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New clash brews over next Gonzaga speaker

A Republican student group at Gonzaga is bringing another controversial speaker to campus next week, as the debate over their last one continues.

David Horowitz, a conservative critic of higher education and racial politics in America, will speak Wednesday at GU on the topic of “Academic Freedom on America’s College Campuses.”

Meanwhile, the dispute over the Oct. 25 presentation by Dr. John Diggs titled “The Medical Effects of Homo-Sex” continued this week. In an opinion column Friday in the student newspaper, The Bulletin, a professor called for GU’s president, the Rev. Robert Spitzer, to distance the university from the event. Philosophy professor Mark Alfino wrote that the school’s silence on the topic could be seen as an implied endorsement.

“I believe this event may have contributed to the creation of a hostile learning environment for homosexual students,” Alfino wrote. “This is a cause for moral anguish and strong response.”

Spitzer issued a statement Friday apologizing for “any past breach” of Gonzaga’s principle of respect for the “inherent and transcendental dignity” of everyone. Spitzer said that though he didn’t hear Diggs’ speech, many people felt it promoted false stereotypes. He said he regrets any “remarks made by (Diggs) which may have impinged upon the intrinsic dignity of any individual or group.”

Alfino said he was glad Spitzer addressed the matter publicly but that he didn’t go far enough.

“I find it puzzling that he could not mention the real problem, which is the climate for gays and lesbians on campus,” Alfino said.

Rod Aminian, a member of the campus gay and lesbian group Helping to Educate Regarding Orientation, said in an e-mail message Friday that Spitzer should make it clear that GU doesn’t “lend support to homophobic mouthpieces.”

He said he felt that the climate for gays and lesbians had been improving at GU.

“GU is not an easy place for the (gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender) community, but it’s getting better,” he said, “which is why the idea of someone bringing Diggs to campus was frustrating to many people – it appeared like an attempt to strike back against all of our progress these past few years.”

Efforts to reach the College Republicans at GU were unsuccessful Friday. But Daniel Brutocao, a junior and president of the school’s chapter of the group, said in a past interview that bringing Diggs to the university was a question of fostering open debate and inquiry.

Diggs is a doctor and public speaker who “exposes the real-world effects of sexual permissiveness through a message that is logical, consistent, coherent and inspiring,” according to an online biography.

He doesn’t believe that homosexuality is innate and said thousands of people have stopped engaging in the “self-destructive activity.”

Diggs, Brutocao and other campus conservatives say that GU’s Republican chapter must bring in voices from the right because the university itself leans too far to the left.

That’s an argument that Horowitz has made pointedly for years, as he promotes an academic bill of rights that guarantees equal rights for conservative academics.

In a profile published in May, the Chronicle of Higher Education described him this way: “David Horowitz is a former leftist turned conservative activist. At 66, he has indeed written more than 20 books, nearly all of which denounce the faulty logic of the left. A popular campus speaker among college Republicans, he is a deeply polarizing figure. In April a student threw a pie in his face as he gave a speech in Indiana.”

Horowitz attracted controversy in 2001 when he took out ads in student newspapers arguing against reparations for black Americans.

GU has had a handful of free-speech controversies in recent years. Spitzer rejected attempts to bring “The Vagina Monologues” and a Planned Parenthood speaker to campus, saying that doing so crossed a line and made it appear the university was endorsing values contrary to its Catholic mission.

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