Sue Eklund, the outgoing associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, spoke to the Michigan Student Assembly last night about creating a “notion of campus climate” at the University – even in the midst of controversial campus speakers and events that spark heated reactions from students.
Her words came just days before controversial professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt visit campus. Mearsheimer and Walt, who together authored “The Israel Lobby,” a book that argues the United States goes out of its way to help further Israeli goals, are expected to draw large protests when they speak Friday.
During the meeting, Eklund said she recognized Walt and Mearsheimer would probably attract a number of vocal protesters but argued that the authors’ visit shouldn’t merit “raging controversy in the streets.”
“These are two professors from Harvard,” she said. “It will probably be a little bit boring, right? But that’s the thing that’s stirring up debate.”
E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student affairs, was slated to speak at the meeting, but couldn’t make it because she was ill. MSA President Mohammad Dar asked Eklund to speak at the meeting in Harper’s place.
Dar said speakers like Mearsheimer and Walt should feel welcome to come to campus to share their viewpoints.
“It’s important that speakers are able to come to this campus and that a respectable discourse is able to take place,” Dar said. “Regardless of the event and regardless of the person, the idea should be what is respected in a manner suiting a higher education institution.”
The University has previously hosted speakers with controversial views.
In December 2006, Georgetown University Prof. Raymond Tanter spoke at the University about American foreign policy and Iran, provoking protests to the point that the Department of Public Safety had to calm the crowd.
One protester – physician Catherine Wilkerson – criticized the treatment Blaine Coleman, another protester, was receiving from the DPS officers while they arrested him.
Wilkerson was arrested alongside Coleman, and was eventually found not guilty of interfering with police.
Protestors also amassed in February 2007 at an event in which three people labeled as ex-terrorists participated in a panel discussion. DPS officers intervened to keep the event going and the protesters under control.