In the last week, you may have seen a series of media stories and/or social media posts and comments referencing a March decision denying a student club’s request to invite an outside speaker to campus. As a university of our size operating in one of the most divisive and polarizing times in our nation’s history, we expect and accept that people will often criticize our actions and approaches. In recent days, however, the reports and posts related to our decision to not allow our student club to invite Michael Knowles to campus have led to misleading media reports. We seek to clarify a few things.
First, certain reports and comments have said we have “canceled” or “disinvited” the speaker from visiting. This is incorrect; the request was denied, so an official event was never scheduled.
Recent online publications have also erroneously stated that this decision was made by university officials because the speaker is Catholic and pro-life. This is completely false; the denial was based on how he engages those with whom he disagrees.
St. Thomas has a standard process for vetting student club requests to bring outside speakers to campus, and there are many reports that are easily discoverable about this speaker’s past remarks in various forums. It didn’t take long for St. Thomas staff to find several examples of incendiary remarks toward people who identify as transgender and people with autism. A simple online search, for example, shows that Fox News called one of his previous comments “disgraceful” and even temporarily banned him from appearing on the network. And even more recently, he suggested parents of transgender children should be imprisoned and charged with a capital offense. Because of the tactics often used by this speaker during campus visits, we encouraged the student club to find another speaker.
Finally, there have been several comments made online attacking our status as a Catholic university. Let us be clear about who we are: The University of St. Thomas is a Catholic university that strives to uphold the dignity of every human person.
We welcome speakers who tackle difficult issues – but we expect them to do so while treating community members with dignity and respect to allow for productive discourse. We do not invite speakers who have a clear history of showing disrespect toward marginalized people. To do so is contrary to the type of community we aspire to be.
There are many credible speakers who could offer dialogue on difficult and controversial issues, who have track records of doing so respectfully. Staff throughout campus are very willing to explore other speakers with this club and we invite the chance to talk more about some of those possibilities.