Michigan State University officials may have thought that they had their ideological bases covered when they announced the speakers for this month's commencement. The lineup includes Michael Moore, the decidedly left-of-center filmmaker, and George Will, the decidedly right-of-center columnist. Many students and others are demanding that Will be uninvited because of a column he wrote that was widely condemned by advocates for women who have been sexually assaulted for the way it criticized campus efforts to prevent and punish assaults, and for how it characterized those who have reported assaults. A line that caused particular anger said that such efforts "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges." In another phrase that outraged many, he referred to the "supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. 'sexual assault.' " Citing that column, some students have vowed to protest his appearance, while others are organizing petitions urging the university to withdraw the invitation.
On Tuesday, Michigan State's president, Lou Anna K. Simon, made clear that the university was sticking with the invitation. In a statement on her website, Simon noted that Will was invited well before the column that upset so many people. She also said that the university took the issue of sexual assault seriously, and was committed to doing more to protect women. But she said that Will's invitation should not be withdrawn. "Having George Will speak at commencement does not mean I or Michigan State University agree with or endorse the statements he made in his June 6 column or any particular column he has written. It does not mean the university wishes to cause survivors of sexual assault distress. And it does not mean we are backing away from our commitment to continuously improving our response to sexual assault," Simon wrote. "What it does mean is this: Great universities are committed to serving the public good by creating space for discourse and exchange of ideas, though that exchange may be uncomfortable and will sometimes challenge values and beliefs. There is no mandate to agree, only to serve society by allowing learning to take place. If universities do not hold onto this, we do not serve the greater good. Because next time it will be a different speaker and a different issue, and the dividing lines will not be the same."
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