In amongst the relative uproar about Frances Fox Piven’s October talk here at Messiah College, some rather slanderous things were lobbed at Dr. Jim LaGrand and the choice of the College Republicans to rescind an invitation to a scheduled speaker. (See the comments section on this post.) Dr. LaGrand is co-advisor for the Messiah College Republicans, and certainly has the conservative credentials to warrant that position. With his gracious permission, I am sharing a stock letter that he has sent to the numerous inquiries (to put it gently) about the decision. It is lengthy, but I think he deserves to be quoted in full, and not have his words twisted. (I commented on another angle of this situation earlier today.)
I appreciate your concern for this issue. Unfortunately, Mr. Mattera’s article has misstated the facts, and so misled people about what happened at Messiah College.
Mr. Mattera misstates the facts when he says there was “pressure” to cancel the speech he was originally scheduled to give. Rather, it was a decision made unanimously by the 4 student leaders and 2 faculty advisors (including myself) of the College Republicans on our campus. We reached our decision after studying and discussing every bit of available information about his two most recent speaking engagements—at Kalamazoo College and at the Values Voter Forum. I very clearly told Mr. Mattera when he contacted me by phone that I watched “every available video recording” of him speaking, including a small portion of the Q&A session at Kalamazoo College. I also communicated with first-hand witnesses to his recent performance the Values Voter Summit. From the evidence we compiled (all the evidence available to us), we all became convinced that Mr. Mattera would not effectively communicate conservative ideas for our audience. The administration had nothing to do with this decision. It was made by the College Republicans, acting in the best interest in the College Republicans. I’m sure this was hard for Mr. Mattera to hear. And I regret that it happened so late after new information came to light. But none of this justifies him lying about the facts of the matter.
He also misleads regarding the players involved. Neither I nor the College Republicans (obviously) had anything to do with Frances Fox Piven’s recent visit to our college. That was a college-wide event. And likewise, the once-planned Mattera presentation was not overseen by the college—only the College Republicans.
One matter I find particularly astounding is Mr. Mattera’s willingness to characterize me as a “liberal” after charging that I’d insufficiently studied his work. Anyone who knows me would laugh at his charge. I’ve written for two publications published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a well-known conservative think tank. I’m a well-known conservative on my campus—well-known enough to be asked by students to serve as one of the faculty advisors and well-known enough to be asked to serve as a panelist after the Piven event where I systematically critiqued her presentation, including her long-time links to violence. This fact I relayed to Mr. Mattera when he spoke to me by phone yesterday, but he conveniently left it out of his story.
I teach U.S. history at Messiah College, where my conservative views are often in evidence. In my U.S. History survey course, I just oversaw a student debate on the merits of the New Deal. Some of the readings I provided introduced them to the argument about parallels between FDR’s National Recovery Administration to fascist governments’ use of state cartels. Would a radical or liberal or even middle-of-the-road professor plan such an activity? I have my students read Margaret Sanger to help uncover the awful links between eugenics and the early-20th-century progressive movement. And I could go and on…. I’d simply ask you to believe me – I’m no liberal or radical.
Mr. Mattera has for his own selfish purposes twisted this story—even to the point of lying. It’s not a question of conservatism vs. liberalism/radicalism or free speech vs. repression. It’s a question of wisdom, of effectiveness, of growing the conservative movement where each of us is placed. And it became apparent in the past week to all those involved with our chapter of College Republicans that Jason Mattera would not help us reach grow the conservative movement. Judging from every bit of evidence from his two most recent speaking engagements, we had every expectation that he would turn off more people than he attracted through his deliberately inflammatory, juvenile, and outrageous language. And then it would be left for us to clean up the mess and the try to rebuild what was broken.
As we conservatives are fond of saying—It’s a free country. We’re not stopping or discouraging any other organization from hosting Mr. Mattera. But for our audience at Messiah College, which we’re familiar with, this would have been harmful, and so we canceled the event. We are in the process of making plans to bring a speaker on campus who would successfully broadcast conservative ideas in our community.
But I would end with a request to you—speaking as a conservative to a conservative. Let’s not believe everything we read, especially that which would have us devour one another in an emotional frenzy. And let’s not miss or squander opportunities to effectively and persuasively spread the message of conservatism.