Samford University has cancelled a speaking engagement for historian Jon Meacham, according to Baptist News Global. I have been critical of Meacham’s rhetoric as well as his course materials at Vanderbilt. However, the cancellation of his speech due to his support for pro-choice groups is another example of the rising intolerance on our campuses for opposing viewpoints. If Meacham’s views are opposed by many on the campus, it is more of a reason to invite him to allow for a diversity of views and values at the university.
The university is a private institution but this is still a blow to free speech even if the First Amendment does not apply.
Meacham received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for a biography about President Andrew Jackson. He is a regular on MSNBC and other television programs. He has been criticized for his reckless rhetoric in past segments like calling Trump supporters as people operating with “lizard brains.” However, he is an articulate and passionate speaker on contemporary as well as historical issues. I expect he would generate great interest and debate in any campus appearance.
The Nov. 3rd event was supposed to honor the inauguration of the university’s new president, Beck Taylor. However, various students and groups objected, citing his recent appearance at a Planned Parenthood event in Texas. At the speech, Meacham spoke of the perils facing democracy by conservative movements and the recent anti-abortion law. While many are likely to take offense, the speech was civil and passionate about what he sees as the defining values of our democracy.
Nevertheless, he was criticized as someone whose “beliefs and core values do not align with those of Samford University, as it is a Southern Baptist institution.” If that is so, there is all the more reason for the university to host such alternative viewpoints. Students can voice their opposing views in questions or, outside of the event, in protests. Meacham has always struck me as someone who would not shy away from passionate but respectful disagreements.
Pro-life students have been attacked or silenced repeatedly on campuses (here and here and here and here and here). This is an example of the same intolerance from the opposing side. Rather than cancel Meacham, why not invite a speaker with the opposite viewpoints or arrange a forum for the expression of such views? Universities are supposed to be forums for a diversity of values and views. This cancellation is inimical to that defining intellectual mission.