You don’t hear many good stories about free speech on our college campuses these days. So I am pleased to write and share one today. It actually comes from my own campus, UNC-Wilmington. In a rare display of support for free speech, the Student Government Association (SGA) has decided to fund a speech by an extremely unpopular conservative professor (Can you guess his name?). In the process, they will be supporting free speech and the victims of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. This requires some explanation. So put away your handguns and go grab a beer – or grab a soda if you’re a Baptist.
It all started over the summer when the UNCW College Republicans (CRs) decided to host a speaker on the issue of free speech on college campuses. So they contacted Patrick Coyle of the Young Americas Foundation (YAF) for advice on whom they should invite. He suggested that they just have me give the speech since I am already there teaching at the university. So the CRs contacted me, inquired about my speaking fee, and requested that I give a November 9th speech in Morton Hall Auditorium, which seats about 100 people. I quoted my fee but told them I would only do the speech in Lumina Theater, which is a nicer venue and seats about three times as many people. After all, if I am going to offend people by suggesting they should tolerate offensive speech then I want to offend as many as possible.
Shortly thereafter, I learned that there is a committee that filters speaking event proposals before they are sent to the floor of the senate for a full vote. Imagine my surprise when the proposal made it out of the committee. But the committee members warned the CRs that they should not get their hopes up, as the event was not likely to be funded when the full senate voted on it. That warning did not surprise me, as there were likely to be two major objections to funding the speech.
First of all, many would naturally question why someone who works at a university would actually charge a fee to speak at the place where he works – and in a campus theater that is only about two hundreds yards walking distance from his office. That’s a reasonable objection if I have ever heard one.
Second of all, many would be reticent to fund a speech by someone whose views are deemed to be offensive by most of the student population at UNC-Wilmington. That objection is less reasonable – but it is to be expected from a generation that values emotions more than it values ideas.
This presented a dilemma because I simply no longer waive my speaking fees for anyone. I have found that if you do not charge a fee then the host will not promote the event. And that means no one will show up. On the other hand, I often speak for cut rates. In fact, I always cut the rate when the host is a friend. But that doesn’t apply here. The Democratic Party runs the UNC system where I work. They might be my employer but these Democrats are not my friends. To be blunt, there is no way I am giving them a cut rate until they agree to cut my taxes.
Fortunately, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, I thought of a possible solution. Why not charge my regular fee and donate the money to a charity instead of spending it on guns, guitars, and cigars? That would seem to answer both objections. No one could accuse me of trying to milk the SGA for a couple of hours' work within walking distance from my office. And those who said they objected to subsidizing ideas they found offensive would be hard pressed to say they were forcing students to subsidize “hate.” Clearly, if the money went to charity then they would be subsidizing an act of kindness.
It was a good idea but the question then became: Could I even find a good charity that would justify floating the proposal to the SGA through the CRs? There was no way I was giving the money to a large charity. I simply don’t trust large “non-profits” with significant overhead. Fortunately, I found a solution.
University Baptist Church in Houston had 23 people attend its second ever service, which was the first service I attended with my mother and brother back in 1974. But today they have grown so large that they were able to send out relief groups of around 200 people after Harvey devastated the Clear Lake area where I grew up. When I found out that they had a specific disaster relief program, I knew they were the perfect charity.
Fortunately, the SGA accepted my proposal – one the senators likely would not have approved if the money were not going to a good cause. And I applaud them for putting politics aside and doing the right thing.
So who wins in this one? Well, almost everybody. The students will learn about serious threats to their constitutional rights. The speaker will enjoy doing what he loves to do. Most importantly, the victims of Harvey will get some much-needed relief from a disaster that has seriously disrupted their lives.
Author’s Note: The November 9th speech at UNCW’s Lumina Theater will begin at 7 p.m. Protests will begin as soon as the hippies wake up, which should be some time late that afternoon.
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