To the Editor:
The Guest Room “Ann Coulter is Not Welcome Here” denounces Cornell’s decision to host a lecture by Ann Coulter ‘84 to be held on Nov. 9. The op-ed is more performance art than a reasoned argument for violating Cornell’s commitment to free speech and viewpoint diversity.
First, Cornell has already flatly rejected the request to cancel Coulter’s lecture. The authors cannot cajole Day Hall into censoring Coulter’s message nor label her content as heresy. Indeed, President Pollack opened the academic year by urging the community to be accepting of free speech: “Don’t avoid people whose viewpoints you think are wrong. Don’t try to shout them down. Hear them out. Ask them questions. Put in the effort to understand their point of view.”
Second, I believe the authors have no more right to block a right wing speaker than the Network of Enlightened Women has the right to block a left wing speaker. The authors write, “Free speech assumes that there are no inequalities, which allows everyone to have an equal voice.” But that is not true. Free speech grants everyone an equal voice, so that we can debate how to work through inequalities. All Cornell students have an equal right to participate in organizations and to sponsor speakers, regardless of whether you like their national umbrella groups or their ideals.
Third, I view Cornell (and all higher education) as an intergenerational gift. Students, faculty, staff and alumni all work together to make Cornell better by transferring knowledge, new ideas and resources so that current students can have a great education and learn to think for themselves. Some alumni dedicate their careers to Cornell and others just donate money. Many other alumni, like Coulter, are invited back to campus to discuss what they have learned as alumni. Students should value these gifts by keeping an open mind and then thinking for themselves. No Cornellian agrees with Coulter completely. The educational value comes from sorting through the ideas that she will present and then deciding what is worth keeping and why.
Finally, robust exchange of ideas is the heart of a Cornell education. The energy that the authors are squandering on “canceling” Ann Coulter could be better placed into listening carefully to her talk and then critiquing her lecture afterwards. They could even work to invite one of her many critics — say Keith Olbermann ‘79 — to talk on campus as well.
Cornell works best when we debate ideas rather than personally attack individuals.
Robert C. Platt ‘73 Law ‘76