UM debates First Amendment rights, beefs up security ahead of Adams’ speech
University of Montana president Seth Bodnar issued a statement to the campus community ahead of tonight’s speech featuring controversial columnist and professor Mike Adams, whose history of targeting ethnic, religious and sexual minorities with disparaging comments have divided advocates of free speech.
In his statement, issued Tuesday, Bodnar said he takes seriously the concerns of community members who believe Adams’ appearance – scheduled as part of an annual lecture series – could be confused by some as coming with the “tacit approval of the university.”
Adams speech, Bodnar said, does not come with the school’s endorsement.
“Allowing someone to speak on our campus is not an endorsement of his or her views, nor do we condone speech that is hateful or targets people based on their identities,” Bodnar said in his statement. “What a speaker says may define him or her, but it does not define us. It is possible for us to stand firmly in support of free speech while also standing firm in our values.”
Adams, a political columnist for Townhall.com and a professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, was invited to speak at UM by philanthropist Maria Cole, a sponsor of the Jeff Cole Distinguished Lecture series.
School of Journalism Dean Larry Abramson has objected to Adams’ visit as part of the long-running lecture series, and Missoula Rises – a left-leaning political action group – was planning to protest Adams’ appearance.
Adams, too, has targeted UM in his writings, including a January column in which he ridiculed the school for not being a “selective university with a stellar reputation.” He also took aim at Abramson, questioning his credentials to serve as the dean of a journalism school.
But it’s Adams’ attacks on minority groups and the resulting backlash that has prompted UM to ramp up security ahead of Adams’ talk. While Bodnar said he disagreed with Adams’ points of views, it was important to allow ideas to be aired.
“Freedom of speech is a core value of our country and, especially, of our public institutions of higher education,” Bodnar said. “Campus police are working to ensure there is order, and other campus officials are working to ensure that our policies are followed.”
Bodnar issued his statement after several campus groups, including the National Lawyers Guild, the Women’s Law Caucus and the Native American Law Students Association, called on the university to issue a statement that speaks toward its culture of diversity and acceptance.
“Professor Adams perpetuates antagonistic rhetoric against the LGBT-plus community, women, people of color, and Muslims,” the groups wrote in a collective statement. “He has a history of making xenophobic, misogynistic, and racist statements. Silence in the face of these ideas is dangerous, and honoring a speaker who peddles bigotry with a distinguished lecturer award is unacceptable.”