A St. Olaf College professor tapped to promote debate about “highly controversial subjects” through conversations with guest speakers was removed from his leadership position one year early, reigniting debate of how colleges handle free speech.
Philosophy and religion professor Edmund Santurri was to serve as director of the Institute for Freedom and Community through August 2023, but the college’s president, David Anderson, rescinded Santurri’s appointment effective at the end of the semester. Santurri remains on faculty.
Santurri said he thinks a February virtual conversation with Australian philosopher Peter Singer, and a campus uproar that surrounded it, was the “tipping point” for his removal.
Singer’s work has been credited for inspiring the animal-rights movement and encouraging people in wealthy countries to donate to global charities. But Singer has also expressed some highly controversial views, such as proposing that parents should have the right to end the lives of children born with severe disabilities.
The Singer event met with swift objections at St. Olaf. Students with disabilities, parents and college disability support offices denounced Singer’s views ahead of the virtual conversation. An online petition calling for campus community members to boycott the Singer event garnered 1,000 signatures.
“This institute is charged precisely with bringing to the campus … positions that the campus is not inclined to consider,” Santurri said. “That’s the whole point of the institute, so there are going to be controversies.”
Anderson said the removal wasn’t the result of the spring series, and that it was allowed to go on as planned.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonpartisan nonprofit that defends freedom of speech and academic freedom on U.S. college campuses, sent a letter to Anderson urging him to publicly recommit the college to honoring free speech and academic freedom. The group also asked that Santurri be paid all stipends he was set to earn during his directorship and that he be appointed to the institute’s advisory board.
(Source: Star Tribune)