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This Critical Debate is part of a Debate Comparison:

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Duration
30-60 minutes
Topic(s)
  • Constitution
  • Current Events
Grade(s)
  • 7-12
  • College/University

THE CASE

You are an administrator at a small, liberal arts college in Vermont. The leaders of a student organization have invited a well-known but controversial author to speak on campus. The club takes pride in trying to start conversations about challenging topics. Your college also supports intellectual debate and curiosity, knowing that can sometimes make people uncomfortable or upset.

This particular author holds some controversial ideas about issues including race, intelligence, equality and education. Critics of his work say he is racist. The author’s most recent book explores what he presents as a growing divide between elite and working class whites in America. Some critics have suggested the book is an attack on the upper class. Others say it promotes white supremacy. Club leaders have said they hope the author will be able to address questions about these criticisms and more when he speaks on campus.

Another student group on campus hears about the author’s upcoming visit and is outraged that your institution would host someone they believe is racist. They plan to fill the auditorium and, as soon as the speech begins, stand up and shout over the author while holding signs of protest. You warn potential protesters that they will be disciplined if they protest in ways that interfere with the author’s speech, but the angry students don’t seem like they will back down.

Should you cancel the speaker’s visit?

 

  1. No. Allow the event to proceed.

     

    It’s not your job to decide which viewpoints are valid. Students will likely protest this speaker, but that’s not a reason to cancel the visit.

  2. Yes. You have to prioritize keeping peace on campus.

    The event will almost definitely spark protest and possibly even violent disagreements. Protecting student safety is more important than providing an opportunity to be exposed to controversial viewpoints.

  • Does freedom of speech mean people have the right to be heard without interference from others? How much disruption, if any, should be allowed?
  • What might be some other ways for the protesters to show their disapproval of the author’s views without preventing him from speaking?
  • Public and private universities can handle these situations in different ways, because private institutions do not have to respect the protections of the First Amendment. Just because these private institutions are free to put more restrictions on speech in place, should they? Why or why not?
  • Should educational institutions host speakers who have controversial viewpoints that might lead to protests or even conflict?
  • Is there a way for colleges to hold events with controversial speakers that also allow opposing viewpoints to be heard? How would you organize such an event?
  • What, if any, rules or restrictions should be put in place to decide who is or is not welcome to speak on a college campus? Who should be allowed to invite speakers to campus?
  • Do you think colleges should encourage an environment with diverse opinions? What are the arguments for and against this approach?

 

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