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From the Archives: Controversial speakers on campus

, , and | Monday, September 30, 2019

Diane Park | The Observer

University campuses are traditionally heralded as intellectual hubs that encourage rigorous discourse — students and faculty share a common space with the express purpose of teaching and growing in knowledge.

Visiting speakers with divisive perspectives often challenge the precarious balance of this academic ecosystem. A speaker idolized by one group of students may be condemned by another. Throughout Notre Dame’s history, students and administrators alike have struggled to address the role of controversial speakers on campus.


Students debate censorship of guest speakers on campus 

Nov. 17, 1966 | Mike Irvine | Researched by Evan McKenna

On Nov. 17, 1966, a motion for an open speaker policy at Notre Dame was struck down by the student senate. Back in the ’60s, Notre Dame’s speaker policy was much more conservative; the policy placed a ban on speakers “whose ultimate intention is merely to foster their own causes.” The Action Student Party, or ASP, launched the effort in response to the administration’s rejection of four proposed speakers: two suspended Catholic priests with contentious traditionalist views, televangelist Oral Roberts and Hugh Hefner, then-editor and publisher of Playboy Magazine.

In addition to arguing for the speaker ban to be lifted, the ASP asserted the four outlawed speakers should be invited to campus at the “earliest possible convenience.” The student senate struck down the proposal 24-10.

The two priests were denied by then-Bishop Albert Pursley and thus rejected on the grounds of canon law, which “forbids a man to speak from the pulpit when he has been silenced by his bishop.” Roberts and Hefner, however, were said to have been rejected “on the basis of simple value judgements, made, imposed, and enforced by the University administration.” 

The ASP asserted the four outlawed speakers should be invited to campus at the “earliest possible convenience.”

Today, du Lac’s Open Speaker Policy gives Notre Dame students the freedom to “invite and hear any person of their own choosing,” and the administration’s oversight of these speakers is meant only to ensure “adequate preparation for the event.”

Author criticizes trend toward Marxism in academia

March 31, 1992 | John Connorton | Researched by Erin Fennessy

Mary Steurer | The Observer

David Horowitz presents at Notre Dame | Observer archives, March 31, 1992

On March 30, 1992, conservative author David Horowitz visited Notre Dame to condemn Marxism in academia. Previously a leader of the New Left movement, Horowitz had publicly rejected his radical roots by the time of his speech. An Observer article from March 31, 1992 mistakenly identifies Horowitz with his disavowed Marxist ideology.

In his talk at Notre Dame, Horowitz asserted the nation’s universities have been damaged by “tenured radicals” and what he called their “archaic liberalism.” He emphasized this perception of widespread radicalism by citing a rumor— “someone has told me that there are more Marxists in the American faculty than in the entire Eastern bloc.” The article does not mention how — or if — Horowitz distinguished Marxism from other left-wing opinions.

Horowitz also expressed concern over the trend of multiculturalism that swept college campuses nationwide during the 1990s. This trend creates “an atmosphere of intimidation” where people fear discussion of “racism, sexism and homosexuality,” Horowitz asserted. He condemned “sensitivity training” and other practices that, in his opinion, “poison the academic atmosphere.”

Today, Americans continue to deliberate the division between free speech and speech that infringes on the rights of others. Many student groups at Notre Dame host events that encourage open dialogue between students — within these on-campus settings, the onus is on us to ensure discussions about values and beliefs are even-handed and constructive.

Fundamentalist preacher discusses the evangelical vote

Nov. 14, 1986 | Chris Skorcz | Researched by Ellie Neff

In November of 1986, fundamentalist preacher Rev. Jerry Falwell gave a lecture on the increasing political activity of evangelicals in America. Falwell co-founded the Moral Majority, a political coalition that brought the religious right into politics before disbanding in 1989.

In his talk, Falwell applauded the then-8.5 million evangelical voters for their participation in the political process. Falwell described the evangelical vote as based on clear “issues and principles.” However, “the evangelical vote is not completely monolithic,” he argued. For example, Falwell ardently blamed the Republican loss of the Senate in 1986 on the right’s failure to appeal to his evangelical coalition. 

Jim Moster | The Observer

Jerry Falwell speaks in Washington Hall | Observer archives, Nov. 14, 1986

Falwell discussed several other politically relevant topics. He expressed confidence that new Justices Antonin Scalia and Sandra Day O’Connor would help President Reagan create a “new federal judiciary.” In addition, Falwell endorsed George H. W. Bush for the upcoming presidential election. He believed Bush the “only candidate who can effectively merge political and religious conservatives” like Reagan had done.

Falwell’s controversial addresses were not limited to advocating for closer integration of religion into politics. Outside of his lecture at Notre Dame, Falwell championed segregation, strongly opposed homosexuality and frequently spread conspiracy theories. Despite Falwell’s beliefs, he is credited as a key player in the effort to bring evangelicals into politics.

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