You Can’t Cancel Me, I Quit
I was supposed to speak at Furman University. I decided to beg off rather than indulge an angry mob.
I was scheduled to give a speech on Monday at Furman University about my recent book, “Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics.” I canceled it. Here’s why.
In the spring of 2014—in retrospect, the dress rehearsal for cancel culture—some commencement speakers around the country were disinvited or withdrew themselves from consideration owing to left-wing protests. I wasn’t among them. A few faculty members at Seton Hall University tried to have my invitation rescinded on the grounds that I wasn’t what they meant by “Catholic”—progressive. They failed. I delivered my address as scheduled at New Jersey’s Meadowlands Arena to some 6,000 graduates, families and friends, and was awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters. It was a thrilling event. I enjoy talking to students. I teach graduate students and young professionals, and I founded an organization that helps mentor hundreds of women involved in journalism and media, many of them right out of college. Those experiences probably explain why I had never been the object of protest by students.
But 2023 is light years from 2014. Some months ago, the head of Furman’s Tocqueville Program invited me to give a public lecture about “Primal Screams.” Not knowing a soul there, I googled. Nestled in scenic Greenville, S.C., the university was founded in 1826 by the Southern Baptist Convention. Furman’s website features young people said to be “innovative in their thinking, and compassionate in their approach to career, community, and life.” The Tocqueville Program has hosted impressive speakers. This seemed a promising opportunity to visit an attractive campus, befriend some students and faculty, and talk over ideas. What could go wrong?
Well, consider what happened to the speaker who preceded me last month in the same series: Scott Yenor, a professor of political science at Boise State University.
Mr. Yenor had been invited to speak on “Dostoevsky and Conscience.” An inhospitality committee sprang into action, “triggered” not by his speech topic but by opinions that he had expressed elsewhere, including his critique of feminism and support for “sex-role realism.” Scores of faculty and student protesters “silently” objected inside and outside as he spoke. Three armed policemen were assigned to his protection. Within the auditorium, protesters lined the walls the professor had to pass, holding posters with ad hominem slogans and quotations of his taken out of context, staring balefully at him throughout. I called Mr. Yenor to ask for his take. “Never in my life have I experienced a crowd so uninterested in learning, and so unwilling to hear,” he said. “They were simply filled with malice.” No one in the administration commented on his treatment, much less apologized for it.
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