By editorial board • 

Linfield fumbled opportunity to embrace free exchange of ideas

Linfield College’s administration, faculty and student body didn’t come off very well this week in their hyperbolic response to a guest speaker lined up by the nascent Young Americans for Liberty chapter.

They fulfilled the fondest dreams of Alt-Right antagonists by appearing petty, overprotective and sorely out of touch with mainstream America. Forcing the talk off-campus served simply to inject it with high-octane, attendance-boosting media and social media attention.

The new club, offshoot of a Libertarian-oriented national, arranged to bring in psychology professor Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto.

While he possesses impeccable credentials for academic instruction, research and publication, he has earned enmity for opposing use — particularly mandated use — of gender-neutral pronouns for the estimated 0.5 percent of the population who identify as transgender. That proved an insurmountable irritant to campus sensibility.

The club extended the invitation under the auspices of the Associated Students of Linfield College, which limits attendance to members of the campus community and requires submission of a speech abstract and appearance contract a week in advance.

The club submitted the contract a day late. And when another club event generated the banner Linfield Review headline, “Hate symbol on ball riles campus,” Peterson responded by announcing to his 100,000-plus Twitter followers, “I will be violating more safe spaces soon: Linfield College.”

The ASLC took the latter as an invitation to like-minded members of the larger community, placing the club in violation of all three requirements. It responded by withdrawing authorization, forcing the club to use an off-campus venue.

In fact, being a day late with the contract is a mere technicality; requiring an abstract in advance smacks of unconstitutional prior restraint and simply requiring attendees to present campus ID would thwart unwelcome outsiders. The ASLC would thus have been well advised to take the high road and let the man have his say.

The college faculty and administration amplified the volume immeasurably with a stream of rhetoric about safe spaces, gender inclusion, mutual respect, diversity and marginalized populations. Those are fine concepts, but they do not trump our First Amendment right to unfettered speech, however uncomfortable a particular manifestation might seem in their eyes.

As it happened, Peterson spoke to a packed house at the Falls Events Center, on the campus of the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. And he did so without once mentioning gender-free pronouns, or anything else that might have offended the LGBTQ community. In other words, the entire affair amounted, in the end, to much ado about nothing.

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual Resource Center endorses six different gender-neutral pronouns — co, en, ey, xie, yo and ze — while warning, “This is NOT an exhaustive list.”

Is resisting their imposition really tantamount to marginalizing, intimidating, harassing or disrespecting transgender individuals? Is it really cause for barring an academic colleague from addressing interested students on a voluntary basis? It certainly doesn’t seem so to us.

Comments

Rotwang

If I understood your article correctly, had the speech been held on campus, it would have been open to Linfield students and staff only. But, they gave Peterson the opportunity to speak before everyone by making YAL find a venue off campus. So, the joke's on them.

sbagwell

Yes, precisely. And pointing that out was one of the main aims of the editorial.
By over-reacting, it seemed to us the college succeeded in giving a minor issue some major attention, and in the process, to introduce it to a much broader audience. We also found it ironic that, as it happened, the speaker never touched on the things elements of the campus community were so concerned about.
Steve

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