Tuesday, October 26, 2004

PR Headache 

Academic freedom is fiercely held on most university campuses, but not always. There are occasions, as Duke University has learned, that free speech can be a public relations nightmare.

That is what happened when the campus allowed the Palestinian Solidarity Movement to hold a conference (Registration required) on the property. The worldwide Jewish community erupted in rage. Their anger was exacerbated when a Benjamin N. Duke Scholar and senior at the university wrote an editorial in the campus newspaper, The Chronicle, that told the Jewish community to stop complaining among other things. That ignited threats and hate mail that poured down on the young man. The Jewish community then displayed an Israeli bus on campus that had been bombed as part of its protest.

All this happened with a brand new president who had just stepped into Duke's top job a few weeks before. So, now, Mr. President, what do you do to calm alumni and keep contributions from drying up?

This is the kind of PR nightmare no one wants, but the president has to deal with it. It will be full employment for him for awhile. A question that remains is whether he would dare invite the Palestinian group to the campus again. If he wouldn't, then he has another PR problem -- one of academic free speech.

With some issues, one cannot win.


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