Back in the day, controversial speakers like Hanoi Jane lit up the campus
Thank you for your reporting on the Fordham fiasco regarding Ann Coulter.
As an alumnus of Fordham, I found the incident embarrassing, but as a former chairman of Fordham’s College Republicans, I also found it infuriating.
When Alger Hiss was invited to speak at Fordham, we didn’t try to stop him. The College Republicans handed out leaflets explaining who he was and we asked pointed questions during the Q&A. And when Jane Fonda appeared, the Young Americans for Freedom (remember them?) unfurled abanner that read: “GO HOME HANOI JANE!” Free expression triumphed in the 1970s–on both sides of the debate. If only it were so in the 21st Century.
Here is the letter to the editor that I wrote to The Fordham Ram. I reproduce the full text below.
To the Editor:
I read with great personal interest the story of how Fordham University’s College Republican club invited conservative columnist Ann Coulter to speak at Fordham, then rescinded that invitation following criticism from a number of people, including Fordham’s president, the Rev. Joseph McShane.
During my four years at Fordham University, I served as chairman of Fordham’s College Republicans and later as chairman of American Age, the Fordham University lecture series.
During my time on campus in the late 1970s, Fordham invited many controversial speakers who addressed provocative topics with Fordham’s students. Speakers included: Alger Hiss, who was accused in 1948 of being a Soviet spy and was convicted of perjury in connection with this accusation in 1950; Jane Fonda, who was photographed sitting at a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery in 1972 during the Vietnam War; Mark Lane and Dick Gregory, who spoke for several hours on the topic “Who Killed Kennedy and King?”; former National Organization for Women President Karen DeCrow and conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly (possibly the Ann Coulter of her time), who debated whether the Equal Rights Amendment should become part of the U.S. Constitution; and Fereydoun Hoveyda, Iran’s United Nations Ambassador from 1971 to 1979, who spoke at Rose Hill during the height of the Iranian hostage crisis.
As lecture series chairman, the only time I ever heard from Fordham’s president, the late Rev. James C. Finlay, about our speakers was on the day of the Jane Fonda appearance. I called Father Finlay that morning to ask him to intervene with the Fordham Athletic Department to obtain more seating for Ms. Fonda’s appearance in the Rose Hill Gymnasium. Father Finlay made one phone call to the Athletic Department, and another 500 chairs were available for Ms. Fonda’s appearance. The question of whether Father Finlay approved of our guest never came up.
If Fordham University could play the gracious host to Ms. Fonda and many more provocative speakers over its illustrious history, Fordham should have extended the same courtesy to Ms. Coulter.
Maybe next time,instead of rudely revoking an invitation to a contentious conservative, Fordham will follow Father Finlay’s example and order up some more chairs.
J.D. Piro, FCRH ’80