Some adore her sharp wit and unabashed political incorrectness. Others detest her scathing commentary and callous quips. But whether you love her or hate her, Ann Coulter is coming.
The decision to bring the conservative political commentator and author to speak at USF as part of the University Lecture Series (ULS) has generated both positive and negative feedback from students and faculty, but officials from ULS stick by their choice.
“The mission of ULS is to bring in diverse topics of speech, and a conservative perspective is something that has not been brought here in years,” ULS Director Mike Dolinger said.
Coulter will deliver a speech on current events, society and politics at 7 p.m. in the Sun Dome as part of the ULS. Doors will open at 6 p.m., and Coulter will field questions from the audience after her speech. The event is free to all USF students and the general public.
Coulter’s speeches, like her books, criticize liberals with bitter sarcasm and derision, and some of her statements have created firestorms of controversy. In a column that appeared two days after the Sept. 11 attacks, she wrote, referring to Muslim countries, that America “should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” Most recently, in her new book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism, she criticized a group of Sept. 11 widows for using their status and position in the public eye to campaign for John Kerry and push for the creation of the 9/11 Commission, writing, “I’ve never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much.”
Coulter said her opinions aren’t commonly heard on campuses.
“I let students hear a perspective they probably won’t otherwise hear in four years of a liberal arts education,” Coulter said in an e-mail to the Oracle.
Her speeches at colleges and universities have also drawn criticism and protest. In 2005 at the University of Arizona, angry students threw pies at Coulter. More recently, at Indiana University in February, while trying to deliver a speech titled “Liberals Are Wrong About Everything,” Coulter was often drowned out by disruptive outbursts of boos and cheers.
Iris Elijah, ULS Director of Programming, said that while she supports the rights of students to protest, she hopes students refrain from being disruptive and respect Coulter’s right to give her opinion.
“If you go out there and throw stuff and shout, ‘Oh, we hate you, Ann,’ people don’t even hear your message anymore,” Elijah said. “They just see you acting out and acting foolish.”
ULS has dealt with some flak over the decision to bring in Coulter. Several student groups plan to protest the event, and Elijah said she has had to respond to personal attacks from angry students.
But ULS still thinks Coulter’s conservative perspective is an important one for students to hear, Dolinger said. Citing past liberal and moderate speakers such as filmmaker Michael Moore and gay rights activist Judy Sheppard brought in by ULS, Dolinger said a conservative perspective was needed to add to the diversity of opinion at USF.
The controversy that comes with a speaker such as Coulter was also a factor in the decision, according to Dolinger. ULS committee members who made the decision to book Coulter declined to comment about their reasons why, but Dolinger, speaking for them, said they wanted a speaker who would engage and interest students.
“There’s not much of a middle ground on Ann Coulter, which is always a good thing,” Dolinger said. “Even the negative things that students say about her are positive in the sense that at least people are talking about it.”
The opinions of students and student organizations about Coulter reflect the division in national attitude. Some love her and some hate her, and most don’t hesitate to express why.
James Culp, president of USF’s College Republicans, said he was pleased ULS decided to bring in a big-name conservative speaker.
“Most of what she says is representative of those who consider themselves conservatives,” Culp said. “She does say some things that are extreme, but that’s part of what she does. She stirs the pot.”
It’s the extremity of Coulter’s statements, not her political attitudes, that drew negative reactions from most of her detractors in the USF student community and from the president of USF’s College Democrats, Nic Zateslo. Zateslo said he supported the University’s decision to bring in a conservative speaker in the spirit of intellectual diversity – just not Coulter.
“It’s just that Ann Coulter is such a polarizing figure and spews such vile, stupid stuff,” Zateslo said. “If they wanted to bring in a conservative speaker, I’d rather they bring a good conservative speaker in, and there are plenty of them out there.”
Other students have more ambivalent attitudes toward Coulter.
“I just like her because she doesn’t waver,” President of USF’s College Libertarians Robert Stanley said. “She sticks to her guns. But I still think that she’s a lunatic.”
Coulter’s appearance comes just weeks before the Nov. 5 midterm elections, but those who entertain thoughts that Coulter might sway voter’s minds should reconsider, said Steven Tauber, an associate professor in the USF department of government and international affairs.
“I don’t think that Ann Coulter will have any impact on the elections,” Tauber said. “Zero. She is a complete non-factor.”
Other political science professors said anything Coulter has to say should not be viewed as a serious political opinion or representative of thoughtful, scholarly conservatives.
“Her books are largely hysteria, but that’s the point,” said Michel Gibbons, another USF professor in the department of government and international affairs. “She gets to take a few cheap, unsubstantiated shots and then gets paid large sums of money by publishers. They’re in the business of being controversial; it’s not like it adds anything substantive to the political debate.”
The College Democrats and other groups protesting Coulter’s appearance also questioned the wisdom of using student fees to bring a speaker such as her to the University. The contract negotiated by ULS with Coulter was for $35,275, plus travel and accommodations. Coulter is the most expensive speaker on this semester’s ULS roster. The price of contracting Aaron MacGruder, the cartoonist who created the comic Boondocks, most closely approached Coulter’s at $28,600.
Although the College Democrats don’t have formal protests planned, several groups – including USF PRIDE Alliance, the Alliance of Concerned Students, the Queer Liberation Front and the Feminist Student Alliance – are coordinating a group silent walkout shortly after the speech begins. The efforts of these groups have been coordinated through a Facebook group called “Ann Coulter speaking at USF this October ’06 …. wtf?!?!” Due to the expected size of the crowd and potential demonstrations, University Police is staffing additional officers. Outside, demonstrators will be allowed to stage their operations in designated areas between the two Sun Dome entrances being used for the event. However, they will not be allowed on any concrete areas immediately outside the venue entrances. Inside, banners and signs will not be allowed, and anyone who tries to disrupt the event will be removed.
The Sun Dome will seat 7,500 people for the event, and Sun Dome officials expect a good turnout.
“I hope that it will be a packed house,” Sun Dome Director of Event Services Seth Benalt said.
A question-and-answer session following the event will provide students and members of the general public the opportunity to voice their opinions and ask questions.
“I’ll take Q and A until the students have collapsed in exhaustion,” Coulter said in the e-mail.