By Lisa Petrillo
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
September 15, 2004
JOHN GIBBINS /
Union-Tribune file photo
Filmmaker Michael Moore had been invited to appear Oct. 13 at California State University San Marcos, but university President Karen Haynes rescinded the offer.
SAN MARCOS – University officials have rescinded their invitation to controversial Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore.
The move surprised students and faculty, because late Friday, the student government at California State University San Marcos overwhelmingly approved Moore's appearance and partial payment for the Oct. 13 event – and the approval had been sought by the university.
But Monday, university President Karen Haynes called it off.
According to an e-mail she sent to some faculty and students, the president didn't want Moore speaking on campus before the election because she felt the university would be unable to get a conservative whose stature ranks with Moore's. Haynes was unavailable for comment yesterday and her office referred all calls to a campus spokesman.
"Universities are about the exchange of ideas," Haynes said in her brief e-mail. "Some ideas are uncomfortable, but being exposed to them is how we become confident of our own beliefs and values. That said, however, it is important that discussions be balanced."
But student government official Roy Lee said he plans to ask Moore to come anyway, at a reduced fee, now that the university has withdrawn its support.
"It's a disservice to the students, it restricts our academic freedom," said Lee, a junior business major. "We want students to talk about things, we want people to argue. Whatever gets them interested."
Other students and faculty members also questioned whether Haynes' action infringed on the academic freedom of the university.
Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel of the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., disputed any charges of censorship. "They're not saying Michael Moore can never appear; all they're saying is his views will have a counterpoise. There's nothing alien in that all."
Lee said the point was to get students involved, and for all his controversial stands on issues, Moore would have done that.
The student government is interested in balance, said Lee, who is vice president of communications, and that long before Moore, they invited Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to speak, but "We never heard back from him," Lee said.
University vice president for student affairs Francine Martinez, who was part of the executive council that consulted with Haynes about the cancellation, said she was unaware of any effort to seek a conservative speaker before they decided to cancel Moore.
Martinez said Moore's $25,000 speaking fee and $12,000 security and travel accommodations would have come from a combination of funds, from the university, from student-paid campus fees and $6,500 that student government leaders voted 12-3 to spend.
Moore was set to come to Cal State San Marcos last October, but his appearance was canceled because of the Southern California wildfires. Though Moore's flamboyant style and liberal politics have always been front and center in his films and best-selling books, that first invitation came before his record-breaking documentary, "Fahrenheit 911," created such controversy with its attack on President Bush, his family and his policies. It made film history by becoming the biggest money-making documentary.
The university has a free screening of the film scheduled for Oct. 5.
Moore did not respond to calls and his agent would not comment.
Other universities have scheduled Moore to speak before the election, including Syracuse University, Pennsylvania's Dickinson College and Central Michigan University.
Chemistry professor Jackie Trischman, chairwoman of the Academic Senate, said the faculty had been hoping to host a political debate on the presidential election. "It would have been a great opportunity, but maybe this will be what gets everybody talking and interested in a debate," she said.
Professor Meryl Goldberg, who heads the committee that hosts such lectures, films and programs, saw a potential upside. "It gives us an opportunity on campus to grapple with some difficult and challenging issues," she said. "Of course, if he was here, people would be talking too. Maybe people would be shouting."
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Of course, "his views will have a counterpoise." Goodness knows, it's not nearly enough that George Bush's most fanatical supporters, Rupert Murdoch, Clear Channel, et al., have a direct monopoly on ~40% of mass media in this country alone. And the rest of the media is owned by megacorporate military contractors. No. That's not nearly adequate. God forbid there might be one little nook or cranny, say in academia, where the ultraright "side" of things doesn't hold court. Just imagine, someone somewhere, without a tv, without a newspaper subscription, and without any relatives with same, might actually become "biased" against the ultraright! Heaven forfend!
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