Mary Eberstadt Replies to Furman University on Campus Protest
Speakers respond to illiberal trends on Furman campus
Regarding Furman University President Elizabeth Davis’s response (Letters, March 31) to my op-ed “You Can’t Cancel Me, I Quit” (March 27): Of course there are civil, intellectually engaged students at Furman University—and everywhere else. Just this week I taught a seminar by Zoom to members of the school’s Tocqueville Program. They were upbeat, prepared and thoughtful. My op-ed wasn’t about students like those, but the increasingly militant minority that menaces and humiliates invited guests, and whose doings are whitewashed or ignored by administrators.
President Davis invites me to learn “how thoughtful our students are.” Before my scheduled visit, posters advertising my talk were twice put up on campus, and twice torn down by activists. One that remained was defaced, the word “Fascist” scrawled next to my face. (My grandparents fled fascism in Northern Italy.) In the student newspaper and elsewhere, I was called “dangerous,” “a vicious transphobe,” “homophobic” and other epithets. This isn’t “healthy dialogue” but ad hominem smearing, all met with silence from anyone in authority. I’ve spoken on many campuses. This was the first to require armed security. Yet Ms. Davis pretends there’s nothing amiss when bookish guests require for their safety the muscle and weaponry accorded to convicts or heads of state. She’s wrong. And with campus leadership AWOL, due diligence about risk falls to the speakers. That’s why I canceled my appearance. Anyone with the same information about a brewing hate-on would have been justified in making the same call.
Ms. Davis says I didn’t give Furman my reasons for canceling. To the contrary, I explained why to the head of the Tocqueville Program several days before the scheduled appearance; he relayed the news that afternoon to the other faculty involved. Finally, Ms. Davis seems unaware of Prof. Scott Yenor’s mistreatment at her university. His harrowing account wasn’t the only reason I canceled, but it helped.
Mary Eberstadt Washington Ms. Eberstadt is author of “Primal Screams.”
Ms. Davis worries that the Furman students at my February talk on campus are misrepresented as an “angry mob.” She should be more worried about the hostile, anti-intellectual culture she is building at Furman.
The event could have been worse. The students were an angry mob, but they didn’t riot or loudly interrupt my speech. Students were restrained, at least in part by the three police officers present in the hall while I spoke. Protesters occupied as much as 20% of the seats just so they could leave when my talk on Dostoevsky commenced, robbing others of a seat from which to hear the lecture.
The students’ questions following my talk reflected their unawareness that revolutionary ideology poses dangers to a free society. Many students flipped the bird at me and my sponsor as they left. Is that Ms. Davis’s idea of respectful dialogue? If students were interested in ideas, then Furman police wouldn’t have had to whisk me away through the back entrance to a waiting police car.
Ms. Davis might think about how Furman’s academic environment could be better if she dropped woke programming and took rigor and mutual respect seriously. Perhaps she should work toward cultivating a campus climate where speakers don’t need police protection. Until she does that, she is part of the problem
Prof. Scott Yenor Boise State U., Claremont Institute
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