Ideals get the chop, quietly

July 29, 2005

A US university president who at one time insisted that she supported the right of a controversial speaker to appear at a campus event has quietly cut the funding of the initiative that issued the invitation, writes Jon Marcus.

Joan Hinde Stewart, president of Hamilton College in New York, ordered that the budget for the Kirkland Project be "substantially reduced" and that a tightly controlled central fund be set up for outside speakers to "ensure reasonable oversight of the invitations we extend". She said that the initiative would also be renamed.

The Kirkland Project is housed at and underwritten by the university. It caused uproar by inviting Ward Churchill, a University of Colorado professor, to speak about American Indian activism on the campus last February.

Professor Churchill wrote an essay that blamed the US for the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and compared those who had died in the attacks to Nazis.

Initially, Professor Stewart promised that Dr Churchill's appearance would proceed as scheduled. She said: "His remarks about the victims of 9/11 are repellent, but our reaction to 'repellent' is how we test the right to free speech." The faculty gave this a standing ovation.

She then suddenly cancelled the event, citing security risks. In the national uproar that ensued, some donors withdrew their financial support for the college and prospective students refused to enrol.

Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, director of the Kirkland Project, resigned in February, claiming that her departure has come under duress.

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