Investigation raises censorship questions
James Cornwell, The Oklahoma Daily
March 6, the day author and evolution advocate Richard Dawkins spoke at OU, a state representative contacted an OU administrator asking for information about Dawkins’ appearance on campus.
Jay Doyle, university spokesman, confirmed Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, asked OU Vice President Danny Hilliard for detailed information about Dawkins’ visit, including how much the event cost, where its funding came from and about e-mails from departments that sponsored the visit.
Hamilton did not respond to repeated phone calls or a visit from The Daily, but some see Hamilton’s questioning as an attempt to attack academic freedom.
“I find it deeply [troubling] that elected state officials appear to be using the powers of their offices to attempt to censor the opinions of those with whom they personally disagree,” Piers Hale, history of science professor, said in an e-mail. “[OU] President [David] Boren has quite correctly pointed out that this is an issue of freedom of speech, and thus of constitutional prerogative.”
Doyle said Boren stands by the statement he made before Dawkins’ speech in support of the appearance at OU.
But State Rep. Todd Thomsen, R-Ada, said he supports Hamilton’s right to ask for information from OU because, as a public institution, OU is subject to government oversight. He said representatives ask for information from other state-funded agencies on a regular basis.
State Rep. Wallace Collins, D-Norman, said this is the first time he has heard of a legislator looking into any speaker a university has invited.
“Certainly, Richard Dawkins had a right to come to OU, and OU had a right to invite him,” Collins said.
He said he thinks OU has an obligation to bring in controversial speakers like Dawkins so students can hear different sides of issues, like evolution, and make up their own minds.
Thomsen said he thinks OU’s celebration of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, and specifically Dawkins’ invitation, indicated OU was only presenting one side of the evolution debate.
“Not one speaker was brought in to oppose that,” he said.
Collins, however, said OU did host speakers with views opposing Dawkins’.
John West and Casey Luskin from the Discovery Institute, a nonprofit organization that advocates the teaching of the “strengths and weaknesses” of evolution in public schools, spoke at OU in February.
West and Luskin were invited by the IDEA Club, an OU student organization that promotes intelligent design and evolution awareness, said Josh Malone, University College freshman and IDEA Club member.
West and Luskin’s visit was a bit different, though.
The club didn’t receive funding from OU to bring the speakers to campus, Malone said.
Thomsen not only said OU’s speakers were one-sided, but their views were not consistent with those of the state.
Three days before Hamilton’s inquiries, Thomsen proposed House Resolution 1015 in opposition to OU’s invitation of Dawkins. Thomsen said he wrote the resolution because he felt he had a responsibility to his constituents to share his opinion as a state representative.
The resolution was never heard by the House, but Thomsen said that hasn’t stopped criticism.
“I have received quite a bit of opposition from a consistently atheistic crowd worldwide,” he said.
Thomsen said he has been accused of trying to advocate censorship, but said he feels as though he’s the one being censored.
He said his resolution proposal wouldn’t censor anyone but his critics are trying to censor him and others who question evolution.
“It [the proposal] simply says that, you know, we strongly oppose [Dawkins’ appearance at OU],” Thomsen said.