Self censorship in a democratic society, U of M style

The brouhaha over the Humphrey School’s invitation to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to speak at the University of Minnesota has two elements: One is her $150,000 speaking fee. The other is whether people who disagree with what she has to say should prevent you from hearing what she has to say.

The Star Tribune says the University Senate will vote next week on a resolution to disinvite Rice “because of her role in the wartime policies of the Bush administration.”

Nick Theis, a member of Students for a Democratic Society (there’s some irony), acknowledges the vote is symbolic. “It’s not like it’s going to bind anyone to do anything. I thought it would be a very powerful ­statement.”

That says what, exactly?

That Rice commands a large fee for her speech, for which people get in free, shouldn’t be particularly surprising. Famous people usually charge for speeches.

But the movement to reject the expression of her viewpoint is an accepted, if troubling, notion. Clearly there’s debate surrounding the Bush administration’s intentions and rationale for raiding Iraq. And that’s fair game in a democratic society; Five hundred people just got sentenced to death in Egypt for the murder of one policeman, as the government cracks down on its political opponents.

But what do they call it when someone’s views or opinions are suppressed because of a disagreement over content, again?

This isn’t the first tantrum on campus over the views of a speaker, of course. Last fall, the University of Michigan disinvited Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker, author of “The Color Purple,” because she favors a boycott of Israel. And we’re just a few weeks from the annual protests over commencement speakers at college graduations.

“The harshest thing I see is that we engage more in self-censorship,” Robert O’Neil, the former head of the University of Wisconsin, said last year. “It’s not P.C. to make a special effort to respect people’s beliefs and to try to accommodate them.”

“Rescinding any kind of invitation would be inconsistent with our goal of promoting discussion and dialogue,” Andrea Cournoyer, a spokeswoman for the Humphrey School, said about Rice’s speech.