USG should sponsor both sides of debate

The university setting is an ideal forum for viewpoints from all political, cultural and ideological arenas; colleges across the country have a storied history of rigorously defending the right to free speech.

Tonight, controversial political scientist Norman Finkelstein will be lecturing at an event co-sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, the Levantine Cultural Center and the Undergraduate Student Government.

On a college campus as diverse as USC’s, not everyone will share the same ideologies, and student groups often sponsor contentious speakers. In the last four years, students have attended or protested lectures by divisive figureheads such as Ann Coulter, David Lloyd and David Horowitz, prompting healthy discourse among the student body. Although tonight’s event has been the subject of much protest, the fact remains that Dr. Finkelstein has every right to voice his views on campus.

We must question, however, the use of student fees to pay for this event.

USG has a responsibility to aid all student organizations who properly process requests for funding. Without such support, the scope of activity for many such organizations would be narrowed significantly.

Every undergraduate at USC pays a mandatory programming fee in addition to their tuition, which is used to finance the budget for USG.

When USG co-sponsors a speaker on campus, it gives the event its seal of approval, whether intentionally or not. At the very least, USG has a responsibility to poll students and gauge the majority opinion on a controversial event to make sure it is best serving the interests of its constituents.

USG overstepped its bounds by co-sponsoring the Finkelstein event.

Student groups can and should continue to invite programming that showcases the unique diversity of the student body. But in the future, USG must take into account the interests of all of its constituents when determining the allocation of funding to student organizations.

The university should provide a forum for the discussion of controversial perspectives — not sponsor just one of them.

Correction: A previous version of this editorial incorrectly listed one of the co-sponsors of the event as “Students for Justice and Peace in Palestine.” The group’s name is “Students For Justice in Palestine.”

17 replies
  1. Jenny
    Jenny says:

    Thank you to the editors of the DT for acknowledging that student funds should not be spent to fund a man that calls for violence against Israelis and has on numerous occasions denied the Holocaust. Imgaine of the USC College Republicans received USG funding for their Horowitz event – the outrage that would ensure would not even pale in comparison. The double standard is disgusting and infuriating. On another note, I don’t know when it became politically correct to marginalize jewish and pro-israel students but we are headed down a very dangerous road when a univeristy such as USC funds a holocaust denier. Shame on those who approved the funding. We say “Never again”…but do we really mean it?

  2. lauren
    lauren says:

    “We went to school for educations, not validations of our opinions.”

    I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    All of the comments on this article so far are fantastic. The article itself is terrible and very poorly devised. But what else could be expected of the DT, especially given their recent coverage (and glaring lack of coverage) lately.

  3. Andrew Pouw
    Andrew Pouw says:

    I was formerly the two-term director of the Academic Culture Assembly, one of the programming branches of USG. Dr. Finkelstein was once invited by my colleagues of the Political Student Assembly and I supported the decision wholeheartedly. I wish the ACA had officially endorsed it then, because Finkelstein is a rigorous and demanding intellectual unafraid of challenging established perceptions, which is exactly the reason why we give people academic tenure in the first place.

    As you mention, it would have been a nice if we could have gotten somebody from the “other side” of the debate to come and debate Finkelstein. But who would that other side even be? Dr. Alan Dershowitz, his main academic rival, absolutely refuses to hold debates with him, saying essentially that he will not talk to people he does not agree with. That position isn’t very academic and it isn’t worth an invitation from a respectable academic institution.

    First find someone who can debate Finkelstein point for point instead of just calling him an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew, and then recommend that person to USG, instead of just wanting and wishing for something you obviously haven’t looked into yourself.

    Also: academic and political programming are parts of USG’s mandate, and yet what is the value of academic and political programming if they only pander to what students want to see and hear? I find your editorial’s opinion that USG should only sponsor events its students approve of to be very disingenuous. We went to school for educations, not validations of our opinions.

  4. Rick Chertoff
    Rick Chertoff says:

    There are several outrageous statements in the article against Mr. Finkelstein that are without any basis in fact. If the paper is not able or willing to document the factual basis of these statements it should print an apology to Mr. Finkelstein and the sponsoring group immediately. Is this paper simply an accomplice to the Israel lobby on campus, or an instrument of honest reporting? That is what is at stake- and it looks very much like the former at this stage.

  5. Jim
    Jim says:

    Dr. Finkelstein himself suffered enormous injustice in academic circles, right here in the United State of America. His being at USC speaks volume about our students’ conscience and stance against injustice. That being said, I don’t agree with all of his views on the issues.

    BTW, a not well-written piece.

  6. William Buttrey
    William Buttrey says:

    Years ago I was the advisor through the Office of Religious Life to one of the university’s student atheist groups. I had tried many times unsuccessfully to get a panel discussion co-sponsored with other recognized campus groups that included Dr. Finkelstein or someone representing a view that considered the question of justice for Palestinians or from the Palestinians’ point of view. A co-sponsorship never materialized and our group was unsuccessful in being able to bring Dr. Finkelstein to campus. One of the rejections of any event featuring Dr. Finkelstein was simply, “Alan Dershowitz doesn’t like him.”

    It is worth noting that this was after a speaker (Walid Shoebat) compared Palestinians to Nazis. He was co-sponsored by several campus groups. Considering the resistance to joint participation in a panel discussion then, the complaint now about lack of balance seems disingenuous at best.

    I enthusiastically commend USC’s Students for Justice in Palestine for their work to again bring someone as dedicated to peace and justice as Dr. Finkelstein to our campus. His talk tonight will be most enlightening.

  7. Mark
    Mark says:

    USG did not make a mistake by choosing to fund the Norman Finkelstein event. The people opposed to this event made a mistake by not applying for USG funding for their own counter events. Support free speech, even if you disagree with what is being said. Free speech and dissent should be encouraged by USC and USG.

  8. Joe
    Joe says:

    You can’t have it both ways, Daily Trojan. First you say that USG should co-sponsor both sides of the debate. Then you say “USG overstepped its bounds by co-sponsoring the Finkelstein event”. The inevitable problem with a top-down government trying to enforce “fairness” is that it lets the government decide what the debate is about, where the “middle” is, and who represents either side. The FCC used to have a policy called the “Fairness Doctrine” where any radio station that had a political talker on, had to provide equal time for a talker of the “other” side. In practice it was basically a ban on political talk radio, because there’s always some fringe group (like the SJP) that can sue the station saying “My side wasn’t represented!”

    IMHO, the student government should concern itself more with pep rallies, intramural sports, and bringing musical acts to campus, and stay out of politics. Free speech is much more free without government sponsorship. The student organizations can raise money to bring speakers, or sell tickets at the door. Who wouldn’t pay five bucks to see a talk by a political celebrity they admire?

    • just fyi :)
      just fyi :) says:

      Actually, there are restrictions against selling tickets for on campus events. And there are restrictions and regulations for fundraising for student groups.

      And it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to raise the money needed to bring a high profile speaker to USC–most are a minimum of $3,000. Quality speakers are very expensive, and that is one reason USG, Program Board, and other sources on campus offer funding.

      I don’t think you understand how much money is spent every year putting on events at this school. Or how much it costs to bring a speaker, musical act, etc. Your suggestions are quaint, but unrealistic.

      • Joe
        Joe says:

        Just FYI, the money spent by the USG comes from the students’ pockets. Maybe instead of taking the money and spending it on stuff the students don’t want to see (as evidenced by turnout), they could let the students keep it and spend it themselves. The fact that there are restrictions and regulations on fundraising weakens your claim that student organizations are unable to raise money — JUST REPEAL THE REGULATIONS. Of course there are middle-of-the-road solutions, too. You could, for example, issue each student a number of vouchers or tickets representing their share of the funding, and let the students provide these to whichever (registered) student organizations they wish. So the university still gets to regulate the use of student funds, but student preferences are reflected in the selection of programs.

        • just fyi
          just fyi says:

          Each student pays $55 in student programming fees. With most events on campus, if the student attends just one or two events the whole semester, they get their “monies worth.” If a student chooses not to attend any events, it is their own loss. They get to pick and choose which events to attend and support, and which to ignore or protest. THAT is how every student votes.

          And if a student group wishes to bring an opposing speaker, they have every right to do so. Every student organization has a limited amount of funding that they may receive each semester. And as recognized student organizations who have gone through the process of writing and submitting a constitution and bylaws, etc., they have earned the right to apply for and receive funding for their events.

          Asking USG not to sponsor a potentially controversial event because it might not cater to some students is ludicrous. No single event could possibly cater to every student on campus. Groups have received funding to host events that discussed everything from how to have better sex, to gay porn, to Christian leaders in the HIV/AIDS initiatives, to film screenings that portray one or more specific cultures unfavorably, etc. There are controversial events every year. And they should absolutely continue and should be funded by our programming fees. That is what you ask for when you choose to attend a diverse, distinguished private institutions full of people with different opinions and beliefs.

          Student preferences are already reflected in the selection of programs. It is students who plan them, students who propose them, students who approve funding, students who facilitate them, students who attend them…The entire process is based on student interest and demand.

          Not all student groups have the privilege of access to rich parent organizations (or simply rich parents) that are independent of USC and have no limits on funding they decide to give. Most student groups are operating with incredibly limited resources–but as students who have paid their own programming fees and followed all of the procedures and paperwork required to receive funding, they deserve to have such funding provided.

          An event should not be banned because it doesn’t suite everyone–even if that event does involve portraying Israel in a less-than-glorious light (oh, god forbid).

  9. David Webber
    David Webber says:

    I read the recent article in the Daily Trojan, and I was surprised and saddened to see such ignorant and non-rebutted comments as “Finkelstein is said to be a Holocaust denier”, and implications that he supports violence against Israelis. Devious weasel-words. Finkelstein may be said by some to be a Holocaust denier, but if you select who you quote then you can find quotes to smear anyone. Phenomenally ignorant. I first became aware of Norman Finkelstein several years ago after reading one of his books, upon which I decided to find out more about the man and his ideas. I do not agree with everything he says, as sometimes he goes too far, but on the whole he has some good points. Far from denying the Holocaust, he is completely honest about its historical basis, and he does not advocate violence against anyone, neither Israelis nor Palestinians. What he does do, and what Israeli nationalist right-wingers hate him for, is to argue against those who abuse the memory of the Holocaust as a means of stifle debate. He also argues against using the Holocaust as a means of projecting victimhood into the present to justify illegal territorial expansion. I have never heard him justify Islamist terrorism as being right, but he does bring balance by helping to better understand the conditions in which it has arisen in the specific instance of modern occupied Palestine.

  10. Taylor
    Taylor says:

    This piece shoots itself in the foot with it’s title, suggesting that “USG should sponsor both sides of the debate”, as that is exactly what USG is doing by funding Finkelstein’s visit, especially in the context of recent visits by Horowitz et al. If the writers intend to suggest that USG should literally sponsor a debate with any controversial speaker that comes to campus, that, of course, would have been very welcome when Horowitz or Coulter came. Also, it’s very difficult to imagine that the student body would have a sufficient opportunity to understand the views of controversial speakers before they even come to campus (so as to conduct polls regarding said views), considering that the explication of these views is the presumed function of such events.

  11. Rudo Terry
    Rudo Terry says:

    As Hoiland said, other diverse speakers are hardly prevented from funding and visiting.

    Slow news day?

  12. ibn yaqzan
    ibn yaqzan says:

    We’re called “students for justice in palestine,” not “peace and justice in palestine.” How can you criticize us and not even know our name?

  13. Max Hoiland
    Max Hoiland says:

    “The university should provide a forum for the discussion of controversial perspectives — not sponsor just one of them.” – DT
    Student organizations who hold views different from the ones held by SJP or Norman Finkelstein are of course permitted to apply for USG funding. If properly requested, USG funding would likely be allocated for a speaker espousing views contrary to Finkelstein’s. I believe speakers strongly supportive of Israeli policy have come to USC with USG funding before and I encourage organizations to bring such speakers in the future.
    Furthermore, SJP is not a very wealthy organization and does not have the money to privately fund bringing well-known speakers to campus, as the College Republicans did recently with David Horowitz. That USG provides funds for speakers like Finkelstein actually increases the diversity of perspectives on campus by giving student organizations access to important speakers that they might not have the pocketbooks to afford otherwise.

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