Do we need another committee?
As you?ve probably already heard, the administration has once again gone committee-happy. By creating the new committee to review the university policy on controversial speakers, sparked by three such speakers last semester, University President Jared Cohon has created little more than a time-sink for the committee members and a diversion that will keep our community focused merely on symptoms of a deeper problem.
While it is disturbing that the administration took more than six months to respond to these events, perhaps even more disturbing is that the only substantial response thus far has been yet another committee. How will the campus community ? and the student body in particular ? be helped by having a dozen ?chosen ones? sit around and discuss the matter? The formation and selection processes seem shrouded by bureaucracy, so how can the members of the campus community have faith in the product of this relatively surrepititious committee?
Also unsettling is the makeup of this committee; it seems that this group was hastily selected without much regard to finding either sufficient student representation or a diverse group. How are the student body vice-president and treasurer considered to be varied enough as members of this new committee? Granted, Nicolette Louissaint and Nick Scocozzo are two very bright people whom we respect, but they?re both seniors, have the same major, and are connected to the same corner of the campus community.
Carnegie Mellon would benefit more from a strong endorsement of free speech than it would from this token effort at pandering to a specific group of people. The policy, as it stands is clear, strong, and honorable: ?If men and women are to value freedom, they must experience it. If they are to learn to choose wisely, they must know what the choices are; and they must learn in an environment where no idea is unthinkable and where no alternative is withheld from their consideration.?
Even more threatening than some of the rhetoric put forth by these controversial speakers was the response generated by some parts of the campus community; need we remind you how Ali Abunimah?s lecture was continually interrupted by organized harassment from hecklers? Or how Norman Finkelstein was utterly disrespected by catcalls from a disruptive audience, a disgrace only to be capped off by a ?rebuttal scholar? who just tried to discredit him?
Each of these three speakers came to campus so that students could learn new viewpoints and new opinions. The engaged discussion that followed the Malik Zulu Shabazz lecture, regarding free speech and the rights therein, did far more good for the students of this university than the questionable content of his lecture. All of the controversial speakers to have galvanized our community have brought the collegiate learning experience outside of the classroom.
However, let us not forget the fragility of this ?intersection of freedom and responsibility,? as Cohon wrote back in February. Students were threatened, feelings were hurt, and hateful statements were made. The continued dignity and respect of every member of the campus community toward every other is absolutely vital to the success of free speech; it is impossible for people to grow in an environment that does not nurture them and allow for free discourse.
The current policy on controversial speakers does exactly what it should do. Creating this new committee seems like the first step toward keeping students from making their own opinions about controversial speakers and topics. Why are we not crediting intelligent students with being capable of making reasonable, rational decisions about tendentious material?