Elon University students call for disinviting ideologically impure Pulitzer Prize winner

Elon University is a high-quality private college in Elon, North Carolina. It was founded as a Christian school but now is pretty much secular—one of those small and excellent liberal arts colleges that dot North Carolina—and whose state legislature is doing its best to destroy.

Kathleen Parker is a widely syndicated and conservative-leaning (but not batshit crazy conservative-leaning like Ann Coulter) columnist for the Washington Post. Her pieces (you can see a collection here) appear in over 400 newspapers, the widest syndication of any American columnist. In 2010, Parker won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, a high honor. As Wikipedia notes, she’s “a consulting faculty member at the Buckley School of Public Speaking, a popular guest on cable and network news shows and a regular panelist on NBC’s “Meet the Press” and MSNBC’s “Hardball” with Chris Matthews” as well as “an entertaining speaker on politics and culture.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 7.58.57 AM

Kathleen Parker

You’d think, then, that the students of Elon University would be glad to get a chance to hear Parker speak. But you would be thinking wrong. Why? Because Parker is a conservative, doesn’t fall in line with Snowflake Ideology, and that doesn’t go down well on liberal campuses. In fact, the Elon administration did invite Parker to speak at its Baird Pulitzer Prize lecture this October. But some students struck back, trying to get the invitation rescinded. That, of course, is censorship.

As the Elon Local News reports (you can also find pieces on many right-wing but not left-wing sites), a student named Rebecca Nipper started a petition, soon signed by 300 Elon students and alums, calling Parker’s writings “dangerous”. Here’s a bit of Nipper’s Facebook post published at Campus Reform; I can’t find the petition letter anywhere.

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We learn a bit more about the objections to Parker from the Burlington North Carolina Times-News (my emphasis):

“Parker’s journalism is more than just her opinion,” the petition says, “it’s a consistent attack on all of the things Elon has been working towards – ending sexual assault, increasing diversity, and creating a safe and encouraging environment for all students regardless of gender, race, ethnic background or sexual orientation … It does not matter whether she intends to speak on any of the issues she writes so frequently about in her journalism, we as a university are praising Kathleen Parker for her opinions by bringing her to campus.

Praising her? What about just promoting discussion? And here we see the fallacious thinking behind these protests. If you consider inviting a speaker tantamount to praising her, or approving her opinions, then of course you can’t approve any speakers whose opinions aren’t in line with yours. Students would be better off if they regarded speaking events as educational opportunities rather than as the equivalent of honorary degrees. Even if you’re sure you’re not gong to agree with someone like Parker, hearing her make her case give you a chance to hone and sharpen your own opinions. After all, you must do more than hold them—you must defend them.

What we see here is no-platforming of Parker, regardless of what she wants to speak about.  If you’re familiar with the argot of Scientology, Nipper and her cronies are labeling Parker a Suppressive Person (“SP”), whose every word must be suppressed. Note as well that Parker’s presence creates an “unsafe space”—the usual blather that opinions which don’t jibe completely with those of the Regressive Left are dangerous and somehow promote an “unsafe” climate.

The Pendulum, an Elon student newspaper, gives more information, clarifying that much of the opposition to Parker’s talk derives from statements about gender that the students found problematic:

The petition, titled “A Request for the Removal of Baird Pulitzer Prize Speaker Kathleen Parker,” circulated on social media late last week. It cites segments from her book, “Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care,” and her columns as showing “undoubtable bias against women, sexual assault victims, and people of color.”

“A lot of people think we’re taking issue with her politics, her personal stances — that’s not it,” said Nipper, noting that she and others have read Parker’s book and dove into her Washington Post archives. “(Her book) perpetuates something that’s extremely dangerous and we’re actively fighting against. It’s something the administration has been truly working hard on.

“To have a speaker who actively supports that kind of thinking, brought in by the university as somebody who would speak to everybody, is detrimental and very dangerous.”

Translation: “Anyone who doesn’t agree with my opinion is dangerous.” Finally, the right-wing Campus Reform did get hold of Nipper’s petition, and found some problems with it:

The petition claims that Elon students have found “some very disturbing things” in Parker’s writing that made her unfit. The petition quotes several excerpts from her book to shed light on her allegedly dangerous rebuke of modern feminism.

They include “[a]llow me to translate. There’s no way to make men into women,” and “[t]he reality is that men have been screwed, and not in the way that they prefer.”

Hyperlinks in the Google Doc sent readers to two of Parker’s Washington Post columns, but were written in a way that confuses their actual title. A link to Parker’s “Unanswered questions in Trayvon Martin case” is hyperlinked under “Racial profiling is common sense.” The words “Women are using alcohol as a way to blame men for sexual assault” linked to “Sex after drinking and the war on women.

The Good News is that the University administration slapped the petition down like a buzzing mosquito.  Here’s a tweet from the head editor of the Pendulum, reporting the University’s response as issued by Dan Anderson, Elon’s Vice President of University Communications:

That’s a damn good response, and it should make Ms. Nipper reconsider her histrionic censorship. But it won’t. What will happen to people like her when they enter the real world? In my darkest moments, I imagine that someday they’ll be in charge. And if we get a country run by Pecksniffs like Nipper, I can’t see that it would be much less repressive than a country run by Donald Trump.

p.s. Parker will apparently be speaking at Elon on October 4.


  1. Patrick Clark
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    I have read Ms. Parker for years and find her to be one of the adults that I can turn to for an interesting, thoughtful opinion. I am not a conservative but I understand the need to have conversations with those who hold different opinions….rather than shouting at one another. Time to grow up children and learn to disagree without being disagreeable. Also, time to learn that my way or the highway is a Trump response, not what we should expect from a well-educated student population. Thank god the speech is proceeding….at least, hopefully, we are past the point where school administrators are cowering under their desks.

    • Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Agreed Patrick – even the Planet Boulder Daily Camera carries Parker and rarely are there Letters railing against what she has to say.

    • Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      Another tidbit – Donald Trump is speaking today on the campus of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. I believe that the Chancellor did the right thing in granting his campaign’s request to rent the Event Center. Most of the faculty are also responding in the proper fashion – they understand the The Donald was not invited to campus and that free speech is important. They are however writing a very thoughtful denouncement of Trump’s behaviors and policies that will be presented to the press covering the meeting.

  2. Sastra
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    IIrc I once wrote a letter to Kathleen Parker responding –and objecting — to a column she’d written after 9/11 which was something to the effect that “we Americans DO believe in God.” She attacked atheism as insufficiently comforting and motivating — and strongly implied that atheists stood for what America is against. I wrote HER and made my case.

    I would have loved to have made my case in person. I don’t understand how controversy is supposed to go away without open debate.

    IMO the only speakers who should be “dis-invited” are those who are assumed to be speaking as experts in a field, yet are without credibility. A creationist in a series of biology lectures, a homeopath in a series of medical lectures, etc. I’d also include those invited by mistake.

    “Dear Richard Dawson; I’m afraid we will have to rescind our invitation to be the keynote speaker for the Darwin Day lecture at our university …”

    “Dear Professor Sean Carroll; Oops. We wanted the other one.”

    • Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:35 pm | Permalink


      • somer
        Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

        +1 I would not appreciate a lecture from Kathleen Parker but the point of the liberal arts side of the university is to engage with new ideas and information, and become informed and skilled enough to have a credible argument, that has gone through scrutiny of others.

  3. Somite
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    If it’s an event that faculty and students have to attend, like a graduation, the speaker must be fact-based like a scientist, or a sane businessman, or actor.

    Ideological speakers are only appropriate if attendance is entirely voluntary. Let’s face it; the reason many conservative speakers are acceptable is because they are smart enough to be only insidiously spiteful like David Brooks and Charles Cooke.

  4. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I find this so depressing. Whatever happened to the liberal values of freedom of thought and speech?

    Then there’s the extreme selfishness of Ms Nipper’s views. Even her sentence structure demonstrates it: “… I and many of my fellow students …” etc.

    And just to be petty and inappropriate, is “nipper” a word used for a young child in the US? It is in New Zealand and Australia, which seems fairly ironic given the level of maturity displayed by Ms Nipper.

    • Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      And in the UK.


    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      I see I used “ironic” incorrectly there, but I can’t change it and you know what I mean.

      • davidintoronto
        Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        Depends which expert you consult.


        • Heather Hastie
          Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

          Ha ha. I still say I was wrong!🙂

          I changed the word I’d originally used because the sentence didn’t scan (like almost all the sentences of Ms Nipper’s displayed above), then didn’t re-read it before posting.

          • Craw
            Posted July 29, 2016 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

            You can save the case if you argue that the average nipper behaves more maturely than Nipper does, if you are holding out nippers as models to which Nipper can only aspire.
            It’s a close call.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

              You’re not Trump’s spin doctor are you?😀 “I was being sarcastic – I really am the law and order candidate and it only sounded like I meant it when I called for Russia to hack the DNC!”

          • chris moffatt
            Posted July 29, 2016 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

            Apropos (or apt) rather than ironic?

            • Jonathan Wallace
              Posted July 30, 2016 at 1:29 am | Permalink

              Le mot juste!

      • bobxtm
        Posted July 29, 2016 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

        It’s like rain on your wedding day.

  5. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Still have liberal schools in Carolina. Surprised me. Nice reply from the school.

  6. Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Ugh, that’s some creationist level quote mining right there. Reading the linked WaPo articles, they don’t say what Nipper wants you to think they say.

  7. frankschmidtmissouri
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Kathleen Parker is an illegitimate recombinant derived from David Brooks, Maureen Dowd and Peggy Noonan. I read her self-pitying columns as a way to find what passes for thought on the Right. Believe me, it’s a hard slog.

    Nonetheless, good job to the Elon administration, and a get real to Ms. Nipper and whoever signed this daft petition.

  8. bluemaas
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    My work places me on a university campus full – time. These of the Regressive Left walk past me hourly.

    Not nearly yet as one of ours of the Oldest Old (>90 and above in years) but my definitely desiring to eventually .be. of that genre, these younger persons in positions of “leading” the policies and the laws and the governments’ (.any. agency’s type of) enactments that will directly impact me by then, and likely as well my being by then somewhat too feeble to effectively fight back at their inanities and vapidities ? This .literally. frightens me MORE than (any thought of) my actually reaching to the number of years in age of … … the Oldest Old !


  9. Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    It is truly frightening to think that our next generation will be these students. I can only hope that they are more of a minority than they seem to be when I read all these stories.

    My first reaction to all those controversial topics is that I would LOVE to hear Parker’s arguments for her opinions. How can you not want to know why she believes what she does!?

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Kathleen Parker — the decocted essence of mainline Republican WASP femininity.

    Objecting to her doesn’t bespeak much tolerance for intellectual diversity.

  11. colnago80
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Kathleen Parker of one of the Washington Post’s stable of conservative columnists (the others being George Will, Michael Gerson, and Jennifer Rubin) who have been beating up the Donald for months. This is in addition to negative editorials working him over.

    Although he has bad mouthed the Post early and often, thus far he has refrained from threatening to sue the publisher. I suspect that the reason is that the publisher is Jeff Bezos, who is now the 3rd richest man in the world. His pockets are a lot deeper then the Donald’s.

  12. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    What actually is dangerous is the shutting out of opinions – left or right – that do not chime with those of the orthodoxy. These students need to learn that freedom of speech is one of the most precious things we have in the democratic world but that it only has any real meaning when we realise it means allowing people to say the things that we dislike and disagree with.

  13. Craw
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Pecksniff; haven’t seen that in ages, but it fits. Histrionic Pecksniff: perfect.

  14. jay
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that neither liberals or conservatives have a lock on good sense. I find both idiocy and value on both sides.

    • Posted July 29, 2016 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

      Well, okay, but of course you’re going to find general human idiocy on both sides of the aisle. The thing about the right is that the planks in their platform are idiotic, which is
      a separate issue from whether any particular individual is idiotic.

  15. Posted July 29, 2016 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    The good news in this story outweighs the bad. There will always be attempts to quash speech. It’s good to see that there are still university administrators who recognize that the free exchange of ideas is vital to their institutions.

  16. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    There are a number of good cartoons about this online, but I include just one- from an article on the issue by Alan Dershowitz.

    • Posted July 29, 2016 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

      I think this cartoon could have been done better. Do blacks have it better now as opposed to 60 years ago? Yes. Is anti-black prejudice 100% a problem of the past? No way in hell.

  17. Posted July 29, 2016 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry, but I find the cartoon offensive in focusing on two different eras of blacks instead of multi-racial and/or LGBTQ (or whatever). From what I’ve read about actions on universities similar to that of Ms. Nipper’s, it seems to be a relatively diverse group of students (male, female, black, white, etc.) and don’t pertain to races only,(of which there is only one, and it’s “HUMAN”).

    I’m assuming these students mean well and want to see progress made much faster on the inequities that have existed too long in our country, but exclusion of viewpoints and speech is not going to achieve that goal.
    Learn facts and use logic to debate the issues. If you still object so strongly, do not attend. But, don’t prevent other people from hearing, possibly questioning/debating, and, thereby, potentially providing an important learning experience for some.

  18. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    One hairsplit:
    “We appreciate the initiative of the students who have raised questions and opened a constructive discussion…”

    Yeah right.

    If the discussion is constructive it’s no thanks to the prats who squawked about the invitation. And I doubt the administration ‘appreciates’ having to deal with the pests.

    I suppose admin feel they have to use the PC language, so I can’t really blame them for it.


    • Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

      I think they’re using Dan Dennett’s tactic here of first giving the person you criticized some credit (in Dennett’s case, for anything valuable they said or did)) before taking them apart.

  19. rickflick
    Posted July 29, 2016 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

    “Parker will apparently be speaking at Elon on October 4”.

    I hope the anti-speech brigades don’t try to shout her down. Let a thousand flowers bloom.

  20. Posted July 29, 2016 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    I love this post, Jerry. Thank you.

    I’m in a program at the University of Washington with a strong authoritarian leftist component. One the student body leaders unfriended me on Facebook without telling me but when asked said that she has friends who “struggle with your communication style.” She said they feel “unsafe” because she was associated with me. Therefore, she unfriended me.

    So, she got to signal her virtue and to shame all at once.

    I should add that while I’m a centric leftist myself, I’m typically a model of decorum, having a fascination with language and a master’s degree in linguistics. So, the “unsafe” accusation had to do with me expressing opinions that didn’t jive with her friends. The post of mine that set people off apparently was one in which I shared an article first tweeted by Steven Pinker, no less, on the value of philosophy. Apparently, the social justice warriors thought it was too elitist, had too many big words, disadvantaged the poor. So bad me for sharing and stating the worth of conversations across genres.

    The left eats itself.

    • somer
      Posted July 29, 2016 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

      Sorry to hear you have to put up with this nastiness.
      I dont understand why so many students protest for educational rights when really they don’t want education. I suspect most students are just too busy surviving to pay attention to the student bodies at all so its the ratbags running things supposedly in the name of all – like “Nipper” saying what SHE wants and assumes others want. But where does all this prurile “safe space” mentality come from? I suspect the Adornos, Horkheimers Foucaults, Derridas, Marcuses Gramscis etc have been long in incubation and have now fostered a reflexive shutting out of knowledge as too Western.

  21. W.Benson
    Posted July 30, 2016 at 12:32 am | Permalink

    CNN — and I suppose other cable news networks — with the aid of the DNC, did a slam-dunk job of censoring the views of protesters at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia. Well, I guess protests and student opinions do not really count as free speech, do they Washington Post?
    The point is that when the big guys impose their views and narrative, establishment wisdom and authority mandates the right of free speech. When little guys (childish students) protest (e.g., tuition-paying students of Elon University) institutional prestige given invited speakers that mock their own views and standards, it is intolerance. It’s not like Katherine Parker or anyone else wanting to spout off could not hire conference room at a nearby private facility or, if the speech is important enough, get up on a soap box.

  22. Doug
    Posted July 30, 2016 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    When I was at college, back in the late ’70s, my school had a course on journalism featuring several well-known speakers, including William F. Buckley and Hunter S. Thompson. I don’t remember anyone believing that the inclusion of a speaker constituted endorsement of his or her views; if it did, would anyone have picked both Buckley and Thompson?

  23. sensorrhea
    Posted July 30, 2016 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    One of the base problems here is the assumption among the snowflakes that they all share the same “correct” opinions. When she says the administration should be “allies” with the student body she implies total homogeneity of opinion among students, which I am sure is not true.

  24. DrBrydon
    Posted July 30, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    It’s only a matter of time before some of these students discover that their school libraries hold books containing objectionable opinions, and begin calling for their removal. It is also likely that they will begin removing them themselves.

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