Latest on Dawkins and Oklahoma

March 20, 2009

In my blog entry for March 16, I noted that it was rumored that some Oklahoma legislators were investigating the recent appearance by Richard Dawkins at the University of Oklahoma. That rumor has now been confirmed. Representative Rebecca Hamilton has requested from the university the following items of information (among other things): a listing of any monies paid for or to Dr. Dawkins as a result of the speaking engagement; costs to the university or the state for the speech, including, but not limited to, costs for security, physical plant, advertising, and faculty time spent promoting this event; a copy of correspondence and negotiations between Dr. Dawkins and any parties involved in his appearance at the university.

What’s the point of this inquiry? Well, it is fairly obvious it is designed to intimidate those faculty and students who were involved in bringing Dawkins to speak at the campus. Moreover, it’s also obvious that the legislators have decided to pursue this inquiry solely because Dawkins is an atheist. Universities—even ones in Oklahoma—routinely invite outside speakers to campus, and these speakers hold a variety of different views. One of the roles of a university is to expose students to different viewpoints, and of course, for public universities some incidental expenditure of public funds necessarily takes place. (Dawkins waived any speaking fees, by the way.)

It is shameful that some legislators in Oklahoma appear to have little respect for free speech. One would think that a basic familiarity with our constitutional liberties and values would be a prerequisite for serving as a legislator. Perhaps it is fortunate that these legislators are showing interest in activities at the university. Maybe they’ll be motivated to take a basic course in civics.

For more on the Dawkins investigation,   see the most recent posting by Greg Lukianoff.