This gets better and better. President Daniel Fogel of the University of Vermont has given several interviews on the Ben Stein affair, and clarified quite a few matters. He explicitly says he did not ask Stein to withdraw from the commencement ceremonies, but when you read these comments, it’s clear that that there was a lack of support from the UVM administration and that he was confronted with some serious objections, and Stein withdrew knowing that if he persisted it was going to get ugly. Here’s one interview with Fogel:
I think the fundamental concern of the people that wrote to me was that, while they are quite open to having a speaker with Mr. Steins views on campus, they felt that he should not be honored at the commencement ceremony when so many of his views seemed to be affronts to the basic premises of the academy, about scientific and scholarly inquiry and collaterally, people were deeply disturbed by his views on the roll of science in the Holocaust.
But I have to say, the issue here, and this is important, is not freedom of expression. Ben Stein has come to our campus to speak, and some of the faculty that are colleagues here wrote to me to say that they have no objection to him coming here to speak.
It was the legitimate concern among members of the community regarding the implications of granting an honorary degree to someone whose ideas fundamentally ignore the basics of scientific inquiry.
That’s a smart and important point: this was not about freedom of expression, since Stein clearly has a surfeit of venues in which he opens his tendentious mouth, but a question of a scientific research institution giving a science denier and propagandist a platform to validate his anti-university views. He reiterates this position in another interview:
“This is not, to my mind, an issue about academic freedom or the openness of the campus to all points of view. Ben Stein spoke here last spring to great acclaim,” UVM President Dan Fogel said. “It’s an issue about the appropriateness of awarding an honorary degree to someone whose views in many ways ignore or affront the fundamental values of scientific inquiry and I greatly regret that I was not attuned to those issues.”
Fogel just shot way up in my esteem…and ouch, that has got to sting Stein’s well-padded keester.