Pundit Ann Coulter to speak at College Republicans’ Lincoln Day Dinner

At the end of February, news broke that the Notre Dame College Republicans (NDCR) have invited conservative pundit Ann Coulter to be the featured speaker at the club’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner on April 10, 2014.

NDCR president Mark Gianfalla explained to the Rover the decision to invite the controversial and polarizing figure to campus.

“Our decision to invite Ann was based on the attention that she could bring to social conservative issues that are at the heart of our mission here at Notre Dame and that often slip under the radar at Notre Dame,” Gianfalla noted, citing the HHS Mandate, same-sex marriage and religious liberty. “[O]ur club believed that Miss Coulter is well-suited to address our members with intelligent discourse on these important issues.”

Gianfalla expressed that the NDCR feels they are defending the Catholic mission of the university through the promotion of social conservatism. Coulter, he said, is capable of bringing “attention and energy” to social issues in the American political arena that matter most to students at a Catholic university.

NDCR sends over 40 invitations to prospective speakers each year, usually active and retired politicians. Securing a nationally renowned speaker, Gianfalla lamented, is often difficult because of the club’s limited budget. He asked Coulter in person about a potential visit when he met her over winter break, and she “was happy to be following up President Obama who drove equal controversy for the wrong reasons. She also took a significant price cut in her speaker’s fee.”

Gianfalla asserts that the club of over 1,000 members is “ecstatic” to host Coulter, but reactions from others on campus range from fury to disappointment.

Gianfalla dismissed the string of outraged Observer Viewpoints, claiming, “Many of Coulter’s statements are based on experience and fact, yet a good amount of people ignore those facts in the effort to defend being ‘politically correct.’”

Several professors also raise some crucial questions to the Rover about what Coulter’s impending visit means to the university.

“A student group is entitled to invite whomever it may wish to visit campus. However, I think the invitation of Ann Coulter is unfortunate and regrettable,” said Patrick Deneen, Professor of Political Science. “Ms. Coulter has achieved prominence through rhetorical excess that aims to polarize or offend, but rarely educates. She contributes to a political culture that is divisive and that too often is satisfied to demonize opponents rather than engaging in constructive exchange.”

Deneen continued, “I think there would be many thoughtful, if still partisan, voices who would positively contribute to our community of civility, exchange and reflection.”

Professor Laura Hollis from the Mendoza College of Business had a slightly different take:

“I don’t agree with everything Ann Coulter says. When I disagree, it’s often over the way she says things. But even when I disagree with her, I respect her. Because she is brave, and we need brave right now. One of the things that concerns me most in our country is the constant effort by self-appointed word police to ban this word and that word, and the expression of this idea and that idea. In lieu of government censorship, we now have widespread social media efforts to create pariahs out of anyone who says anything that offends anyone. Colleges and universities are rife with ‘speech codes’ and ‘speech zones’ … Any opinion with which someone disagrees can be castigated as ‘hate speech.’

“It’s dangerous, and it’s absolutely un-American,” Hollis continued. “Ann says what she thinks—and she doesn’t pull any punches. Would I say things the same way? I doubt it. But so what? That’s what the ‘marketplace of ideas’ is all about.”

Professor John Duffy of the Department of English expressed that he is “not really interested in Coulter. She’s a huckster who has found success selling a virulent speech to people who like it.”

He went on to say: “It is increasingly rare in our culture to have a space like a university where we can argue about big questions, and we’re obligated to honor the university’s commitment to different views. This is a moment to reflect on what kind of discourse we value and how that discourse fits into the university’s mission. We need to determine if we are asking the right questions and attempting to argue productively about deep issues concerning how to heal, unify, and enlighten. At the end of the day, Coulter will leave, and we will still be Notre Dame.”

How Coulter’s visit will impact campus remains to be seen, but Gianfalla is firm on NDCR’s stance.

“To those who believe we are driving a wedge between the student body [with the invitation of Coulter]: We are not creating a wedge by inviting a partisan speaker to speak to a partisan club, but those who vociferously object and cry offense are creating such a wedge. In no way and under no circumstances will we rescind our invitation,” Gianfalla concluded.

Lilia Draime is a junior history major who loves the 1980-something Spaceman in The Lego Movie. Talk to her about spaceships at ldraime@nd.edu.