On the night of Wednesday, Feb. 19, Emory University’s College Council, in a 3-6-3 vote, set an unspoken quota for the funding of speakers who challenge the political status quo on campus. This was preceded by College Council President-Elect Amanda Edwards' proposal to "strongly encourage" controversial speakers to be balanced by a speaker of an opposing view, which was instigated, in turn, by the October 9 appearance of the first major stand-alone conservative speaker in four years at Emory: David Horowitz. Beginning with the Council’s initial and reactionary attempts to suppress conservative dialogue on campus following Horowitz, the College Council has now brought the curtailment of unfavorable speech to a new level. Let me explain.
For the past few months, Emory Students for Israel has been working diligently to raise the proper funds for an appearance by Dennis Prager. For those of you who are not familiar with the speaker, his reputation and credentials precede him. Apart from being a nationally syndicated talk-show radio host from Los Angeles, the author of numerous books, including the Los Angeles Times best seller "Happiness is a Serious Problem," and a Presidential appointee to the U.S. delegation on the Helsinki Accords, Prager has been hailed by the Toastmasters public speaking club as "One of America's five best speakers." He has spoken in 45 of the 50 states, nine out of the 10 Canadian provinces and five out of the seven continents. Adding to that his graduate work at Columbia University's (N.Y.) School of International Affairs specializing in the Middle East, Dennis Prager would have been an excellent candidate to speak at Emory about the Arab-Israeli conflict in the context of the War on Terror. Well, at least one would think.
According to College Council Representative Ryan Clough, the biography provided above is vitally incomplete. While making his argument to vote against the bill in its entirety, Clough explained, "[Prager's] main role is as a radio talk-show host: He's very conservative." After reading a selected excerpt from one of Prager's Internet columns, Clough continued, "I think this is indicative of what he's going to speak on and what his points of view are, and I think, coming from that perspective, I don't think it's going to contribute enough to the discussion where it's worth us giving the money." He closed by listing a number of other conservative speakers who have visited Emory's campus—or are planning to visit—and questioned whether such ideological repetition was worth the College Council's money. (Ironically and expectedly, the list he gave was brief. It consisted of Horowitz, Daniel Pipes—who was brought to Emory this past month by the Georgia Chapter of the National Association of Scholars, and Ben Stein, who is planning to visit in April.)
In other words, Dennis Prager was not only a conservative but also a conservative who would attend an already "repetitious" string of conservative speakers at Emory: Apparently, 3 conservative speakers in one year passes for "repetitious" in Mr. Clough’s book. This, in Clough's own opinion, warranted the first complete rejection of a College Council bill -- assuming monetary policy was followed -- in at least a year. Never mind the long list of liberal speakers brought to Emory this year—including Jimmy Carter, Spike Lee, Robert Redford, Tavis Smiley, and Time Wise. And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the numerous anti-Israel activities funded by the College Council, notably the appearance of the "human rights activist" Hady Amr. Unless Clough and the five other representatives who voted with him can prove that the outright ousting of the Prager bill was determined by the same non-ideological standard that determined all previous bills, my original assertion still stands uncontested: This past Wednesday, the College Council set a political precedent.
Of course, there are very few students on campus who would accept their own student activities fee funding a neo-Nazi or Ku-Klux Klan member. In turn, the College Council should always leave room for the right to disallow funds to such hate-mongers. Likewise, students' fees should not be going to events that clearly do not serve the students' own interests. At one point, Clough alluded to this point by deeming Prager's analysis "shallow" enough to exclude him from College Council financial support.
However, given Prager's accomplishments and credentials, especially in the face of formerly sponsored and blatantly non-academic speakers like Michael Moore and Aaron McGruder, it is a questionable -- if not laughable -- judgment to make. As the College Council minutes will confirm, I'm not the only who sees it this way. According to one of the Council representatives, what happened Wednesday night was "ridiculous" and made the Council look "very hypocritical."
As is expected, the Council will defend its unprecedented decision on financial grounds -- they're running out of money. Nevertheless, this answer still fails to answer the important questions: Why every other bill brought to the Council that night was passed with the requested funding (if not more), why the Prager bill was rejected in full (instead of amended to a smaller amount), and why they finished the night nearly 2000 dollars under their hand-out goal.