UW-Madison Protestors Missed Chance For Critical Conversation, Matt Walsh Got What He Wanted

Here we go again. A person who desires to create controversy is paid to stir up a university campus, and a small segment of the student body creates headlines in a weak attempt to prove some ‘enlightened’ point. This storyline is getting very, very stale.

Every time there is a ‘fire-eater’ invited to a university campus there is another round of discussions about either the value of hearing ‘the other side’ or why shutting down ‘hate-speech’ is a necessity.  This week attention is being given to UW-Madison where a conservative campus group thought it important to pay for a bully against transgender people to speak and also show his documentary. Call me old-fashioned or just way out of step, but bringing Matt Walsh, who only wishes to needlessly provoke and alienate, seems like a waste of money when a conservative scholar might have been invited that would have afforded truly engaging conversation. I find it difficult to explain why college campus groups would not invest in truly weighty thinkers, a modern-day version of William F. Buckley Jr. I desire this from both sides of the divide and then let the issues and dialogue flow.

As I surveyed the news reports from the UW campus today it was not the first time I knew there are many students and others in the community who want diverse thought presented in an adult fashion. That is not, however, what the university or this city is experiencing today. I know I am over-simplifying matters by putting Walsh, an extremist and self-promoting individual, at one end and the erudite world of the Buckley types at the other.  But as one who does enjoy listening to speakers at UW-Madison I am not pulled in by the ‘hair on fire’ types but instead find the words from the likes of George McGovern or Robert Novak to have real appeal.  (I was most fortunate to walk with the slow-moving Novak due to his recovering from a hip operation down the length of Memorial Union and ask about how he actually wrote columns–he told me he wrote them in one sitting–akin to one take if it were a movie production.) 

What I found troubling about the local chapter of Young America’s Foundation is that while they speak loudly about ‘free speech’ what they really desire is the dissemination of harmful lies and bogus arguments that would not stand up in a robust give-and-take dialogue of ideas. I was reminded today that this grand freedom we all have of speaking freely comes with the responsibility to speak responsibly.

Free speech also allows for the ones who might be offended to counter with even better speech. That seems to have been totally lost on the ones who seemed to buy spray paint by the gross and then harm numerous places on the campus. It was more than sad to see, it was simply pathetic. Those many years ago after Novak finished with his remarks the floor was opened in the Great Hall to questions. He faced some tough attacks and verbal volleys as he sparred with students about the role of journalism and preemptive wars. Those occasions on campus when robust and sharply divided views can be talked about and debated are what truly constitute part of the educational experience.

Instead of engaging with the buffoonish Walsh in a lively debate inside the Hall about his absurd views, protesters to his appearance gave a low-brow performance on the public square with a mindless tantrum of graffiti—the very type of outlandish behavior the YAF were hoping their dollars would buy. As Monday comes to a close Walsh won this day as he wanted exposure and an angry reaction. Meanwhile, the art of dialogue and conversation, something a university should excel at, took a loss.

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