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Thursday, February 24, 2005

EWU's Chantrill Declines to Go Public In Debate on Churchill, Academic Freedom

Last week we noted Professor Patty Chantrill's appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor" defending the faculty's reversal of the Eastern Washington University president's disinvitation of University of Colorado's Ward Churchill. Chantrill defended the faculty action as a blow on behalf of academic freedom.

To which I responded:

"The claim by academics like O'Reilly guest Prof. Patti Chantrill of EWU who claimed she and the faculty were merely affirming free speech is a hypocritical smokescreen, unless she and her ilk are prepared to disavow all forms of political correctness, hate speech codes, and the rest of the typical school's tools for suppressing non-Leftist expression, including especially that of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. Don't hold your breath waiting for that disavowal."

Much to my surprise, an email from Chantrill arrived in my inbox the next day, pointing out that EWU liberals had protested the invitation of porn star Ron Jeremy and quoting Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis' familiar maxim that the best way to expose false speech is more speech. She also noted that I had originally mis-spelled her first name.

Delighted to be presented with an opportunity to engage Chantrill on the issue, I responded as follows:

"Why don't we continue this dialogue on the state of the First Amendment on the American campus and publish it verbatim on the blog? I can just about guarantee you it will be picked up throughout the Blogosphere.
"In the meantime, let me simply say that your Brandeis quote is exactly my point. And that is why I say that if academia repeals all of the speech codes AND makes credible long-term efforts to reach out to and invite conservative and evangelical Christians in philosophy, public policy and all the other major fields of inquiry, in order to redress the many decades of their systematic exclusion from campus forums, then I will be more inclined to take seriously free speech claims like those you presented on O'Reilly.

"Why don't you step forward and issue a call to your fellow academics to do this? Yes, doing so would be quite risky for you professionally, but then that proves my point further, does it not?
"I've been a journalist most of my career and believe the First Amendment is absolutely foundational. Did you know that Madison was disinclined to go along with demands for a Bill of Rights (see The Federalist Papers dismissal of such "parchment barriers" to the abuse of rights) and that his change of heart resulted from pressure from Baptists in Virginia and North Carolina? I've long found it ironic that secularists today owe their First Amendment rights in great parts to those Baptists?
"BTW, I thought you held your own against O'Reilly and you certainly came off as a poised spokesman for EWU. I was impressed. So many folks with a contrary point of view seem to just wilt, or give up, when confronting O'Reilly."

It would be wonderful to now share with you Chantrill's response - which was perdictable perhaps but also well-argued - but she declined my invitation to a posted discussion until an apparently threatening atmosphere she attributed to her public defense of the faculty clears.

Let us hope that atmosphere will clear soon and you can have the benefit of hearing a full exposition by both of us on the issue of freedom of speech on campus, including Chantrill's contention that my branding as hypocritical her assertion of freedom of speech was based on incorrect assumptions. She also wondered if I would be willing to post the evidence for her contention that I got it all wrong.

Well I am when the good professor is.