“We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
– John F. Kennedy
A university is supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, where positions are put forth, debated and accepted or rejected based on their merit.
So, the idea that any institution of higher learning – let alone our state’s only law school – would cancel a speaker because of potential controversy is troubling at best and a major disservice to its students at worst. Yet, that’s essentially what the University of New Mexico School of Law did, indefinitely postponing a free public lecture by Ken Starr, a onetime U.S. solicitor general who later spearheaded an investigation into then-President Bill Clinton.
Starr’s lecture – Investigating the President, Now and Then: Living in a Constitutional Quagmire – was scheduled for last Thursday. The visit had been in the works for more than a year.
“Honestly, it’s more that we were sensitive to what was going on nationally and wanted to choose a better time,” law school Assistant Dean Hannah Farrington told the Journal.
The only specific national matter she cited was Starr’s connection to Brett Kavanaugh, the judge recently confirmed by the Senate to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct while he was in high school and college.
Kavanaugh worked with Starr on the Clinton investigation. And throughout Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, Starr was one of the judge’s biggest supporters, and even after the sexual misconduct allegations became public, Starr said he believed Kavanaugh’s denials.
Starr is no stranger to this type of controversy. He was demoted from his position as Baylor University president and later resigned in 2016 amid claims he mishandled sexual assault allegations against football players.
Farrington confirmed that UNM initiated the postponement conversation with Starr but said both parties agreed the timing was not ideal.
There is no better time to have Starr speak on campus than now – as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of President Trump continues and in the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings. For students who disagree with Starr or his past actions, or who take exception to his handling of the Baylor allegations, this would have been a great opportunity to shower him with tough questions and counter his perspective with their own. But rather than foster critical thinking and constructive debate among its students – our future lawyers – the UNM School of Law took the cowardly way out and indefinitely postponed Starr’s visit.
Such a move might be acceptable at a second-rate law school whose faculty care more about not upsetting students than in preparing them to be the best lawyers they can be. It certainly shouldn’t be acceptable at a school that boasts being named one of the Top 50 law schools in the nation.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.