Your Ethic Quiz question for the weekend: Which of these is the most unethical choice to speak at a University?
A. Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, the over-the-top trashy break-out star of the bottom-of-the barrel cable reality show “Jersey Shore,” hired for $32,000 by Rutgers University to address students.
The Jersey Shore star headlined an event Thursday called “Inside the Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi Studio” at the school in Piscataway, N.J., where 1,000 students heard her talk about fist pumping, her signature hair pouf and the “GTL” (that’s “Gym, tan, laundry” for those of you with a brain) lifestyle she lives out weekly on her show. People Magazine reported that her fee was $2,000 more than what the university will pay Nobel prize-winning Toni Morrison, who is booked be a commencement speaker at Rutgers next month. To students who complained that this was a waste of their tuition money—Gee, ya think?—-Rutgers offered an unsatisfying explanation that the funds to pay her came out of an account that somehow doesn’t contain tuition money. This still did not address the question of what an institution of higher education is doing paying money to have their students addressed by a semi-literate, shameless moron with the moral standards of an alley cat. Her advice to the students? “Study hard, party harder.”
Dennis O’Reilly put this in perspective nicely, writing,
“Rutgers’ actions constitute an embarrassingly shameful statement regarding values. In dollars and cents, Rutgers has sent a strong message by putting a higher value on Snooki, a reality “star,” than on one of America’s and the world’s greatest novelists….As a person whose aunt teaches fifth grade in a public school not far from Rutgers and is forced to buy, with her own money, notebooks and pencils for many of her students because their parents cannot do so, I have a problem with taxpayer money going to an overpaid and rather useless cause…I mean, they are in Jersey; they can find a Snooki comedy act at any local bar…the situation speaks to the general questions of what is passing for higher education and what is passing for student enrichment programming. In short, how low is the bar in American higher education? And are there any governing standards?…In addition, ethicists advise us to use the following as a simplest litmus test for judging behavior: What if everyone did it? In this case, what if every university used funds and students’ time to lapse into mindless self-indulgence and send distorted messages to students, in the guise of higher education?…David Foster Wallace addressed this issue: “Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”
B. U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), who is an outspoken gay marriage opponent (as well as other things, like an expert of trade), has been invited by the University Michigan Law School to address its graduating students on Senior Day
Many Michigan Law students have objected to the choice of Senator Portman, because of his strong anti-gay rhetoric and negative votes on the issue of gay marriage. The website Above the Law asked Law School Dean Evan Caminker for his side of the matter, and he responded in an e-mail:
“…I truly regret that this issue has caused members of our community distress in anticipation of what should be a celebratory day…The Law School has a tradition of inviting commencement speakers with a range of backgrounds and accomplishments, including leaders in government, public service, and private enterprise. We seek speakers who have achieved success and accomplishment in their professional careers, rather than speakers whose views are representative of all or a majority of the students at the Law School. For those in the public sector we invite alumni who represent a broad range of political views in high-level service, in both national and state government. Last year’s speaker was White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, for instance. Above all, the University as an institution is committed to being a place of respectful conversation and debate. We are deeply invested in the principle of diversity where a wide spectrum of perspectives is included. The Law School remains steadfast in its commitment to create a supportive environment for our LGBT community, and also to create an educational environment in which diverse viewpoints can be represented. Anything less would undermine the Law School’s core values.”
Ellie Mystal, Above the Law’s author, rebuts the Dean’s argument thus:
“…But what Dean Caminker really doesn’t get — what scores and scores of moderates and even general liberals don’t always get — is that the similar speaker to the Rob Portmans of the world…[is] David Duke. It’s Louis Farrakhan. Now if Dean Caminker wants to say that Michigan Law is a community where Farrakhan’s virulently Anti-Semitic rhetoric can be discussed with “respectful conversation and debate,” fine. I’m sure that’d be an interesting symposium. But I doubt, I highly doubt, Dean Caminker is going to be putting in a call to Louis Farrakhan with an invite to speak at graduation! This isn’t some kind of lecture series where students are showing up for free pizza, this is part of his students’ graduation celebration — and it’s supposed to be a celebration for gay students too.
“But see, Dean Caminker doesn’t think of Rob Portman like he thinks of Louis Farrakhan. He thinks that the anti-gay-marriage people are just one of many co-equal viewpoints. This guy doesn’t like gay marriage, that guy doesn’t like the New York Yankees. Whatever, we can all talk about this like adults.”
And speaking of the Rev. Farrakhan, he is choice C., having addressed Howard University students on April 2.
Louis Farrakhan did not disappoint his detractors, delivering one of his trademarked rants that included his usual anti-white racist and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, plus the added bonuses of endorsing “Truther”claims, praising Gaddafi, condemning integration and calling President Obama a “nigger.” Howard is the oldest black university in the nation and the most prestigious.
So, which speaker selection is more unethical, A, B, or C?
They are all bad choices; careless, irresponsible, incompetent. Only two of them rise to the level of unethical, though: C, Rev. Farrakhan at Howard, and A, “Snookie” at Rutgers.
The choice of Farrakhan is indefensible. Unlike Ellie Mystal, I don’t think he is an appropriate speaker at any university, ever, unless there is going to be a strong rebuttal speaker on hand. He is a racist, a bigot and a hate-monger, and no more belongs at a podium at an African-American school than he does at an Ivy League college. Not only does he spread lies, but he works to undermine racial harmony in America by seeding suspicion and paranoia. The fact that he is a gifted orator simply makes exposing college students to his seductive poison more irresponsible.Howard students who witnessed his speech were effusive in their praise: that isn’t education, it is corruption.
Paying Snookie to speak shows wretched judgment that communicates a general lack of respect for Rutgers’ students, the values of higher education and the financial resources the University is obligated to conserve and spend well. It’s not as bad as inviting Farrakhan, as Snookie can only make students stupid and shallow, and she’s not a good enough speaker to even accomplish that, while listening to Louis can turn a young mind to the Dark Side, and has.
The toughest case is Senator Portman. If he is going to speak about gay marriage on Senior Day, there is no disputing Mystal’s verdict on any level: gay law students should not be insulted and demeaned by a law school speaker. But I am assuming the Senator will have the sense and respect not to speak on this topic at Michigan, so the ethics of his speaking are more complex. He is a poor choice, given the existence of plenty of available speakers who have not endorsed the proposition that gay Americans don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else; but is he an unethical choice, regardless of what he chooses to speak about, because of that one point of view? The same arguments against Sen. Portman speaking could be employed against any pro-abortion rights Senator (“Pro-infanticide!”) or any anti-abortion rights Congressman (“Anti-woman!”) with the all the fervor Mystral expresses against the Senator. As a U.S. Senator and an alumnus of the law school, Portman has inherent legitimacy and appropriate credentials to speak at any university, certainly more than a reality TV star and a hate-spewing demagogue.
I have to conclude that Portman is a poor choice, but not an unethical one. The quiz question boils down to deciding which is worse for a school to expose its students to, the stupidity of one of America’s worst-case celebrities, the bile of a hate-monger, or the reflections of a U.S. Senator who is bigoted against gays. There is at least a chance that if he stays off the topic of gay marriage, Portman might say something valuable, and for that reason, I rank the choice of speakers, inorder ethical offensiveness,
1. Rev. Farrakhan
3. Senator Portman