Discomfort at the University of St. Thomas

The University of St. Thomas is the major private university in the Twin Cities, with campuses in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. It is a Catholic institution, but it also worships strange gods at the shrine of political correctness. In “Petty tyranny at the University of St. Thomas” I recounted the school’s bizarre disapproval of Star Parker’s scheduled April 21 appearance to speak at the school on the harmful impact of abortion. The rationale? Parker’s speech was to be funded in part by the Young America’s Foundation, which had also funded Ann Coulter’s appearance at the school in 2005. St. Thomas has given new life to the principle of guilt by association.

How did Ann Coulter give offense during her appearance at St. Thomas? I tried to get an answer to that question when St. Thomas President (Father) Dennis Dease condemned Coulter’s talk as “hateful speech.” Father Dease hadn’t attended the event and wouldn’t take my call, but school spokesman Doug Hennes did. Hennes had clearly authored Father Dease’s statement condemning Coulter’s talk.

Hennes referred at the time I spoke with him to “the way she treated people,” ridiculing students who asked her critical questions, and certain elements of her speech that “crossed the line” and were “real controversial.” He said that Coulter had advocated the invasion of “every Muslim country,” for example, although he had not taken notes on the speech or listened to any recording of it. No report on the speech included a quote advocating invasion of every Muslim country. Although Coulter might have been asked about her post-9/11 column on the subject, I don’t think her speech included the statement Hennes cited to me.

Hennes appears today in Katherine Kersten’s Star Tribune column on St. Thomas’s refusal to approve Star Parker’s appearance at the school. Vice President Jane Canney — who objected to the involvement of the Young America’s Foundation and vowed that no YAF speaker would appear at the school so long as she has her say — would not return Kersten’s call. Hennes had plenty of time to articulate a rationale on behalf of Canney, and this was the best he could do:

On Thursday, the university released a statement that it “was not comfortable in allowing the Young America’s Foundation to be involved with the Parker event.”

“The foundation paid for commentator Ann Coulter to speak at St. Thomas in 2005, and her remarks were considered highly inflammatory and disrespectful to the mission and values of the university,” the statement said.

Even conceding the incredible stupidity of this rationale, I find it striking that after three years Hennes still cannot cite a particular Coulter statement that crossed any line drawn by St. Thomas. The following day Hennes reiterated his statement in an interview with Kersten, then later sought to “clarify” it:

On Friday morning, Hennes did not elaborate on the statement that St. Thomas would refuse to permit any YAF-affiliated speaker to set foot on campus. “We’re not comfortable. It’s that simple,” he said.

On Friday afternoon, however, Hennes called with a “clarification.”

“We’re always willing to look at the possibility of collaborating with outside organizations, including YAF,” he said. “If they approach us with another speaker in the future, we’d consider it, but the speaker must be willing to conform with all the things in our contract, including the behavior or ‘subject matter’ clause,” which bars obscenities, racial slurs and other derogatory language.

And Star Parker? “We’re past the issue of Parker, given the time factor,” said Hennes. “That issue is moot.”

Hennes and Canney are tyrants of the petty bureaucratic variety, but they seem to have inspired a rebellion at St. Thomas:

“I’ve got St. Thomas on my calendar, and I plan to come on April 21,” [Parker] said. “If they won’t let me on campus, I’m willing to talk out on the street.”

Let’s just hope Father Dease and his apparatchiks don’t call in the tanks.

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