“It’s about the safety of the people who go to this school,” Junior Representative Heather Cole-Lewis said.
Emory is like a family, she said. If a man comes into your house and assaults one of your kids, you wouldn’t bring him back, “even in a straitjacket.”
Other Council members were opposed to the choice of Horowitz himself and not his opinions.
“It is the person, not his ideology,” Senior Representative Priya Bhoplay said.
Many legislators also raised concerns about the possible negative effects of Horowitz’s visit on the University’s reputation, which may also affect admissions.
“If you want bad PR, vote this bill down,” Junior Representative Ezra Greenberg said. “Emory will be labeled as a ‘censorship school.’ You think that will help admissions?”
Christopher Grey, assistant director for Admissions, said April is a bad time for a speaker like Horowitz because his speech would coincide with visits by high school students who are making final decisions about where to attend college. To ignite such a controversy at that time may have “adverse effects” on their perceptions.
“They are expecting Disney World,” he said. “They are expecting roses. That’s what they’re making their decisions on.”
BSA President Samuel Wakefield said his group did not officially oppose the bill, but it was against bringing Horowitz because of last year’s race-related controversy resulting from his visit.
“The Black Student Alliance is a cultural organization, not a political one,” he said. “Horowitz was a racial issue; that’s why the Black Student Alliance got involved.”
Thayer said legislators were intimidated by having 35 black students in attendance and were “pandering” to their minority constituents.
Since the Council voted down the request, Thayer said the College Republicans may try to raise the $5,000 themselves.
“Controversy is a two-way street,” he said. “Voting it down, the perception is of a muzzling, anti-speech campus. Voting it forward will probably make some people feel uncomfortable.”