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Arkansas university campus disinvites political writer

By The Associated Press
04.21.05

LITTLE ROCK — Arguing in the interest of free speech and academic freedom, some faculty members at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro are asking the university president to invite Washington editor David Corn of The Nation magazine to speak at the school.

Corn, the author of The Lies of George W. Bush, was scheduled to speak at Arkansas State University in Mountain Home on April 5 as part of a lecture series. Weeks before the event, his speech was canceled and Arkansas photographer Tim Ernst replaced him.

Corn said on April 18 that the only explanation he was given was an e-mail from the two-year college in northern Arkansas that referred to a link on his Web site to advertisements for clothing with slogans critical of President Bush.

Corn said Mick Spaulding, vice chancellor for development at ASU-Mountain Home, notified his speakers' bureau of the cancellation. He said Spaulding told the agent that Corn's Weblog contained "offensive material."

"The school had a right not to invite me to speak," Corn said. But to withdraw the invitation "seems a violation of the ideal of having a free flow of intellectual discourse on college campuses."

The campus agreed to pay Corn $750 of the $1,500 speaking fee.

Spaulding told the Arkansas Times weekly newspaper of Little Rock that it was "a committee decision" to cancel Corn's appearance, and Chancellor Ed Coulter told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette it was "a business decision." Neither returned a call.

At the Arkansas State University campus in Jonesboro, the Faculty Senate adopted a resolution on April 15 asking school President Les Wyatt to invite Corn to the Jonesboro campus. In the interest of free speech and academic freedom, the resolution said, Wyatt should "rectify the damage done to David Corn by ASU System administrators."

"This is not going away. The mishandling of the media is something we see again and again. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away," said Jack Zibluk, an associate professor of journalism.

Wyatt said on April 18 that he wasn't familiar with Corn or his views but would send the faculty resolution on to the appropriate committee once he receives it. Wyatt said the committee, which is made up of faculty, would make the decision on whether to invite Corn to the campus.

"We try to have a wide range of speakers that we would present to the campus and the civic community," Wyatt said, adding that the university typically has speakers representing both sides of an issue to be fair and balanced.

During the recent state legislative session, the House briefly tied up the budget for Arkansas State's Mountain Home campus, but eventually approved it for the next two years.

Rep. Steve Harrelson, D-Texarkana, criticized the Mountain Home campus for its decision to cancel Corn's appearance. But Rep. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, said the school had the right to cancel the appearance because the school didn't like what Corn had "been saying up in the northeast part of the country."

Corn refers to the matter as "the banned-in-Arkansas controversy" and he took a shot at the Mountain Home campus administrators in his column "Capital Games," saying they had "taught their students a valuable lesson about hypocrisy, cowardice and censorship."

But he said on April 18 he would still like to speak at the campus.

"I am predisposed to visiting Arkansas after all this, particularly to meet all of those who have been supportive," Corn said. "My preference would be to go to Mountain Home and also get some fishing in."


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