Letter: President Eric Kaler and Provost Karen Hanson: take a stand for liberalism

by Letter to the Editor

I have not yet seen sufficient evidence to suggest the University of Minnesota is attempting to “quarantine” or silence Ben Shapiro. However, I am concerned that the University is allowing the heckler’s veto to triumph over free expression. A university that purports to value the free exchange of ideas cannot allow this to happen. There are thousands of students who want to hear Shapiro speak and engage with him in discussion. The University must make every effort to make that possible. 

I understand the very real practical, logistical and security concerns here. The security issue seems particularly concerning to the University, and rightly so. Shapiro’s detractors have demonstrated they are willing to employ violence to silence his voice. Unwilling or unable to wage intellectual combat — Antifa and similarly thuggish and illiberal groups have decided to wage actual physical combat. The University, considering its obligation to maintain security on campus, is right to be concerned. But these concerns must never trump freedom of thought, expression or dialogue. Liberty is always worth the danger that may accompany it. 

We are at a pivotal moment in our society’s history. Our politics and discourse have become bitterly tribal and destructive. The far left and far right urge those of us in the middle to choose a tribe and destroy the opposition by any means necessary. The notion of civility and good-faith discussion is anathema to these fringes. They posit a black-and-white world devoid of gray and nuance; “You’re either with us or against us.” Shapiro refuses to comply with these demands and is thus a highly relevant and important figure in this historical moment. 

In this context, Shapiro finds himself in the unique position of being equally hated by far left and right alike. Unwilling to endorse blood and soil nationalism or economic populism, Shapiro is attacked as a “globalist” and “cuck” by the far right. Shapiro is unwilling to discard his traditional values regarding the nuclear family, sexuality or gender to worship at the altar of the postmodern left. Consequently, he’s been maligned as racist, sexist, homophobic and bigoted. Ironically, both sides find common cause in their hatred of Shapiro for his Orthodox Judaism and unabashed defense of Israel. Strange times produce strange bedfellows. 

Whether you agree or disagree with Shapiro, or find yourself in between, it’s simply false to assert he’s doing anything other than advocating in good faith for ideas he truly believes in. He has staked out a position and he’s willing to defend it with reason and empiricism against all comers — precisely what the academy has long stood for.  

I am a proud Gopher. I believe the University is a world-class institution with a proud history of honest inquiry and a tradition of championing the free exchange of ideas. In light of this history, I implore you, President Eric Kaler and Provost Karen Hanson, to make a stand for liberalism. History has shown that the only reliable defender of speech and inquiry has been the academy. Today you are called upon to make that defense. How will you answer?

This letter has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Aaron Waaraniemi is a political science junior at the University of Minnesota.