A university -- like the opinions pages of a newspaper -- should be a place where a wide range of ideas and views are not only accepted but welcomed.
Some of those ideas may be ill-informed, others logical. Some may be outdated or far-fetched; some radical, even offensive. But what better place than a college campus for people to be prodded and provoked into using their critical thinking skills to evaluate the merit of arguments?
We say this response to the anger that has surfaced both on campus and in the community to the announcement that Sarah Palin will be the keynote speaker at a major fund-raising dinner organized by the California State University, Stanislaus, Foundation. The June 25 dinner is one of a series of events marking the university's 50th anniversary.
The former vice presidential candidate likely will draw a big crowd and, at $500 per ticket, that's going to help the foundation raise substantial sums in support of the university. The announcement of Palin's appearance has already provided an unusual amount of publicity for the event. Within 24 hours, more than 200 comments were posted on modbee.com, most of them negative.
This is not surprising. Palin is divisive and highly political. She's not made higher education a priority in her high-priced appearances. Her folksy language and smile charm many but don't fit the traditional definition of intellectual. But so what? She's talking at a fund-raising event, one likely to draw to campus a whole lot of people -- and their checkbooks -- who might not attend a more traditional dinner-dance fund-raiser with a speaker.
And the people who don't want to hear Palin can simply stay away, although we expect that some will show up carrying protest signs. That's fine, too.
Two additional thoughts:
• Palin's appearance is not being organized by the university per se but by the nonprofit foundation that supports it. As we've said before, we believe these campus foundations should operate with the same openness that is required of public agencies. A bill to require such openness was passed by the Legislature last year but vetoed by the governor. We would still argue for the financial transparency, including, in this case, how much the foundation is paying Palin and, after the fact, an accounting of how much is made on the event.
• Just as the university hosts this high- profile conservative, it has an obligation to make sure it is comparably welcoming to speakers with views at the other end of the political spectrum. It hasn't identified the speaker for this spring's commencement. Last year it was Steve Poizner, the state Insurance Commission and a Republican candidate for governor.
Our bottom line: The freedom of speech guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution is one of the most precious elements of being an American. And it should be practiced and respected in all types of settings -- but most of all on university campuses founded on the principle of academic freedom.