Next week, Scripps College will fund a Venezuelan propaganda tour for the second time this school year. It will host two of the country’s consuls-general for a three-day speakers’ series whitewashing the horrific human rights abuses of dictator Nicholas Maduro and extolling the virtues of Venezuela’s socialist government, which most recently has used national food shortages to starve political dissidents and to purchase the support of desperate and dying citizens for authoritarian rule.
According to Human Rights Watch, there is “overwhelming evidence” that the Venezuelan government regularly perpetrates “grave human rights abuses,” arbitrarily imprisoning and prosecuting political dissidents; murdering protesters in the streets, and raping, beating and otherwise torturing prisoners who oppose the ruling regime. We are ashamed that Scripps has invited representatives of such a despicable government to propagandize at the Claremont Colleges.
Even so, at the Independent, we always have had a strong commitment to freedom of speech, and this case is no exception. As we have written before, “even when speech is profoundly immoral or objectionable, we must protect it.” Encountering ideas both good and bad is essential to the pursuit of truth—the goal toward which these colleges purport to aspire.
Sadly, Scripps’ invitation has nothing to do with the pursuit of truth, the broadening of public debate, or the exposure of bad ideas to the scrutiny of the public square. We know this because all semester, Scripps College has stonewalled, obstructed, ignored and denied our repeated requests to bring to campus a vocal critic of socialism and of Venezuela’s totalitarian government.
In February, the college told us that we could not host this critic—conservative commentator Andrew Klavan—on their campus because there were “no dates available” for the entire semester, which stretches until the middle of May. After we made several more appearances in the Scripps’ events office, an administrator confirmed that this was not quite the full truth: There were no dates available—for us. Despite following all the proper processes and procedures, we were denied a venue because Klavan is politically conservative.
Though we sought no funding from the college and planned to use our publication’s own resources to pay for the speaker and any additional costs incurred, Scripps refused to budge. Meanwhile, the college entreated representatives of the Venezuelan government to propagandize on our campus, offering to fund their appearance with college resources. In an unsettling imitation of Maduro’s dictatorship, Scripps chose to censor us and Klavan, opponents of the Venezuelan regime, while inviting the representatives of that murderous government to speak unchallenged.
Scripps College is a private institution and has full freedom to decide how to allocate its resources, including event spaces. But it is also an establishment of higher education that purports to educate—to help students develop the skills requisite to seek the truth in a world of hidden agendas, misinformation, and extraordinary complexity. Aiding and abetting the propaganda of totalitarian dictators, while suppressing dissent to their views, contravenes this educational mission entirely.
More disturbing is that our experience attempting to book Andrew Klavan is far from unique. The planned speaker series at Scripps are routinely and embarrassingly devoid of all diversity of thought.
The Malott Public Affairs Program, a speaker series designed to introduce students to “a range of opinions about the world—especially opinions with which they may not agree,” has not hosted a speaker since 2015. This series once introduced students to Newt Gingrich, David Brooks, Ben Stein, Peggy Noonan, and other great conservative and libertarian thinkers—but no longer.
Today, Scripps students have little if any exposure to conservative opinions, and instead are scheduled regularly to listen to the minions of despicable dictators, human rights violators, and representatives of organizations connected to Islamist terrorism.
This status quo denies students the education they deserve—an education which gives them the tools to contend peacefully in the public square, and to become capable citizens. We deserve more than the lackeys of a brutal dictator; we deserve a real debate.
Editors-in-Chief Emeritus: Matthew Reade and Sophie Mann
Editors-in-Chief: Alec Sweet and William Gu
Senior Editor: Elliot Dordick
Publisher/Design Editor: McKenzie Deutsch
Managing Editor: Megan Keller
Photo: Flickr / Andrew Jackson