Students petitioned Elon University’s administration to retract an invitation for Washington Post columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner Kathleen Parker to speak on campus in Elon’s McCrary Theater. Despite the effort by some students, the school administrators maintained the invitation and Parker spoke about politics, journalism and free speech on October 4, 2016.
Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker was invited to speak at Elon as a part of the university’s Baird Pulitzer Prize Lecture Series.
Becca Nipper, a senior undergraduate student, spearheaded a petition to ban Parker from speaking on campus. Her petition was signed by over 300 students, alumni and others.
Dan Anderson, Elon’s vice president for university communications, released a statement supporting the role of controversial speakers on campus. “That is in keeping with the university’s mission of being an academic community that encourages freedom of thought and liberty of conscience,'” the statement read, according to the Elon News Network. “It is important to know that the university does not endorse or reject the ideas expressed by the speakers we engage,” the statement continued.
Since 2001, the Baird Lecture Series for Pulitzer Prize Award Winners has hosted an annual lecturer from the varying categories for which the Pulitzer Prize Award is given. In 2016, Kathleen Parker was invited by the Elon University administration to deliver the Baird Pulitzer Prize lecture in October. Parker won the Pulitzer Prize Award in 2010 for Commentary. However, the invitation was met with some pushback from the Elon community when her visit was announced during the summer before her scheduled speech.
Elon student Becca Nipper circulated a petition to have Parker disinvited. In her petition, Nipper referenced Parker’s 2008 book titled, “Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care”. The petition, called “A Request for the Removal of Baird Pulitzer Prize Speaker Kathleen Parker,” received more than 300 signatures. It asserted that “Parker’s journalism is more than just her opinion, it’s a consistent attack on all of the things Elon has been working toward — ending sexual assault, increasing diversity and creating a safe and encouraging environment for all students regardless of gender, race, ethnic background or sexual orientation.”
As reported by National Review, Kathleen Parker’s columns have been published in 450 newspapers worldwide, and she frequently makes guest appearances on many major news networks.
Responding to the petition, Elon’s vice president for university communications, Dan Anderson, released a statement referring to Parker as an “accomplished individual” and saying “ While some may disagree with the views of speakers, we believe there is great value in holding our personal beliefs up to the tests of those who hold different perspectives” among other things. Ultimately, the university did not rescind its invitation to Parker. “We appreciate the initiative of the students who have raised questions and opened a constructive discussion about this fall’s Baird Lecture, and we look forward to the conversation about these topics before and after Ms. Parker’s appearance,” the university statement said, according to the Elon News Network. “That is the mark of a vibrant academic institution, and the Elon community deserves nothing less.”
Parker delivered her lecture as planned. The Times-News reported that all 575 available seats had been sold out for the event. Tickets were $13 or free with an Elon ID. During the lecture, she spoke about her career, including her experience in the media industry. She also addressed the book that was the center of the petition to bar her appearance, saying, “I probably wouldn’t write that book today, and if I did, I probably would not be so snarky,” reports the Elon News Network. She also advocated for Free Speech, although the majority of the talk focused on the upcoming 2016 presidential election and the current political climate.
Free Speech supported by the administration
By refusing to abide by the demands in Nipper’s petition, the university administration upheld Parker’s invitation and advocated for Free Speech on Elon’s campus.
Parker delivered speech
Kathleen Parker delivered her speech as planned. She advocated for Free Speech and spoke about her history in journalism and the 2016 presidential election.
Prepared by Bridget McElroy ‘18
October 11, 2017