House Majority Leader Eric Cantor canceled his speech at Huntsman Hall on Friday. Printed below are letters we received in response to the cancellation and the protest surrounding the lecture.
An embarrassment for the University
What an embarrassment that a senior American political leader takes time to speak to Penn, and the University fouls it up.
The public should absolutely not be invited to lectures on campus that may be oversubscribed, for precisely the reason that the speakers are coming to speak to Penn students and alumni. Letting in the first 300 means there may well be no Penn students or alumni in the room, since we do things like work, study, attend class and bathe regularly. The only people who would queue all day long to attend have ulterior motives, notwithstanding the solidarity they apparently have from many in the Penn faculty.
Why would any reasonable person voluntarily speak to 300 raging behemot whose only goal is to disrupt the speech? Would they have even let him say a word, or would they starting shouting him down before he even took the podium? And why does it always seem like conservatives are the ones on campus being shouted down by liberals? Why are liberals so afraid of ideas that don’t agree with their own?
Some of my most memorable experiences at grad school at Columbia University involved hearing conservative viewpoints expressed by folks like John Ashcroft, Theo van Gogh and Ann Coulter. The public would never be allowed to such a speech. Admission was strictly by advance ticket only, the entire building was shut save for one narrow entrance, and the police were equipped with metal barricades and a paddy-wagon. It’s a shame the radical left forced such measures, but at least the speeches went smoothly.
Indeed, the speeches contributed greatly to the exchange of ideas on which modern universities pride themselves, since conservative ideas on campus are otherwise so scarce. And, scary as it may be to many of Penn’s faculty and administrators, some people may have been convinced by the exchange of ideas to learn more about conservative principles.
2001 Wharton graduate
Losing track of what’s important
I have been following the story of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s lecture at Wharton, mostly because I am a partisan hack inside the Beltway, but also because it makes me proud as an alumnus that someone of his standing would enrich our University with his remarks. When I was a student, we were fortunate enough to have Sen. John Kerry (then a presidential candidate) and Henry Kissinger come to campus and we were all richer for having had the experience. It wasn’t a partisan issue.
I worry that students, our University and our community have lost track of what’s important in the exchange of diatribes that erupted around the Majority Leader’s cancelled event. Surely someone who you don’t agree with deserves the right to speak for himself, without interruption, occupation or hot-headed rhetoric. I hope that 99 percent of Americans would agree with that.
The Majority Leader might have told us things we didn’t want to hear. Here’s one of them. Earlier this week the University announced that it was “greening its kitchens.” While this is great news, I read it and wondered: is tuition still $40,000? Because if it is, you probably have better things to do with your money than green your kitchen.
2008 College graduate
The reason Cantor canceled
At about 1:30 p.m. on Friday, I received a terse email from Penn informing me that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor had canceled his lecture on campus. The laconic email left many questions unanswered, but fortunately that problem was solved for me when my phone rang about 30 seconds later. A friend who had just finished having a meeting with Cantor in Center City gave me a more detailed account of the rationale behind the representative’s decision.
As has been reported, one of the primary reasons was a misunderstanding between his staff and Penn regarding the makeup of the audience. Penn was one stop on his tour of college campuses, where he has been speaking at events aimed specifically at students. However, there is a lot more to the story. Cantor’s staff had also been informed that day that Penn had strict free-speech policies at these events, and consequently members of the audience would be allowed to publicly voice their opinions.
Furthermore, Penn would only have two or three staff members present to control the crowd of over 300 people; staff who might go so far as to ask an audience member to leave after the second time that he or she interrupted the speaker. He was informed that if he wanted to ensure that he could speak without being interrupted he should have scheduled a press conference with a hand-picked audience, as Vice President Joe Biden did earlier this week, cordoning off a large swath of campus and preventing any protesters from coming near.
The Occupy movement is well known for its extreme rhetoric — signs proclaiming that Goldman Sachs does the work of Satan are among the more moderate, not to mention the rampant use of anti-Semitic slurs. In addition, the movement seems to treat the rule of law with derision — its illegal occupation of public and private property as well as its members’ proclivity for defecating on police cars being just two examples. With such an audience, Penn’s admission that they would have almost no way of effectively controlling the crowd and the fact that only a small minority of listeners would actually be Penn students, Cantor made the decision to cancel his lecture.
Despite snarky, snide and unfounded comments from Penn students and faculty, such as columnist Rachel del Valle and professor Al Filreis, who accused Cantor of being a “coward” and avoiding people who would “ask him difficult questions,” it is clear that he made the understandable decision not to waste a few hours of his time engaging in a shouting match with 300 people. The protesters clearly announced their intention to “Occupy Eric Cantor,” not to hear him speak — the event would have been neither a lecture, as it was billed, nor a debate between ideological foes but rather a vain attempt by Cantor to be heard above the shouting of slurs and empty slogans by an unruly and uncontrolled mob.
Cantor has been a public advocate of the GOP’s policies, not shying away from critics but rather facing them head on, hardly the acts of cowardice imputed to him by tenured English professors who can kick a student out of class for interrupting. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his positions, Cantor is a highly relevant figure in today’s political landscape, and students from both sides of the political divide have lost out because he was not given a chance to speak. As a Penn student, I am deeply embarrassed.
Wharton and Engineering senior
Choose dialogue over attacks
It is unfortunate to read a letter such as Stu Posluns’ recent letter to the editor, which contains so little consideration of recent history or inadequately questions received information. I’d like to know where Posluns got his information about the Occupy movement being “illegal” (in Philadelphia, for example, Occupy Philadelphia requested and received the appropriate permits for each and every activity it has sanctioned as a group) and his claim that extremist signs are examples of “the more moderate,” considering the many websites documenting varied, provocative and honest signs. Does Posluns have similar concerns about the extremity of right-wing activism such as the Tea Party? I highly doubt it, considering Eric Cantor’s embrace of the Tea Party and its aggressive and disruptive methods and signs. (The level of hypocrisy espoused by Cantor in avoiding protesters disrupting a speech when he condoned and supported the exact same efforts in town-hall meetings across the country just one year ago is mind-boggling. Or has Posluns not seen those videos?)
Last night, I saw Anthony Bourdain — an unabashed New York City leftie — discuss how he can have a good time and even find agreement on issues with unabashed right-wingers like Ted Nugent if he starts from what we share. Cantor and Occupy Philadelphia agree that something is horribly awry with the current economic system. It’s an embarrassment that Cantor is unwilling to attempt to engage them and instead makes ad hominem attacks and avoids confrontation. More disappointing to me, however, is that Penn students would follow that lead and make the same accusations in The Daily Pennsylvanian. I’d like to invite Posluns out to coffee to try to take the first step toward a political discussion in which ad hominem attacks are replaced with constructive dialogue. If it can’t happen at an Ivy League institution, what hope is there?
Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology
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