RIPON COLLEGE RESIDENCE hall director LaPerish Barnes suggests that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn should not have been invited to speak.     Tim Lyke photo
RIPON COLLEGE RESIDENCE hall director LaPerish Barnes suggests that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn should not have been invited to speak. Tim Lyke photo

     A discussion of civil rights at Ripon College last week segued into a mini free-speech forum when panelist LaPerish Barnes proposed erecting a wall around students’ rights and need to hear views they may loathe.

     While explaining how the college can be more inclusive and diverse, residence hall director Barnes offered students some sensible suggestions: engage in campus conversations about race, be proactive in combatting racist actions, participate in civil unrest.

     But then he added: “Don’t invite known bigots to this campus to speak.” His point was that schools who invite prejudiced people to speak send the wrong message to students who may be their targets.  

     Barnes cited Michael  Flynn’s appearance at Ripon in November 2016, just three months after the then national security director designate had declared that “Islamism ... is a vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people on this planet and it has to be excised.”

     Barnes made an Orwellian statement about promoting diversity by excluding those not deemed podium-worthy... “If we are truly about diversity and inclusion, there’s no reason that man should have been invited to speak here.”

     Barnes’s contradictory nod toward political correctness showed no understanding of the precept that evil dwells in darkness and its corollary that the best way to kill a bad idea is to shine a light on it. ...

     Back to Flynn, the college would have been foolish to pull the plug on a speaker who was poised in two months to begin giving daily national-security briefings to the leader of the free world. But, the Ripon College Young Republicans ... should have insisted that their guest:

      1. take questions from the audience, and

     2. speak wholly on the record. ...

     Queries Young Republicans screened before asking were softballs. (Even Flynn commented, “You guys ask really simple questions.”)

     The Commonwealth questioned the very concern Barnes held by submitting a question to Flynn the Young Republicans rejected: Between your comment that “fear of Muslims is rational” and your retweeting an anti-Semitic message last July, for which you have since apologized, why should Americans believe you have the temperament to advise the president on national security affairs, especially the war on terrorism and fighting ISIS, that involve people and nations whose primary faith is not Christian?

     So let bigots speak, yes, but also let their words be scrutinized, challenged and even held up to contempt.

     ... Folks attending the civil rights panel where Barnes spoke learned of several hundred Ripon College students’ efforts in 1965 to prevent their classmates from being sent down South to march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

     Speaking of the matter, professor emeritus Russell Blake reminded the audience last week that it is “difficult to get change in a homogenous community. [It is] easier for folks to close out the outside world, to not challenge their fundamental beliefs.”

     That notion applies as much to academia 52 years ago as it does to campus discourse today.                               — Tim Lyke

     To read the entire editorial, including information about how several audience members responded to Barnes, see the Nov. 2. 2017 edition of The Ripon Commonwealth Press.