Hateful speech revisited

On April 18 Ann Coulter spoke at the University of St. Thomas campus in St. Paul, Minnesota. When the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s fatuous columnist wrote a characteristically bullying column accusing Coulter of “hate speech,” he provoked a reaction among the administrators on campus. Before long, university president Father Dennis Dease issued a statement condemming Coulter’s speech as “hateful,” despite the fact that he had not attended it or deigned to designate what in the speech warranted his opprobrium.
I called Father Dease to ask exactly what he was condemning, and was referred to university spokesman Doug Hennes. Hennes seemed to have written Father Dease’s statement on the speech and described himself as one of those in attendance on whom Father Dease had relied for a description of the speech’s content. Hennes referred 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 includes 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 immediately cited to me.
In the middle of the conversation Hennes asked me, “Did you see [the fatuous Star Tribune columnist’s] column on the speech?” Dancing to the columnist’s tune seemed to have more to do with Father Dease’s statement than the merits of Coulter’s speech.
The St. Thomas College newspaper is the Aquin. The Aquin news account of Coulter’s speech (click here and here for the article in PDF) describes absolutely nothing that could fairly be characterized as “hateful speech.” The Aquin’s editorial (available only in PDF) on Coulter’s speech equally criticized the behavior of both liberal and conservative students attending the speech: “One of the most disappointing things about Coulter coming to campus was how immature people acted. Both conservatives and liberals were on the defensive, yelling sarcastic comments at each other. The liberals knew what to expect from Coulter and unfortunately just reenforced the stereotypes she was trying to prove.”
See also the report of St. Thomas law student Karin Moore, who attended the event and posted her observations on the Fraters Libertas site, and the report of Douglas, who posted a detailed account of the question-and-answer exchanges at Belief Seeking Understanding. Nothing in these reports tends to support Hennes’s description of Coulter’s alleged misconduct either.
On February 24 of this year, Al Franken spoke at the University of St. Thomas Law School in Minneapolis. I am informed that Franken bashed President Bush in Franken’s usual style and that he spoke with “a potty mouth.” In any event, I asked Hennes about Franken’s speech. Hennes said that Franken’s speech was not one of St. Thomas’s “bright shinging moments” either. (Hennes hadn’t attended Franken’s speech.) I believe, however, that there was one notable difference. The funds for Franken’s speaking fee came from St. Thomas, whereas Coulter’s fee — on which the Star Tribune’s fatuous columnist harps — was covered in full by Young America’s Foundation. It involved no payment by the school or its students.
Coulter’s appearance on campus was in part the handiwork of the admirable St. Thomas senior Katie Kieffer, who introduced Coulter before her St. Thomas appearance. Ms. Kieffer is a leader of the St. Thomas chapter of the College Republicans and the founder of the new conservative periodical The St. Thomas Standard. I met her a few weeks ago at the spring dinner of the Minnesota College Republicans. She is the kind of delightful, spirited, engaged student who makes St. Thomas such a successful school. Somebody owes her an apology for castigating her event; perhaps Father Dease will get around to it when he manages to fit a meeting with Ms. Kieffer into his schedule next month.
What is such a student to make of the spinelessness and double standards of her school’s adult leadership? And what are we to conclude from the fact that the student editors of the college newspaper have rendered a judgment of Coulter’s speech that is more measured than that of the school’s president?


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